A Night in the Tub

An angel named Grace, a doctor who's a real Trip and fresh gore flooding the ER -- the new Ben Taub gets old quick

While waiting for the inevitable emergency call, Trip spent part of his time in an examination room with a young Hispanic woman we'll call Maria. She suffered from severe abdominal pain.

Trip gently pressed above the woman's pelvis. "Does that hurt, in your belly?" he asked. "Where does that hurt?"

Trip suspected the problem was appendicitis. But after viewing her scans later in radiology, the source of the pain became obvious. Both of Maria's ovaries were badly swollen.

It's a problem that could have been detected in earlier stages during routine preventative treatment. Texas Attorney General John Cornyn issued an opinion recently that public hospitals can't provide that kind of treatment to undocumented residents. Cornyn's ruling was followed by a formal complaint by the Young Conservatives of Texas and a subsequent criminal investigation of the hospital district by Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal.

From ground zero in the county public health care crisis, Trip's take is that the humanitarian view is also the most cost-effective.

"If it becomes an offense to treat someone who is an illegal alien [on a nonemergency basis], then these people are going to end up in the hospital district emergency rooms no matter what," the young physician says. "If they think it's going to save money, it's not. That's a general problem in medicine right now, with people who, without degrees or any training in medicine, are making these kinds of decisions. It's very shortsighted."

Following Trip through the same holding area where I'd spent that long, long night, we walked along the line of beds, looking at one person after another immersed in their own hours of pain.

"Anybody can end up here," Trip explained earlier. "You want to end up here if you're in really bad shape. But when it comes time to pay your property taxes and you see that Harris County Hospital District amount on that, people balk at that and they don't want to fund the district."

Keep in mind, it's just a bike ride away.

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