Snakebite by Copperhead and Corporate Hospitals

Health Care


July 30, 2021

            Little Rock      I’ve gone whole decades without having to take a sick day due to good health and even better luck.  But, stuck in the mammoth Little Rock Baptist Hospital all day with no working internet and unable to walk, there’s no way around counting this as a sick day.

It wasn’t any shirking on my part, but a stealth attack at 10:15 at night as I walked across the grass to my trailer, as I’ve done for eight years on my brother-in-law’s property in Pulaski County.   Five feet away, I felt a sharp stab of pain strike my right foot, and when I looked down, I saw a small snake slithering away.  Damn!  I’d been snakebit.  I walked back into the main house, and there was no doubt since I was looking at two fang marks on my instep.  My son and my brother-in-law went back outside and saw the tail end of two of his dogs, an Australian Shepherd, and a mixed black Lab, killing the snake.  It was a copperhead.  No question.

Twenty minutes later, I was in the emergency room, provided with a surgical mask, and lying on a plastic bed in a closet-shaped alley between two doors where staff traveled in and out.  Twenty hours later, I’m promised that I’ll be out if everything looks good.  My foot is still swollen, fat, and ugly and walking is impossible, though I can do a nice hopping thing with the walker when I must.  The recommended response to a copperhead bite is not the old Boy Scout treatment of a X to the spot with your pocketknife (they had already taken mine away) and with a suck-and-spit method getting rid of the venom.  It’s “observation,” meaning take blood, take x-rays, and do nothing for three hours to see what happens.  Seriously, look it up.  We certainly did.  In terrible pain, nausea, and the works, then it was fentanyl and later when moved to a room at 3AM, it was morphine, neither of which dented the pain, and then finally at 530 AM it was the anti-venom serum, which finally pushed back on the problem.

The nurses, aides, occupational therapists, and doctors have been wonderful, but that doesn’t mean that every time they walk in or do anything they aren’t running up the bill, god love them.  As my release looked more and more likely, if I had any doubt of the business model, that went out the window when I was called four times by four different people in a 90-minute period asking the same question about what my insurance number was.  Three of them also asked for my Medicare number, even though one of them told me she had found it easily.  I had of course given them my SSN and birthday when I walked in the night before.  The last caller gave me a preview of the snakebite I had coming.  She shared that they were so interested in my Blue Cross number because they had me in an “observation” bed and Medicare didn’t pay as much for that as a regular bed.

What?!?  The ER thing was hardly a bed at all.  I didn’t ask for anything different or special, so what in the world.  You get the feeling of a culture of rip-and-run.  The great OT ordered me a walker, because he said, “Medicare will pay for it, and, even if you don’t need it, you’ll need it sometime, so…”

We’ve studied Baptist as part of our analysis of nonprofit hospitals in Arkansas, Texas, and Louisiana last year.   Not the worst, but certainly not the best.  For the business office, I’m an out-of-town customer, miles from my home state, and a captive audience unable to just walk away or have much to say.  Talking to the excellent staff, my night nurse admitted that they regularly made her work through her lunch break even though they only paid for twelve hours on a 630 PM to 7 AM, shift.  Talking to her about the Fair Labor Standards Act, she was wistful about how much they needed a union.  My day nurse shared her frustration with how short-staffed the hospital was.  Everyone was clear that Covid-19, two floors above me, was filling up the hospital, rooms were being shared, and some patients were being moved down to a floor with other patients.

This might be a good way to run a business, but it’s hardly a model for a charitable, nonprofit hospital, and I haven’t even seen the final bill yet for 20 hours in their care.  All kinds of snakebites are painful, even the ones that don’t kill you.