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The Predators Among Us Are Not All the Same and What That Means for Society

Our Urban Farm's back yard was recently the target of a fox attack. It happened during daylight hours when our hens have free run of the place. At night, when we normally worry most about attacks from wild predators, they remain closed safely inside their predator-proof coop. The fact that this fox attacked before nightfall meant the chickens were out doing their chicken business of eating garden pests and digging up the top soil to prepare the ground for spring seeds.

Chickens in a pen
The three surviving chickens are recovering from injuries inside a pen we set up in our yoga studio

Once the fox was inside our 6-foot privacy fence s/he or they easily had their way with them. Two chickens were killed (RIP Mabel and Betty). The other three were injured pretty badly. We have temporarily converted our new yoga studio into a chicken recovery area and have been giving them daily disinfecting baths while their wounds heal.

For years we have known there were fox in the area, along with a host of other predators, that could kill our chickens, including hawks, owls, coyotes, weasels and domestic cats not to mention the ill-mannered humans among us. We have been able to keep our yard predator-free for years (even as they have regularly come right up to the boundaries) by understanding a bit about the risk/reward calculation predators make before attacking. In order to survive, they need to have a good sense of when and where it is safe to hunt. For years we have had a system in place where our yard is too challenging to enter/exit and the risks of trying too great. We have thus lived in peace with the local fox, whom we enjoy seeing trotting down the alley periodically.

One thing recently changed to alter that risk/reward balance - we lost our beloved dog, Kiki. At the ripe old age of 17, cancer and liver disease finally took her. The resulting lack of a protecting canine lessened the risk for the fox. Rather than having learned over the years that our yard was off-limits, they simply remained alert for an opportunity to strike. When they did, it was fast, efficient and deadly.

Of the predators chicken keepers fear the most, fox should be at the top of the list. They are extremely smart, agile, stealthy and strong and yet can fit through very small openings in fences and gates. They understand that a large kill can provide food for an extended period of time, so will readily abandon one kill to make another and another, easily wiping out large numbers of chickens in a single attack. The ambush on our flock was typical. They rarely kill one if there are others available, too.

The two birds that were killed were the smallest and weakest. The three remaining have the honor of being chickens that survived being inside the mouth of a wild fox.

As our chickens' wounds heal in the safety of our home and we re-work our housing and management plan to better keep the foxes off the property, we can't help but reflect on another kind of predator we recently encountered that is far more dangerous, far more insidious, and from which it is far more difficult to protect ourselves....

In January of this year, while on vacation in Palm Springs, California, I (Mike) developed a pretty bad case of pneumonia. Initially, I had no idea that I was suffering from pneumonia and it was in the middle of the Omicron surge in Covid-19 cases. All I knew was that I had a very high fever (peaked at about 103.9F, but still getting worse) and having severe difficulty breathing.

After almost of week of bad and worsening symptoms, I agreed to let my spouse (George) take me to the Emergency Room. We ended up at Desert Regional Medical Center on January 29, 2022.

I was dehydrated from having a high fever for nearly a week, still had a high and climbing fever and was having severe difficulty breathing. They told me I most likely had Covid-19. They said there was little, if anything, they could do for it and that I was not "bad enough" to be admitted to the hospital. They told me I had to go home, stay isolated and ride it out. When I explained to the doctor that I was living in a resort filled with people away from home and asked her how I was supposed to stay "isolated" in that environment she just sort of stared at me for a while with a blank expression on her face and then changed the subject. She never did answer.

They gave me a dose of Tylenol and performed a Covid-19 test, and sent me out without waiting for the results, and without doing anything to see if there may have been something else wrong with me other than Covid-19. They told me to keep taking the Tylenol every 6 hours and in between to take Ibuprofen to try to keep my fever down.

For this visit, where they refused service other than a Covid test and a dose of over-the-counter Tylenol, they ended up billing my insurance nearly $3,000. But, they weren't done yet, because I still had pneumonia that they had failed to diagnose, and the pills they told me to take were only making my symptoms worse.

The next morning I managed to log into their patient record portal (it was barely functional) to see my Covid-19 test result. We were surprised that it was negative, given the Omicron surge that was happening in California and what the doctor had said. The negative result was, therefore, unexpected and a bit relieving. So, I read the details provided with the test - you know, that little asterisk at the bottom of nearly everything these days? In this case, that little asterisk said the test the hospital used was prone to false negative results and that negative tests should be followed up with a more accurate PCR test in the face of persistent symptoms.

Said another way: so far Desert Regional Medical Center had done nothing but run a less than ideal Covid test, without doing anything else to see if my symptoms were caused by something else. The cost for that and a dose of over-the-counter Tylenol was almost $3,000. I did not see their billing for that visit for several weeks, or I would never have returned to DRMC when the Tylenol they told me to take only made things worse.

Taking the Tylenol is when my illness shifted into overdrive. It would lower my body temperature but only very temporarily and at a pretty extreme cost: copious amounts of sweat. I don't think I have ever sweat so much in my life and cannot imagine sweating more than that. I woke up in the middle of the night and my shirt was so wet that when I took it off, it was as if I had just jumped into a swimming pool wearing all of my clothes and then immediately took my shirt off. My sweat pants were the same. So were all of the sheets under, over and around me. My pillow was also soaked.

I was significantly more dehydrated, but my fever was temporarily down and I felt a bit better because of that. Unfortunately, within a few hours my fever spiked back up to higher than it had been and I was even more dehydrated. I did my best to "ride out" this cycle of spiking and dropping temperature (you know, just like the doctor had recommended), but with each dose of Tylenol I took the more it became clear to me that Desert Regional Medical Center had put me on a treadmill that wasn't making me better; it was making me worse. Much worse.

By the time we decided I needed to go back to the hospital my body temperature was fluctuating between about 104F and 96F degrees - near the opposite ends of the safety limits for humans, and the dramatic swings between those two extremes were, literally, killing me. We went back to Desert Regional Medical Center on February 1, 2022. The first thing they wanted to do was give me more Tylenol, which I refused to take.

After arguing with the nurse about my refusal to take the Tylenol I was able to convince them to try another approach: If they gave me IV fluids it would help address my dehydration as well as my fever, I said. What they had been doing was focusing on the fever and ignoring my dehydration, which I thought was kind of crazy for a medical facility that is located, you know, in a desert, where you would think issues with dehydration would be first and foremost on their minds.

They finally agreed to give me fluids, after some more arguing with the nurse about my not taking the Tylenol. (Note: She went so far as to tell me that if I didn't take it, it would make her look bad. Apparently unconcerned that it was making me worse, she said that when people look through the paperwork "around here the way they do" that a patient with a high fever that did not get Tylenol would be a "red flag" and could result in a problem for her.)

A bit later the nurse came by and, in a pretty snippy tone, told me that the doctor (whom I had yet to meet) had approved 2 bags of fluids to be given IV. It is worth pointing out that while the nurse brought 2 bags of fluids to my station, and set them on the shelf by the IV stand, she only ever gave me one bag of fluids, and that bag of fluids took an unusually long period of time to administer, because they were dripping so slowly. The nurse would periodically come over and flick the dripper with her finger to try to make it go faster. Then, she would kind of sigh and storm off when the dripping did not speed up. Eventually I pointed out that she had failed to untangle the whole drip line or to open the little plastic valve that regulated the flow. When she did these things, the drip rate increased.

While my fluids continued dripping, they also took a chest x-ray, which I would argue, should have been done on my first visit. The x-ray showed that I had pneumonia, not Covid-19, and that I should have been on antibiotics instead of Tylenol.

During this second visit, the poorly delivered services provided by Desert Regional Medical Center were:

* A second Covid-19 Test

* A Single View Chest X-ray

* One bag of fluid

* One dose of antibiotics

The total billed for this visit: $12,393

Total billed for both visits: $15,099

You can hear about how our predatory healthcare system is killing people due to lack of care. You can read about how it is bankrupting Americans at alarming rates. It is hard, however, to fully appreciate how blood-thirsty they are until you have experienced them up-close and personal.

I was fortunate. My condition was relatively common and should have been simple to diagnose and treat. I shudder to think what would have happened if I had something more complex to find or cure. Based on all of the data available, we all know the answer: just like the fox who get into yards or coops to kill as much as they can, these kinds of healthcare providers will take whatever they can get from the weakest and most vulnerable among us. If you show up there, they are going to take what they can get.

The biggest difference between these healthcare providers and the fox that attacked our chickens is this: The fox are killing prey species in order to feed themselves and their families. It is the only way they can survive, the natural order of things. The healthcare industry is killing and bankrupting their own species so that a handful of billionaires can do things like add helicopter pads to the tops of their luxury yachts. The unnatural, dysfunctional and predatory healthcare system, unique to the USA, also has the full backing, support and protection of the majority of our elected officials, in both major political parties.

As depressing as that all might seem, I actually think it is much worse than that. The same elected officials who publicly wring their hands about the healthcare crisis in America - while doing little or nothing about it - have even bigger and more complicated issues they need to address. If they can't deal with healthcare, how will they ever deal with something as big and complex as the Climate Crisis? The obvious answer is that aren't because they can't. Most do not have the emotional, moral or mental fortitude to do it. And when we cannot trust our elected officials to provide even basic protections for families, everyone's trust in society crumbles and we end up stuck in the mess we are in as a nation today.

For these reasons, supporting Universal Healthcare for All is now my litmus test for any political candidate seeking office. If they can't get behind protecting their constituents from an essential, yet abusive and highly predatory system, like healthcare, then I believe they have no place in government service. Access to affordable, patient-focused, universal healthcare is basic to sustainability.

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