Dave Barry On “24” And Our Healthcare System

By  |  June 2, 2010 | 

This past Monday was a sad night for me: no “24” on Fox, and no more installments in the works until the (inevitably disappointing) movie comes out. Watching Jack Bauer’s derring-do with my sons has been one of my can’t-miss-it rituals for nearly a decade. I’m well aware that this cannot have been healthy, or moral, but it was exciting and, at times, awfully amusing.

Over the last several years, one of the best parts of watching “24” was following along with Dave Barry’s “24 Blog”. Barry is one of the world’s most amusing fellows, and his running commentary each week on 24’s plot (such as it was) was hilarious. Here’s a sample from his post on the March 29th episode, one whose storyline was particularly ludicrous:

The terrorists are transporting the Lethal Atomic Rods of Doom into Manhattan aboard an inflatable boat. Jack tried to stop them by engaging in a gunfight, during which more shots were fired than in all of World War II; unfortunately the police never showed up to help because this battle took place in a remote, deserted, desolate and uninhabited part of New York City, namely Brooklyn. During the fight Jack got shot and now has a collapsed lung, which for a human would be serious but for Jack is the medical equivalent of dandruff.

You’re reading a healthcare blog, and so you can be forgiven for wondering where all this is heading. Well, Barry has a perspective on our healthcare system that’s as warped as it is unique. I’ve previously shared with you his gut-splitting description of his own colonoscopy, and he has a new book, called I’ll Mature When I’m Dead, that contains several essays relevant to medicine. For example, consider his piece entitled “The State of Healthcare – and my Forefinger;” the Miami Herald recently published an excerpt. Here’s a short passage:

The next big players in medicine were the ancient Greeks, who believed that disease was caused by an imbalance of the body’s four “humours”: blood, bile, phlegm and sarcasm. This made for some really disgusting treatments, especially if you were diagnosed as being phlegm-deficient, in which case you had to have a transfusion from a compatible loogie donor.

As I review my recent posts, I see a preponderance of heavy topics (fraudulent stents, Paul Levy’s troubles, the crisis in primary care). And then there’s that damn pipe that won’t stop spewing black smoke into the Gulf of Mexico. In our crazy world, we need to cherish folks like Dave Barry, who help us focus, just often enough, on the absurd.


  1. bev M.D. June 2, 2010 at 10:39 pm - Reply

    The excerpt is great! I remember my husband and I reading passages from one of his columns to each other and splitting our sides laughing. Thanks for the humorous (not to make a pun) respite.

  2. Brian Clay, MD June 8, 2010 at 8:10 am - Reply

    I highly recommend looking for Dave Barry’s “Year in Review”: his annual take on all of the major events of the year. It’s usually published during mid-to-late December each year, and is reliably hilarious.

    Last year’s review: http://www.miamiherald.com/2009/12/26/1397654_dave-barrys-year-in-review-2009.html


  3. Edward Flaschner June 14, 2010 at 10:08 am - Reply

    Here is another perspective on the health care system



    When I was in medical school in the 1970’s the word “provider” referred to the guy who worked to support his family. If he brought home a decent paycheck, his wife would tell her friends”my husband is a good provider”. Over the years, as ancillary health professionals became more important, doctors became small screws in a big machine, and “provider” became the most sterile word in the English language. It means any person or entity with a license to “provide” any type of medical service. Not only doctors, but nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, PA’s, ambulance companies, everybody and his grandmother are providers. And, get used to this, comrades, we are all equal.

    In thirty years I have had no run-ins with any doctors but I did have two run- ins with providers. The first was with a head nurse of a medical floor, when I accidently sat in her chair. Since all providers are equal she not only yelled at me but threw my chart across the room. For the next twelve months I was too traumatized to sit anywhere in the hospital. It seems that some providers are more equal than others. The second was an ICU nurse who, in front of my hospital administrator, spoke in an offensive and a disrespectful manner. What’s more memorable is the administrator’s response “I think we have a problem between these two providers”.

    Once, when visiting a foreign country, I called a doctor’s office and asked to speak to Dr. Schmidt. The secretary took offense, and reprimanded me, “Sir, Its Professor Schmidt”. Can you imagine that? In the United States I can walk down the hall in my hospital, bump into dozens of my colleagues, and no one has any idea who’s got the professor title. I used to think this was good, as it showed that we are more modest than the Europeans. But I was wrong. Herr Professor Schmidt will never be Provider Schmidt but we, who have not protected our cherished positions and titles, have all become, yes you got it, PROVIDERS.

    When I depart this world I hope I will merit the epitaph “He was a good Doctor”. But please, don’t put down “He was a good provider” because when the time comes, I would like to rest in peace.

    Edward Flaschner, M.D.
    Fresh Meadows NY

  4. Bob Wachter June 15, 2010 at 8:50 pm - Reply

    Folks — sorry for the delay in posting the above comments. We had an system glitch, thankfully it’s now fixed.

    Keep those comments coming!

    — Bob

  5. Haris Aleem August 16, 2010 at 6:13 pm - Reply

    Bob, everyone should read that particular chapter in Barry’s book. It is side splittingly funny, my wife and I could’nt stop laughing ! But, sadly and scarily. it is a stunningly accurate description of our broken heath care system. God help us all.

  6. NastyMoonlight February 5, 2011 at 4:32 pm - Reply

    I live in Canada where we supposedly have the “best” health care organization. I will say without a doubt if thrust comes to shove i would cash in my last centimes and come to the United States to be cared for if I had a spirit threatening sickness or needed and MAGNETIC RESONANCE IMAGING tomorrow. Here the” “hold back listing” is 8 calendar months for an MAGNETIC RESONANCE IMAGING and you could decease waiting. Not for me…

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About the Author: Bob Wachter

Robert M. Wachter, MD is Professor and Interim Chairman of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, where he holds the Lynne and Marc Benioff Endowed Chair in Hospital Medicine. He is also Chief of the Division of Hospital Medicine. He has published 250 articles and 6 books in the fields of quality, safety, and health policy. He coined the term hospitalist” in a 1996 New England Journal of Medicine article and is past-president of the Society of Hospital Medicine. He is generally considered the academic leader of the hospitalist movement, the fastest growing specialty in the history of modern medicine. He is also a national leader in the fields of patient safety and healthcare quality. He is editor of AHRQ WebM&M, a case-based patient safety journal on the Web, and AHRQ Patient Safety Network, the leading federal patient safety portal. Together, the sites receive nearly one million unique visits each year. He received one of the 2004 John M. Eisenberg Awards, the nation’s top honor in patient safety and quality. He has been selected as one of the 50 most influential physician-executives in the U.S. by Modern Healthcare magazine for the past eight years, the only academic physician to achieve this distinction; in 2015 he was #1 on the list. He is a former chair of the American Board of Internal Medicine, and has served on the healthcare advisory boards of several companies, including Google. His 2015 book, The Digital Doctor: Hope, Hype, and Harm at the Dawn of Medicine’s Computer Age, was a New York Times science bestseller.


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