Beside the Point

What lies in the gulf


There’s something permanent about a sun kissing the Gulf of Mexico on a not-so-warm spring evening.

All you can see is surf, and the stretch of the sun’s reflection off the gray water toward you. No matter where you stand, that reflection comes straight at you. It’s kind of magical until you think about the physics of it - and the instinctual smile created by the moment fades.

The world overwhelmed me…again last week when I made a trip to an Iowa City hospital and got more not-so-good news. I hate that place.

Never in my life have I felt like a number more than a person than in a hospital. Bedside manners are in place and courtesy rules the visit, but at the end of it all, your family’s just a stat line on a spreadsheet. You’re position on that stat sheet determined by your ability to pay - private pay, employer-based insurance, Medicare…. Medicaid. Everything moving your position up and down and determining if you get a big room, small room, care to extend your life, or care to ease its end.

If you aren’t a student of health care billing, you go along for the ride.

It’s the ride that’s ticking me off.

We needed a test done and the specialist and scheduler both told me the test couldn’t be done for seven months. That’s no joke. Seven months.

I called BS and said I would take my mom to Mayo clinic and get it done in a week. They found a spot at the end of the month saying they didn’t have the staff to get through imaging tests quicker. Not sure how that became my problem, but it did.

We have to fix health care in this country. Tired of seeing the fear in the faces of my family. Maybe life is more about fear than the value I want to give that emotion.

So to filter out the garbage going through my heart and my head, I took a short trip Florida – one my brother had been pressing me to go on for years.

Due to the generosity of a couple good men, I was able to experience the St. Pete area and Madeira Beach in a way a lot of people don’t – from 10 miles out in the gulf looking back in.

I was smart enough to take a couple Dramamine as these waves pitched our cutter 6 to 8 feet back and forth. My nephew and our host threw large hooks of squid into the sloshing gulf pretty much to no success. We moved a couple times and then headed back in to the intercoastal waters where things were tolerably smoother.

We stopped at a pub, a move fairly regular over the trip.

The food was incredibly good all week long. Typically Mahi-Mahi, or shrimp, a variety of slaws, fries, conch fritters, and the soothing company of my brother’s family, and the retired owner of a Florida rail construction firm.

This is a sea man right out of a Hemingway yarn. Gray beard, broad shoulders, and the love of life on the water. Always seated at the head of the table, his simple life, too, was rooted in family and spending time with like-minded people. A cigar and a beer were always at his elbow during the down times.

It was these six days that reminded me that people are inherently good. Most people at their core want good company, peace of mind, a good meal, and fresh air.

We got all that and more on this run, but one thing became very clear to me - I am exhausted. Emotionally, physically... mentally.  Several times I fell asleep sitting up in a chair at our host’s bar near the pool, or at the small table at the apartment we were staying in.

We chose to drive straight through to Florida and straight through on the way back. It was about 18 hours.

On the way back it was my turn to drive and I couldn’t stay awake for more than an hour without feeling like I was going to doze off. It was extremely dangerous and after about an hour break for my brother, we had to switch back.

I felt awful, but it hit me at that point - things have to change in my life.

The balance is gone.

More time at hospitals, having to strategically manipulate people to get them to do what they should be doing in the first place, trying to be a better man than I was as a kid, all while the wife lives in Texas, the daughter in New York, and the other daughter on my coffee table.

When everything is pushed aside and you get the time to tuck your hands in a windbreaker standing on gray coarse sand looking northwest into a blood orange sunset, the pressure was supposed to subside.

It didn’t. That pisses me off.

The balance will return.

It better - because after a week in the sun, I came home with a wicked burn, some nice memories, and more chaos than I care to sort out… but that’s Beside the Point.

Chuck Vandenberg is editor and co-owner of Pen City Current. He can be reached at

Beside the Point, editorial, Sunday, opinion, Chuck Vandenberg, vacation, trip,


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