In the House Ways and Means Committee, where policy discussions can be downright mind-numbing-the tax code and Medicare are often debated-a fiery Democrat from Northern California is often responsible for keeping things interesting. Rep. Pete Stark frequently takes on committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), making his liberal-leaning views well-known in hearings and before big votes.
But not until July 18 had Stark, 71, become so animated that the police got involved. It all happened when Democrats grew upset over Thomas' rush to pass a pension reform bill before all opposition was heard. Meeting in a library to plot their strategy, Democrats left Stark in the committee room to keep an eye on the Republicans.
When Stark loudly objected to Thomas' move to pass the bill without further consideration, one Republican, Scott McInnis of Colorado, reportedly told Stark to shut up, prompting Stark to respond: "Oh you think you're big enough to make me, you little wimp. Come on, come over here and make me, I dare you, you little fruitcake."
That's roughly when Thomas phoned Capitol Hill police, who reportedly showed up in the library where Democrats were huddled but took no action against Stark or other Democrats, who claimed it was an effort to intimidate them.
"There was a time when Democrats were in control of the House and (Stark) was well-regarded for his command of health and tax issues. Today, the Republicans rule the House and Stark is mostly known as a back-bencher who can't control his tongue," said an editorial published last week in the San Francisco Chronicle.
"Sometimes I feel so passionate about an issue that I am not as diplomatic as I should be," Stark said in a written statement after the fracas. However, he added, "Chairman Thomas' behavior should not be allowed in a democracy. It's reminiscent of a police state, not America."
Last week, Thomas made a tearful apology to the full House for calling in the police.
Medicine laughs at itself
Here's a magazine ad touting a company called "PJ Consulting" that you're not likely to find in the New England Journal of Medicine or the Journal of the American Medical Association:
"Is it getting harder and harder to get paid as a doctor? By becoming a physician consultant there are many ways to make EXTRA CASH! Become an expert witness for a malpractice attorney and tell the jury anything your lawyer wants them to hear. Speak for a major pharmaceutical company and tell the audience anything that sells their drug."
The ad is satirical, of course, just part of the wit and whimsy of a parody called the Placebo Journal, a National Lampoon-styled knockoff for the physician community that is billed by its editor-creator as "the only medical journal that will make you laugh."
"Our concept is simple," says publisher Douglas Farrago, a family practitioner in Auburn, Maine, of the multicolored comedy pamphlet that debuted in September 2001 and now claims about 5,000 subscribers ($24 a year for six issues). "We want to make physicians laugh at themselves, their patients and at medicine in general."
The back cover of the most recent issue included an advertisement from PJ Pharmaceuticals (catch the theme?) for "Indifferex," billed as "the mediocre antidepressant" that's "cheap and mildly effective because you get what you pay for." Some of the so-called humor struggles to rise above the level of sophomoric, and there's enough toilet jokes and profanity to make some readers blush, but at least it provides some evidence that even doctors-or at least some of them-have a funny bone.
Farrago, who says he considers his journalistic sideline to be "therapy," wrote all the copy for the inaugural issue. The satiric sendup has caught on so well among his comedy-inclined colleagues that everything except the editorials and fake advertisements are now written by outsiders.
Regular features in the Journal include CMME (continuing meaningless medical education); "Stupid Pharmaceutical Tricks (one recent issue highlighted Pfizer's offering of a computer mouse shaped like a race car to promote Viagra); and "Those Darn Narc Seekers," which provides periodic tales of the outlandish ploys used by some patients to persuade their doctors to prescribe the most potent drugs available.
Says Farrago: "We mock everybody-patients and doctors. But we don't joke about compromising on care."
It's not exactly the Wild West, but an Ohio hospital wants to know who made off with American Beauty, a horse that is part of an upcoming charity event.
OK, so the horse in question is only 4 feet tall, 4 feet long, 2 feet wide and weighs just 45 pounds. And it's made of fiberglass. It's one of more than 80 life-size decorative colts in the Horse of a Different Color public arts event to benefit heart and cancer care at 253-bed Children's Hospital Medical Center of Akron. The colt (pictured at right) was taken on July 11 from outside a Bank One office in Wadsworth, Ohio, one of many locations where the colts are on display before an Oct. 4 auction.
Michael Hedrix, CEO of Pine Medical Center, Sandstone, Minn., made an outlandish bet with his employees in hopes of cutting the billing turnaround at his hospital.
Last fall, the hospital introduced a new software system aimed at decreasing the 139 days it took on average for the hospital to get paid for a bill. Hedrix wanted a drastic improvement and challenged his employees to cut that number to below 30 days. The reward for success? Hedrix told them he would shave the magic number in his head.
When the staff knocked the average payment period to 26 days, Hedrix knew his head was a marked target. "I was pleased to honor my bet," he says. "It is certainly for a good cause."
On June 6, in front of 180 employees and a barbershop quartet, Hedrix had a "26" shaved in his head by a local barber called in for the event.