Isn't it scary that doctors call what they do 'practice'?
-Dennis Miller

Health Care Reform may be a complex issue - hotly and justly debated by conservatives and liberals alike - but after last week, I can reduce it to one word: VALET.

I say this after spending most of Memorial Day weekend wandering around a local hospital - trying to shoulder my fair share of taking care of my post-operative stepdad - but spending most of my time, instead, looking for a parking space.

In fact, I think hospitals - in general - could take quite a few lessons from the hotel industry. Granted, I realize that we're paying for other specialized care (beyond, say, a decent concierge) - and I don't (necessarily) want a bellhop removing my spleen - but if I RESERVE a room, and I PAY for that room, I think I ought to GET one.

I don't think the Four Seasons, for example, would have the balls to shove me from closet to closet to closet. And then charge me a sum roughly equivalent to what I paid for my house.

I know nobody enjoys going to the hospital (as either patient or visitor), and I know it's not supposed to be fun... But it's especially bad for people like me who have pathological problems with authority. (I'd never make it in the military. Though I've always wanted to go to sniper school.) And I hate to be told what to do - especially by people in white shoes.

In four short days, I managed to get busted for smoking where I wasn't supposed to (though I THOUGHT I was outside the perimeter); using my cellphone in a "No Cellphone" zone (that one I knew, but if they'd given us a ROOM, we'd have had our OWN phone); and parking illegally.

Overall, I found the experience to be VERY much like what I imagine prison would be. To the extent that Hop Sing started bringing me candy and cigarettes to barter with.

His recommendation was that I slap the bag of Nestle Treasures down on the admit desk, look away, and say, "Now. There's an offer on the table - do I get a room or not?" (My friend Greg added helpfully, "Oh yeahhhhh, that's how you bargain with the screws.")

I am very grateful that my stepdad (whom we'll call "Pops"), my mother (whom we'll just call "Mom,"), and I have three different last names, so that nothing I say (and nothing I did) can ever be used against them. (I'm sure it wouldn't be the first time they've disavowed all knowledge of me.)

The thing is, I hadn't PLANNED to write about this experience at all. But as the comedy of errors wore on (and on), my mom actually started fishing around in her purse for a pen and saying things like, "you might want to take that down."

I knew there was going to be trouble when surgery started four hours late. By the time they got around to asking Pops if he wanted something to make him "woozy," I was ready to slap the tray out of their hand and see if I couldn't catch a couple valium midair like a trained seal. But of course, he (somewhat thoughtlessly, if you ask me) declined. (Determined not to leave the hospital with a monkey on his back, it's a struggle to get him to take a Tylenol even after being split open, stem to stern.)

I went outside to call the extended clan, and about that time, a very well-dressed administrative power-suit kinda guy came up to me and said, "Ma'am, if I could please ask that you comply with hospital policy....."

I held up my right hand (the one with the Marlboro in it) to politely indicate that I'd be right with him.

Then I paused and asked the guy to clarify: should I stop smoking? Or should I stop talking on the cellphone?

"Well, both...?" he offered, rather timidly.

I asked if there was a designated zone where I could do either, and he gestured in a general direction across the street - an area which would've put me right in the path of a large-ish Komatsu bulldozer - which, I think, was the plan.

Inside, we were buried so deep within a construction zone that when friends, family, and coworkers brought us food, I'd have to run out to the ambulance bay to meet them. At best, they could slow down and throw things at me.

And when I say "run," I mean that literally. I ran everywhere, because there was always the chance that I would come back, and find that my parents had been moved. Which would necessitate a floor-by-floor, door-to-door search - which would, in turn, eventually necessitate that they just strap me to a gurney and cart me on off to the psych ward.

And of course, I'm so out of shape that all that tearing around made me so light-headed I was equally afraid I'd pass out ...and wake up several days later missing a kidney.

I would leave cryptic messages for my uncles saying things like, "east bound and down.... kkkrrrrrrr.....approaching Floor 7, Floor 8. Nope.... 2... Hell, I'll have to call you later."

It's like in Airport when they say now arriving at "Gate 11... Gate 12... Gate 13...." until the plane crashes into the waiting area.

I think we made at least one visit to nearly every possible holding bay, with the exception of Maternity and the Morgue. At around 10 o'clock that night, they finally wheeled us OUT of recovery and into some sort of isolation/infectious disease closet.

By Friday night I left briefly and (surprise) returned to find that we'd moved again - this time to the E.M.U. (or "the emu" as we called it).

"When did we become epileptic?" I asked dryly. My parents - who would've been content to be propped in a corner with some brooms, if asked - kept trying to shush me, but I can't be CRAZY to think that an epilepsy ward is PROBABLY staffed by people who know something about epilepsy - which none of us HAVE.

By the time we departed, Hop Sing came up with the only CLEAR solution - which was for me to BUY the damn hospital and have our staff institute a hostile takeover. Granted, we don't have medical degrees, but we do have some spare scalpels and a wide array of X-acto knives.

The first thing I'd do is put the art department in charge of pharmaceuticals (I can hear them now: "THAT's not how you make morphine! THIS is how you make morphine!").