Healthy Hamburger Helper
My 72-year-old mom loves hamburgers. She recently spent a month in the hospital and ate almost one per day, compliments of the hospital kitchen and I assume, Medicare. So after she had sufficiently rehabilitated and recovered from a severely broken ankle, I took her out to a new hamburger restaurant nearby with family.
When we sat down there was an iPad in the middle of the table that served as our menu. After activating the screen, I learned that this hamburger was truly personalized and there was no such thing as a “typical” hamburger here. All I had to do was select which combination of ingredients and toppings I wanted…and then repeat that process for the 9 other people at the table. It was a modern ordering system, complete with a touchscreen and on-demand fulfillment that let me express who I am through my choice of bacon or CANADIAN BACON, fried egg or HARD BOILED EGG, cheddar cheese or FETA CHEESE, and a sum total of 2.6313084e+35 possible combinations (32 different toppings to choose from, not counting sauces!).
I got excited by all the possibilities until I realized how much work it would be to create 10 different hamburgers. When I started to ask some order preferences of my mom, she was apprehensive. “Oh, I don’t know. You choose. That’s overwhelming.” Luckily for her, I have eaten green onions, raw onions, and caramelized onions. I can taste the difference between dried cranberries and golden raisins. I’m a food expert — I’ve eaten at least 40,000 times. I can do this!
It dawned on me that this was an analogy for what I’d been doing for the past few months managing my mom’s health after she fell, badly exacerbating a degenerative neuromuscular condition she had developed previously.
“Oh, I don’t know. You choose. That’s overwhelming.”
Caring Medical Staff
Unluckily for her, I had never nursed anyone back from immobility. As far as I know, nobody I know has, either. In our most vulnerable time, neither of us had ever felt less confident, more alone, and less certain about what to do or how to do it. While the surgeon was excellent, the nurses caring, the physical and occupational therapists trustworthy, and the hospital staff competent, when it came time to make the critical decisions about how to take that next step or to manage life, it was really up to her and me.
Each time we made a key decision, I called or texted family or friends for input, and each time she made or missed a critical progress milestone, my phone was the carrier pigeon to my mom’s loved ones. We were winging it, through our most valiant attempts at interviewing agencies, talking to friends and family, reading brochures, and most importantly, searching Google for a semblance of what to do and how to do it. Any “healthcare product” we tried to use to help manage was impossible. We didn’t know Medicare codes, we didn’t know the “rules”, we didn’t know the names of the tools we were supposed to use. We just saw 2.6313084e+35 possible answers to each of our decisions and we were exhausted by it. Miraculously, we sort of figured it all out. Artificial intelligence, indeed.
After a minute of questions about her cheese, bun and vegetable preferences, she looked flustered and irritated.
“There’s an In-N-Out nearby. Let’s just go there.”
Ah, the tonic to confused hamburger orderers throughout California. Trusted ingredients. Finite choices. Quality execution. Let’s just go there.