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Bleeding a Stone, the Fletcher Allen Way


Dear Dr. Melinda Estes,

Thank you for your letter dated September 16. I appreciate you thinking of me and taking the time to write. It must be tough for you to find a spare minute in your day, what with you being the president and C.E.O. of Vermont's largest hospital and all. And running it well, from what I hear from friends who are doctors and nurses there. They quite like what you've done with the place since you were hired in 2003.

I've witnessed the high quality of health care at Fletcher Allen myself in the past few months. In the early part of the year, I went to Africa and came back with some nasty stowaways in my belly. Thankfully, FAHC was there for me in my hour, or rather months, of need. My intestinal tract will forever be in your debt.

Not only are my guts indebted to you, but I am as well. Well, I'm actually, like, in real debt. I still owe your hospital about $100 for all of the travel health clinic, gastroenterologist and colo-rectal surgeon visits I made from January to April. That's why I can't quite figure out why you sent me a letter asking me to donate to the hospital's Annual Fund.

The photo to the right is an illustration of me trying to figure out why you sent me this letter.

I understand we're in tough economic straits. Why do you think I still owe you guys $100? But really. You're trying to bleed a stone and it ain't gonna work.You should know that. You're a board-certified em dee.

While I appreciate the "recent achievements" of the hospital that you outlined in your letter, perhaps a nicer tack to take would have been something along the lines of "Dear Lauren, Sorry we sent your name to a collections agent and sorry we destroyed your credit. We're prepared to forgive and forget if you pony up some greenbacks to help us get a few new EKG units. Love, Mindy."

A letter like that would have been much more kindly received than one whose penultimate sentence read "Your financial support ensures our success so please consider a gift of $50 or more to the 2009 Annual Fund." Ok, so you only want my money if it's more than $50? But I can't afford my health bills, so how am I meant to afford a donation to your institution, award-winning though it may be?

Also, isn't my financial support coming in the form of continued business? When I had that bacterial infection in my gut, I went to your hospital, not one in New York or New Hampshire. Am I not continuing to support the hospital by, like, continuing to get exotic bugs and then paying for the treatment of those bugs? Even if my money's a little late, it's still spendable in all our 50 states, I'm quite sure.

So what I'm saying Mindy — can I call you Mindy? — is that since I don't make $800,000 a year like you do, my belt has to be cinched a little tighter. I'm sorry, but I'm just not going to be able to make a donation to the FAHC Annual Fund this year. But I promise I'll get that hundred shekels to you by the end of the year. I know you need it.

Very truly yours,
Lauren Ober