Beck turns bad hospital experience into crusade

January 13, 2008 5:27:19 PM PST
The video of a disheveled, unshaven Glenn Beck talking about a hemorrhoid operation gone wrong feels like one of those late-night, partying-with-your-friends pictures posted - to your eternal regret - on Facebook the next day. The whole world can see one of your worst moments. In Beck's case, it rapidly became an Internet sensation, fueling the CNN Headline News host's new crusade against health care practitioners who don't care.

"I didn't realize why this was a story until recently, and that's because everyone knows that this is true," he said.

"Everyone has gone through this."

Beck made the seven-minute video for his fans, posting it on his Web site. The intention was to explain why he wasn't coming back to work until last week, but it took a detour into the truly weird.

His eyes look bleary and he has a week's growth of beard. His head is propped on a blue pillow. He says he has "some stories that will melt your brain."

What was expected to be an outpatient procedure put Beck in the hospital for five days, with doctors offering a medicine cabinet's worth of drugs to ease his pain. The drugs made him hallucinate and briefly suicidal, Beck said.

"By Saturday night if they had come into my room with a handgun and said, `OK, we can give you some more medication or take this gun and blow your head off' ... I would have honestly taken the handgun at that point and ended it," he says on the tape.


He's self-aware enough to note that one of the darkest experiences of his life "may not be as dark as what will happen to me when I see this tape on YouTube." His wife has drily pointed out that there are reasons why pill boxes warn against operating heavy machinery.

When he got a concerned call from the hospital's chief administrator, Beck knew the tape had spread beyond his Web site. Sure enough, the Drudge Report had picked it up. It has reached nearly 800,000 views on YouTube.

Now that he's more coherent, Beck doesn't want to forget the things that really upset him during his medical nightmare.

He said he and his wife were made to feel less than human when he came to the hospital's emergency room in intense pain (Beck isn't naming the hospital). As his wife struggled to carry him, a triage nurse "was actually drumming his fingers on the door and sighing, like `come on,"' he told The Associated Press. "He never made eye contact with me during the whole thing. He never talked about pain. He left my wife and I in the dust."

It took more than two hours to get any medication for pain "and it wasn't a busy night at all," he said.

Then there was the nurse who casually dismissed his request for oxygen, and a shower stall littered with old bandages. Several people treated him with compassion, but enough didn't that Beck believes there's a wider problem there.

"There was a woman who served meals to me every day, for five days," he said. "She would joke with me and talk. She made my stay more tolerable because she treated me like a human being ... She looked me in the eye. That's what has to be changed about health care. We have to stop looking at medicine as just a science and put the people back into it."

Beck talked about his experience on ABC's "Good Morning America" and made it the chief topic of his first show back on Headline News.

As a conservative talk show host, Beck has his share of enemies. The tape was ripe for parody, and critics have jumped in. One man posted a tape online where he cried like a baby, his head placed in the camera at a similar angle to Beck's.

Cenk Uygur, a commentator for the liberal Air America Radio, said he felt like going by Beck's hospital bed and tossing him some bootstraps.

"I feel bad because he went through some really bad stuff," Uygur said. "But he came out with this epiphany - the health care system in America is broken. You don't say!"

Don't think Beck hasn't noticed the responses.

"I find it interesting that those who are always saying how intolerant I am, what a hate-monger I am, are the ones posting `I wish he would have died,' `I wish he would have killed himself, it would have saved us all this trouble,"' he said.

Health care hadn't been a frequent topic on his show before this episode, he said. He's against universal health care, and the incident did nothing to change that view.

He also understands there are many good doctors, many good nurses doing their jobs well under very trying circumstances.

"The politicians are right that we have a health care crisis in this country," he said. "Where they're wrong is that it's not going to be solved by government, it's not going to be solved by getting the HMOs out, it's not going to be solved by a new marbled-lobby health center," he said. "It's by hiring people that understand about caring for people."

Beck met with the hospital's administrator and assured him he wasn't planning to sue. But he wanted to point out the problem and make sure others in health care are aware of the issue.

He would have gladly traded this campaign for something else.

"I was on `Good Morning America' talking about my butt surgery, for crying out loud," he said. "You want to talk about the butt of the joke? That's me."