When HIPAA Totally Ruins Your Best Six-Degrees-Removed-from-a-Celebrity Story
Did you just say you want to hear the story about the best celebrity from which I’m six degrees removed? You didn’t? Oh. Well, why don’t I tell it anyway?? 1st Degree: That Celebrity So, there was this celebrity, right? Only I can’t say who. Why, because of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), of course. It’ll have to suffice that you obviously would have known of this celebrity, because they were just that talented. What’s that? No, it’s not Kevin Bacon. I’m talking about me here, and the six degrees between me and this huge celebrity, would you please pay attention? ANYway, there was this celebrity, this really famous celebrity, and they died. I can’t give you any details, though, because HIPAA totally ruins this story. Let’s just say it was a sudden death, and it was a tragic death, and it was the type of death that people feel entitled to judge because our society views drug addiction as a character flaw. Shit, was that too much to say? Am I in violation of any medical information protection laws? 2nd Degree: That Patient So, there was also a hospital patient. I actually don’t know anything about him – apparently, once in a blue moon, HIPAA actually is good for something – but I do know he was in liver failure. I also know at which equally famous hospital this was going down, but I can’t...yup, you got it, can’t tell you because of HIPAA. Now you’re starting to understand. But, anyway, this patient desperately needed a liver transplant, and when someone needs a transplant – say, someone who is in the same area as a celebrity who has died, and is in need at the same time that a celebrity has died, and is offered a liver by a donor who passed in the same manner as a celebrity who has died – well, there’s a limited window of time for it to happen. I’m sorry, what did you say? No, of course the patient didn’t know whose liver he would receive when his transplant beeper went off, let alone that it could come from a celebrity who had just died in the same city at the same time with the same blood type and a liver to donate. HIPAA laws, and all. 3rd Degree: That Med Student Now, moving right along, there’s also a med student in this story. This med student was there when the patient and the patient’s family were told the liver was a match. He was still there when the patient and the patient’s family decided to turn down the transplant, because the donor had passed from a drug overdose. The med student, of course, did know which celebrity had just passed, in which manner, in which city, and had just attempted to donate a liver. HIPAA laws, and all. 4th Degree: That Med Student’s Fiancée And, while all this was going on – and actually for a decade before – the med student’s fiancée had Anorexia. I know, that came out of left field, right? But I swear this pertains to my best six-degrees-removed-from-a-celebrity story, even though it will totally end up just being ruined by HIPAA. The fiancée had Anorexia and was spiraling downward; she had a lifetime of trauma, and felt desperately out of control. Wracked with torment, hating her body, hating the disease, she finally made the difficult decision to check herself into a residential program for intensive, fully-immersive treatment. So, early one winter morning, she and the med student rented a car and drove in the dark to a well-regarded eating disorders facility, though I can’t give you any details about it because this facility is ALL ABOUT THE HIPAA LAWS. Stick with me, we’re getting really close to the uncanny valley of my best celebrity encounter, removed by only six little degrees. Though, ultimately, I suspect it will be rather anticlimactic, thanks to...well, you can probably guess. #HIPAA 5th Degree: That Nurse at that Eating Disorders Facility The fiancée would stay in the residential facility for two months, leaving only when her insurance company deemed she was well and refused to pay for further treatment. She worked very hard to heal, endearing herself to every single clinician – except, perhaps, the practitioner dubbed Nurse Rached by all the patients. Nurse Rached was precisely as bad as this moniker would suggest and then some, but – and this is essentially how I came to have such a famous celebrity story, so get ready – she also determined the sleeping arrangements. 6th Degree: That Roommate Don’t you see what I’m getting at? ... ... ... Well, women at this eating disorders facility stayed in dormitory-style housing, two patients to a room; and unshakeable bonds tended to form between roommates sharing the intense ordeal of processing trauma. The fiancée met her roommate that very first winter morning, thanks to Nurse Rached’s room assignments, the two became inseparable, and if it hasn’t dawned on you already, that roommate was me. I mean, I’d love to tell you more about any part of this, but my hands are kinda tied by federal laws guarding medically-sensitive information. They really just decimate this whole story about my best six-degrees-of-celebrity encounter, if you ask me. Which you...sort of...did, though I bet you didn’t expect a story like this, and I bet you didn’t expect it to get ruined by HIPAA in the end. Anyway, I left a month later, she got married, and we’re still really close friends. I’ll never forget her, just like I’ll never forgot rooming with the future wife of the med student who handled the transplant case for the patient who turned down a donor liver from a very famous celebrity because of the stigma of drug use during that time we stayed at a residential facility for eating disorders. And THAT’s how I’m connected to...oh, whoops, I almost said it! Do you even know how many HIPAA laws I would have violated???
Shannon Frost Greenstein (she/her) resides in Philadelphia with her children, soulmate, and persnickety cats. She is the author of “These Are a Few of My Least Favorite Things” (Poetry, Really Serious Literature, 2022), “Correspondence to Nowhere” (Nonfiction, Bone & Ink Press, 2022), and “An Oral History of One Day in Guyana” (Fiction, Sledgehammer Lit, 2022.) Shannon is a former Ph.D. candidate in Continental Philosophy and a multi-time Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee. Her work has appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Pithead Chapel, Bending Genres, and elsewhere. Follow her at shannonfrostgreenstein.com or on Twitter at @ShannonFrostGre.