Author’s Note: I wrote this article in 2009, and given experiences several of my friends and family have had in the past year, I felt as though I wanted to republish this article as a reminder.
My friend, Rindy’s parents just got her death certificate in the mail. As I read the details, I realized that on this piece of paper, her data and vital statistics were just numbers and letters. The description of what happened to her, a record of events not related to the actual emotional experience of that particularly horrific day.
One of my other students, one I have known since she was in seventh grade, just wrote about her friend who has cystic tumors on multiple organs in her body. At a spiritual level, I am praying for her, but I can’t help but go to that place where I am assessing the medical viability of this poor child. It helps me to distance myself from the tragedy her parents are experiencing right now.
On a larger scale, I can’t help but think that our debate about health care reform is just like these situations. We are standing on ideologies, philosophies, and mental judgement about people’s lives to maintain our intellectual distance. Of course, we can’t simply respond to our emotional selves, placating our strong desire to save everyone from the pits of hellish disease and agony. I must wonder, however, when it was that we lost our permission to be compassionate human beings with regard to this question? When did we decide, and a decision it was, to release ourselves from seeing each and every person in our country as a whole person?
Every dollar that goes to health care does not only go to a hospital, or physician, or technician. Every penny represents a human life that is in crisis. Every dime eases the pain of a child or maintains the dignity of an elderly person who is watching her life slip away. Each nickel is a banner waving in our war against chronic pain, epidemiological outbreaks, and insidious cancer.
I am nearly debilitated by our forgetfulness of these truths in this debate. We continue to talk about dollars as though these pieces of paper and shards of metal are what this discussion is about. It’s not. It never has been.
Be reasonable. Be accountable. Destroy fraud; but we must do these things with someone’s face always at the forefront of our minds. Remember your father who died of Alzheimers Disease. Remember your mother who died of pancreatic cancer. Remember your daughter who died of leukemia. Remember your son who died of poor prenatal care. Remember the pale woman on the street, whose wisps of hair flutter in the breeze beneath her silken kerchief wrapped loosely on her head.
Every time we forget these people, our brothers and sisters, we have bastardized the purpose of the health care system. Every time we are angry at the legislators for not focusing on costs and income, we become the monsters that walk hand-in-hand with the cells that destroy our bodies. Every time we arrogantlly chant that people should pay for their own insurance, even when they don’t have a job or health enough to maintain work, we become that against which we fight so hard… a tumor that ravages the body of society.
Remember a face… any face… and only then begin the debate about health care reform.