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.
After reading a rebuttal to some anonymous e-mails that are going out, spreading mendacities throughout our country about President Obama’s health care reform bill, HR 3200, and its companion Senate bill, one thing is crystal clear: some people simply cannot and will not abide change.
These are the same people who, many years ago, fought for the right to own slaves, beat women legally, and work children at little to no wages in sweat shops. The people who are asking our country to remain stagnant in the area of health care are attempting to impose a life of pain, struggle, and insolvency for an enormous group of our citizenry. How is this possible in 2009?
There are preposterous charges being levied by the plan opponents that this reform will force people to commit euthanasia upon the elderly, mandate end-of-life choices, receive merely rationed medical care, and have little to no power to choose their health plans at the corporate or individual levels.
Even at its face, these charges are ludicrous. No one in the United States would allow these mandates to exist; yet, there are those who believe this fantastical rhetoric.
The larger question is, what is so wrong with us as a nation that we would allow ourselves to believe, beyond reason, that any of these things could be possibly true? Have we strayed from our sanity so far that these fairy tale-level horror stories would ring true to our fragile ears?
Somewhere in this jaded, middle-aged man still lives the cockeyed optimist who believes we, as a people, can make more sense than this. We are not going to be herded, like babbling bovines, into a pen of illogical muck and mire. We will stand as a national community, review the accurate systems being suggested, and make a reasonable and dynamic choice that, if politics are set aside, can be a healing direction for our country.
We can actually imagine a day when our smallest, sickest child, born to poverty and crime, will have adequate care, both medically and socially, to grow into a productive, joyful adult. We can forsee a life of painlessness and nurturing for our elderly as they choose how to spend their final days. We will forget someday that at one time, a very long time ago, our family members wept because they could not receive the care they needed for serious and debilitating medical issues.
We cannot, however, forget those days lest we fall, once again, into that storied complacency that has left the poor, indigent, and culturally marginalized members of our community without any health care whatsoever. We must not allow our middle class moms and dads one more day when, after all their work and planning, they are left destitute because their child has cancer or cystic fibrosis or an as-yet-unidentified neurological disorder.
We must set aside our fears of new thoughts and new ways of doing things and heroically stand with those who are building a changing era. We’ve had the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, the Industrial Age, and the Technology Age; now, it’s time for the Healing Age.
This new age will be vehemently opposed by those who would remove choices from others’ lives based on the needs of a few. This is not a time for divisiveness. This is not the nay-sayers’ day.
This is a time for unity and our singular resonance of purpose. To each person, we must repeat the mantra, “Take action for healing… now!” Write to the President of the United States. Write to your senators and representatives. Talk with your neighbors. Everyone must do their part so that we find that one voice with which to sing the symphony of health and well-being for all Americans.
Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to our future.