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I live off to the side of the world, so my involvement in current affairs is intermittent at best. I don’t get caught up much in the minutia of day-to-day developments. Fortunately for me, but unfortunately for us, things don’t change much.

I’ve been dipping in and out of these health care debates. Having spent most of my life in countries where health care is universal, I may have a different perspective on this than many Americans. But as a human being, I imagine we can somehow relate.

I grew up in Canada. When I was 24, I spent my first extended stay in the States, working at a magazine in New York City. After a particularly intense yoga class one day, I woke up in the middle of the night in intense pain. My calf muscle had popped out of place somehow, and felt as if it was being torn from my body. After the initial inchoate shock of pain, my first thought was, ‘What am I going to do? I don’t have health care.’ This was the first time, ever, this thought had entered my mind.

My next thought, fleeting because of the pain, was, ‘what a criminal thought to have to have.’ For 24 years I had lived with the invariant, bedrock sense that should anything happen, all I had to do was go to the doctor and everything else would be taken care of. That’s it. It wasn’t even really a thought; because there was no question that it could be otherwise, it had become part of the fabric of reality, a lifelong sense of security, simply the way things were.

My trauma that night was fairly minor—the muscle eventually just popped back into place—but there are millions of people in this country with more serious health concerns who spend their days—walk around, eat, work and sleep—with the opposite invariant sense from the one I grew up with. Rather than a sense of safety, of everything being taken care of, I imagine part of the fabric of their lives must be a sense of anxiety; should anything happen, there’s no one waiting to help.

My sense that this is criminal hasn’t shifted. It’s not the thought itself, of course, but the ongoing choice of a society so blessed, as this one is, to organize things in such a way that the thought is even possible.

Like any two- (or more) sided conflict, as long as they are governed by competing interests our debates about health care can seesaw along without cease. The only interest, the only ground for debate should be how can we eradicate that criminal thought—“I don’t have health care”—from American consciousness. Private, public…rather than narrowly delineating the discussion around existing territories, we should expand the dialogue to address the real question—how, in the 21st century, can the most powerful, most productive, wealthiest country in history organize itself to ensure that all of its citizens, regardless of economic standing, can have access to first-rate medical care? This is the only real remaining question when it comes to health care. As long as we all agree on that, start with that bedrock position and goal, then the rest, however haltingly, should follow.

This, it seems to me, is a decidedly human question—not limited to pro or con, liberal or conservative. It is a question, hopefully, we might all wish to answer.

I don’t have health care. I choose to live in this country because it has much to offer. Like any relationship, we take the good and the bad. This is one of the uglier features of my current sojourn. But contrary to conventional platitudes, people do change, sometimes. Usually, it takes some kind of trauma. Perhaps we can look around and see that we’ve got such an opportunity right now. With the economy foundering and millions of our neighbors, who’d up ‘til now been financially secure, in difficult straights, we can see that things aren’t always guaranteed, for any of us. And clearly we can see that our corporate leaders don’t always have our best interests at heart. Just as they can’t be trusted to run our economy safely or use our bailout money wisely, they can’t be relied upon to determine the status of our health.

If we take these cues and use this opportunity, we may be able to shift the debate from us and them, to we. We need to redefine the challenge in human terms; let’s not worry so much about “health care”, and realign our focus to caring about health.

Peaceful Sabbath,

Jonathan

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