Amazon, probably not purely out of kindness, gives some customers access to the most read stories in the Washington Post. Apart from talking to my wife, this is about the only way I learn about what’s happening in the world (mine is a small world after all). I have no idea what Amazon’s metrics are for determining which stories to share, but I was amazed at one focusing on doctors in Canada. The story also appeared in Newsweek and other media sources. Unlike many medical professionals, these Canadian physicians are petitioning the government for lower salaries. They say they already have enough money and other healthcare workers aren’t being paid adequately. Why not share when you have extra? I’ve always thought Canada was far ahead of its southern neighbor in the ethics department, and this about clinches it.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m grateful for doctors. (You should see how much money I give them!) Nobody wants to go through life with this or that hurting or aching all the time. Most of the doctors I’ve met have been kind and descent people. Seldom as strapped for cash as I am, but then my doctorate is in a more intellectual field; serves me right. What really becomes a star in my personal firmament is that somewhere in this world enamored of capitalism, a privileged class has said, “this isn’t right.” Economists have been warning us for years that unbridled capitalism isn’t sustainable, but that falls on deaf ears in this country. Maybe our political leaders should see an otolaryngologist? Maybe they’ve got some wax build-up in there.
Doctors work hard. They have long hours and have to put up with smelly and messy situations. There’s a reason we have to pay so much to compel them to look where the rest of us are told to avert our eyes. At the same time, every other major developed nation in the world has some form of socialized medicine—it is a basic human right. Everywhere but here. If you drive through New Jersey you can’t help but be taken by the palatial campuses of the pharmaceutical companies that call this state home. There’s gold in them thar hills. As I gaze at them from the highway, my thoughts are driving across the border to a land that’s both affluent and caring. When’s the last time we heard an American entrepreneur say, “I’ve got enough—give the rest to someone else”? When too much is never enough, that’s something it’s going to take a Canadian doctor to treat, I fear.
So, what does it mean really? Can you tell the difference? Although it is undoubtedly a pain for many government workers, and a huge, colossal waste of tax-payers’ money, I guess the Tea Party showed us! Over something as simple and humane as healthcare, the neo-cons have shut down the US government. To be honest, I can barely recall the last time this happened. Why do I suddenly feel the need to sit on a rocking chair on the front porch and kvetch? Perhaps we don’t pay them enough to care? Maybe the poor just aren’t worth saving? What can possibly be going through the minds of elected officials who are willing to punish the entire nation just because they can’t pack up their marbles and go home? Of course, I am presuming that they have marbles to pack up. As a tax-payer of over thirty years (pushing on forty), I think I have earned the right to say, “Children behave!” The Tea Party shenanigans have been childish from the start, trying to co-opt the spirit of rebellion against tyranny in a country that plainly has too much. Too much time on its hands, among other things.
I often ponder how a nation with the resources of the United States can proudly tote one of the most inhumane healthcare systems in the developed world (and I’m not talking about Obamacare!). We live in a country, if best-selling author John Green is to be believed (and I’m a believer), we pay more for healthcare than countries with socialized medicine and get less out of it. Why do we put up with it? Tea, anyone? Who has the actual gumption to climb aboard a ship and throw the cargo overboard? Today we call it piracy—hey! Stop that download! And we throw people into jail for it. But shut down the government? That’s okay. The bus still runs and I’m still expected at work. Oh, and I work for a UK company. The irony of it all. When I lived in the United Kingdom, people complained about the healthcare, but I will say there was no child left behind, if you get my meaning.
Our military, I see, remains open for business. We won’t cut off the life-support of the Tea Party’s favorite department. We have our priorities. Somebody has to defend the millions that can’t afford health insurance. There was a time when Christianity was all about healing and taking care of people. Of course, in those days it wasn’t yet called Christianity, or even the Tea Party. It was just a guy and his healing touch. Today, some of the most abstract tenets of a fully corporate religious infrastructure determine who it is that deserves health care and who does not. Call it morals or call it marbles, we have a right to decide who can be afforded and who cannot. And anybody who tries to start legislating fair treatment better not try to stand in the way of our comfortable worldview where those who can afford to withhold compassion can do so under the rule of law, and the unborn smile until they become born when they will soon have to fend for themselves with a government that demands monetary exchange for bodily health. Gee, my blood-pressure seems to be up. Good thing the doctor’s office is open. At least I hope it is.
Influenza seems to be going around. Since I spend at least three hours a day on a crowded bus I get to observe all kinds of uncouth behavior. Not that I’m always Mr. Manners (New York has a way of doing that to you), but I do cover my face when I cough or sneeze and sometimes I feel that I’m in the minority. My wife, concerned with supplies dwindling, made an appointment for me to get a flu shot at the local clinic. I went in and took a number. I guess I’ve been cursed with good health, and that may be a good thing. For my first five years in New Jersey I couldn’t afford health insurance—this was known as Bush Care—and hadn’t needed to see a doctor. Yesterday was my first time in the clinic. Although I had a confirmed appointment, a kind of argument broke out in the office (this is, after all, New Jersey) because non-patients weren’t supposed to be given the inoculation. Or they were, but they had to pay for it. Or their insurance would be charged and they could get the shot as long as they had insurance. Or why didn’t people just go to Walgreens instead. In the midst of the melee, a nurse called my name and a few minutes later I was being jabbed and sent on my way.
In all of this, one of the largest ethical issues of this country is highlighted. Who has a right to basic medical care? Among the conservative crowd that even includes some who can’t afford insurance, there are those who decry moochers. I grew up without health insurance. My mother relied on welfare to help raise three boys whose father had disappeared and our medical care was very, very basic indeed. Maybe people just didn’t say it in front of kids back in the 60’s, but I never heard anyone grousing that the poor should be left to fend for themselves. That took Reaganomics. In any case, working as hard as I could to break out of that lower class, I earned a Ph.D. only to be turned out of a job by a devout worshipper of George W. Bush. No medical insurance. Again. Now with a child of my own. What I’ve heard since the new millennium is that for those who can’t afford insurance—too bad! Just get a job, bum!
I often think about those who make such statements and how they valorize the Bible. If I recall correctly, Jesus handed out free health care. Socialized medicine existed in his corner of the world twenty centuries ago. And we in one of the most prosperous nations on earth argue about who can get a flu shot. In the end, I paid for it; I’d even taken my checkbook along with that intent. Nobody thought to ask me. But as I sat there within full view and certainly full conversational distance, I was objectified by the medical system. I wasn’t a guy who sits on a crowded bus with people who don’t cover their mouths. I was a moocher. A liability. In the waiting room around me I noticed patients tucking away passports and green cards. This is New Jersey, after all. For many, however, despite the cold we’re experiencing, it might feel like a much, much hotter place indeed. A place where, the Bible intimates, nobody cares about anybody else and the flames never die.