Understanding Health Care

I haven’t been following the debate on health care because it is obvious we don’t have that much: caring about health, that is. And to be honest, I’ve been raising chickens and they have taken all of my attention; even so, I’ve lost two: one to a careless human and another to a predator, possibly a bobcat. But what is there to debate? Though healthy debate has the power to transform society, as the beloved and essential film “The Great Debaters” reminds us. So chicken shepherding distraction is probably not a good excuse. Still, for a relatively prosperous country, our population is riddled with the kind of ill health people in much poorer countries, with more attention to what they eat and how they exercise, how they rest and how they play, avoid.

We can do better.

People are falling sick and dying all around us and when, and if, we go to the hospital most of us hope we don’t, from lack of care, die there. How bizarre it is that President Obama, this thoughtful, kind, smart being we’ve at long last been graced with as a leader, has to spend so much energy trying to get Americans to accept what we so desperately need: a system of health care that means we don’t have to be terrorized by the thought of getting sick. We would laugh, except it’s really sad. And self-defeating. Even the well-heeled people who hate this man will benefit from the sense of security real health care reform will provide. Their children, though well provided for through wills and trust funds and who knows, overseas stashes of cash, may yet fall on hard times and need care. They will not be happy to realize what most of us have always known: that being sick in America, without insurance or a substantial amount of money, brings one at last to the level of all the other “minorities.” People in pain. People with a grievance. This could be an enlightening experience, of course, and that would be wonderful. But it could be sordid and dark and horrid, with nothing but suffering and despair to recommend it.

Why risk it?

I never had an assistant until I was in my forties. My “business” as a writer was so small I could, with a bit of struggle, handle it myself. When my fortunes changed and a deluge of mail and other stuff arrived at my house and I couldn’t handle it, I simply threw it into a room and closed the door. This worked for a few months. Finally someone arrived who opened the door, took out all the crazy making demands, requests, complaints, etc. and began to make sense of them. It was an amazing experience for me that such organization was even possible. Lucky for me, I knew what I had in my new assistant: I gratefully referred to her as St. Joan and we lived happily in each other’s appreciation for a decade.

The key to running a successful enterprise is to attract the very best people to help run it. This is part of what I learned from working year in and year out with St. Joan. She soon proved she knew exactly what she was doing, and could do it just fine, even when I didn’t remember or had forgot. It is the same with electing a president. Part of the reason I voted for Barack Obama is that I believe in him as a human being. That he’s decent and caring and wants the best for every single person in our country. That he’s really sharp in his thinking and cool in his behavior; that we’re in good hands as long as we don’t overtax him with work and blame him for the mess the country’s in when he just, in a sense, got here. I know he’s doing his best and that’s all I ask of him, or of anyone. Dismissing the guidance of the very person you’ve elected to lead you is an absurdity we can’t afford.

The latest I heard is that he and Michelle Obama and the girls have gone on vacation. This is excellent news. Who knows, maybe it’s somewhere out of reach of media, fax, blackberry and phone. Of course it won’t be, but those of us who truly understand health care, caring about health, can hope.

©2009 Alice Walker