Sunday, January 4, 2009

Where's Our Compassion?

My friend will remain anonymous, so I trust he will not object to find his story on The Buddha Diaries. It's a story that we need to pay attention to. A fellow meditator and a reader of these pages, he returned a couple of days ago from a Christmas trip to London with his wife. I received an email from him the morning after their return, in which he told me that his wife had taken a fall on the steps down to the Underground at Piccadilly Circus, and had suffered two broken bones in her arm as a result of trying to break the fall.

I called at once to inquire after her recovery, and was pleased to hear that Britain's National Health Service--along with several of my (former) fellow-citizens--had proved both caring and efficient. I'm well aware that what is dreaded over here as "socialized medicine" is not without its failings, but my friend had nothing but good words for the English version. Bystanders, he said, who had witnessed the fall, had readily stepped in to help while he hurried off to summon the police from the Underground substation, and the bobbies (are they still called that, in the UK? It sounds so... well, innocent!) led her off to their station until the ambulance arrived.

At the hospital, I gather, bones were set and casts applied with professional dispatch, allowing my friend and his wife to be ready for their planned return flight--all at no cost, save that of medications. As visitors to the UK--and therefore as non-payers into the health system--they were amazed and gratified by the treatment they received.

Imagine their chagrin, then, after a long and I imagine highly uncomfortable flight back from London, they spent hours on the telephone--this on a holiday weekend, true. But even so...!--trying to set up a follow-up appointment with an appropriate American physician. No luck. As my friend explained, on the telephone, local doctors were reluctant to take time for a Medicare patient. They could probably have checked her into Emergency, but she naturally wanted the attention of someone trained in the right area of expertise.

Now, I understand, after a weekend spent with a painfully swelling arm, she is hopeful of getting an appointment tomorrow, Monday. Hopeful.

I was certainly happy to hear that the health care system in my country of origin served them so well at a moment of crisis and, while unsurprised, both sad and angry to hear that our health system over this side of the Pond provides so negative a contrast. I think not only of our friend's plight but, by extension, those millions of other Americans, many of them indeed less fortunate, whose legitimate needs remain ignored or treated with indignity and haste. I know that there are many other pressing problems on Obama's list, when he takes office in a couple of weeks. But I hope that this one remains at the top. It's a disgrace that we, the richest country in the history of the world, have been so stubbornly resistant to what every other developed country sees to be a basic necessity and a human right.

Come right down to it, it's a matter of compassion being put to work. It's a sad reflection on our culture that we lack the humanity to take care of our own.


Nancy Youdelman said...

Thank you so much for sharing this story.

I am old enough to remember when doctors made house calls and nobody sued anyone else. And people cared enough to help others in distress.

Decent health care for everyone should be a basic right. I want to believe that we can change.

deanna said...

wow, I bet there are a lot of stories out there like this. It's such a shame. It also makes you wonder about the poor folks from outside our country who get hurt while visiting and need medical assistance. I wonder if their country helps pay the bill or if it's all on them.

robin andrea said...

That's quite a story, Peter. I'm glad you shared it. I read a diary on Daily Kos the other day, a young man wrote to say he was dying of pancreatic cancer. He had no health insurance and had put off seeing a doctor until it was too late. He wrote that he was going to spend a few months in Europe because he always wanted to see England, France, and Italy before he died. I thought, well, if his health seriously declines while he's there, he'll at least have access to medical care. A universal, single-payer health care system in our country would have the most civilizing effect. I long for the day.

TaraDharma said...

our compassion has been usurped by the profit motive of big medical business. your friend's experience, both abroad and in the US sounds very familiar. It's a shame on this country.

Anthony Matthews said...

Thanks for sharing this story, Peter - unfortunately yet another reminder about the dark reality of the "American Dream".

There was interesting news this morning - Sanjay Gupta, an excellent doctor and popular reporter and personality on CNN and other outlets, has been tapped for the post of Surgeon General.

In an 2007 interview with Larry King, Gupta said "They say the society will be measured by how we take care of those that can't take care of themselves." One can only hope that his vision and common sense will trickle over to those who are working to make health care available to the large chunk of the population who are outside of the system.