Saturday, January 5, 2019

Priorities in My Homeland

     Eighteen years ago this week, I was walking on the outskirts of a village in Western Wollega, Ethiopia.  My interpreter and I were near a middle-aged man's grass hut as he came over toward us. A few young children were playing nearby in the dirt. We started talking and learned that he and his wife had had five children but lost two of these when they were young, several years ago. I don't remember the details of the conversation but I do remember the sadness with which he told us that one of those children had died for want of an antibiotic that cost about $30 USD.  He turned away as he explained that he had no access to that kind of money.  I wasn't sure whether he was hiding tears or embarrassment. Either way, that memory had retreated into dormancy along with so many others from that visit - until today.

     This afternoon I scanned the news on my phone.  I swiped past the news of the partial government shutdown to a story told by a 47-year-old mother from Minneapolis named Nicole Smith-Holts.  She described how her 26-year-old  son had moved to his own apartment from her house shortly after he turned twenty-six.  He was an insulin-dependent diabetic and she knew he had lost her health insurance coverage having reached the cut-off age.  She did NOT know how expensive his insulin and supplies were without any insurance - about $1300 per month!  A few weeks after he moved out, he was found dead in his new home and an autopsy revealed the cause of death to be a diabetic coma.  This was attributed to insufficient use of the insulin - which he couldn't afford.  I have a thirty year-old son and can't imagine the level of sorrow and guilt Nicole will forever live with. 

     Reading her story today brought back my memories from Ethiopia, and on reflection I realize how similar our two countries can be - though there is obviously a difference of scale.  My own recollections from Ethiopia may or may not recede again into the hither regions of my mind.  Her emotional trauma never will. 

      I find it very disconcerting that even here in the wealthiest nation on earth, we still contribute to such ongoing sorrow with our government policies and the self-centered priorities we condone. According to the National Institutes of Health, in the year 2018 we spent less than $1 billion on researching the causes and treatment of diabetes -  The US military budget by contrast, spends $2 billion PER DAY.  According to Forbes, we spend more on "defense" than Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, India, Iran, Korea, UK and France  - combined. The importance of a strong national defense can't be overstated but to keep this  in perspective, diabetes typically kills more than six hundred people PER DAY!  Diabetes is an enemy of the people.

      The US government has a partial shutdown over a $5 billion wall. This continues to be all over the headlines.  And yet the lack of serious funding for a dreaded disease and daily killer goes unnoticed and will never make the headlines.  


Lab photo by Zoltan Tasi




Wednesday, January 2, 2019

What Do I Have to Offer?

     This is a very BIG and I think important question: Offer what, where, when, and for how long?  We all have different skill sets, expertise, interests,resources, and availability.  I have a sprinkling of each of these but what I bring to this blog is an uncommon perspective. Please note I said "uncommon" but not special, because I'm just like everyone else doing the best they can with their given set of circumstances, gifts, and limitations.

      I worked as a janitor during high school and early college.  Then I "worked my way up" to assisting the pathologist in Camden, NJ as he did autopsies.  With that expertise and a BS in biology, I met the qualifications to become a bartender in Yellowstone and then a ski bum in Aspen, Colorado (and that is definitely another story).  I actually returned to school for another two years, and became a Physician's Assistant, which I did for thirty plus years.  I became a husband after leaving the ski slopes, then a father, volunteer community mediator for a few years, contractor, and through it all have been somewhat of a word-smith and musician.  So, in spite of the fact I have no expertise, except for that of a medical provider, I do have a somewhat unique perspective on life.  After all, I've met and developed relationships with more than 50,000 people - some short-lived and some life-long.  I've worked with the homeless, the hard-working, the poor in places like Ethiopia and Honduras, and the ultra-wealthy in Aspen and Lake Placid.  I've met lots of different kinds of people and even a few odd ducks.

     None of this makes me any smarter or wiser than anyone else, but I do believe what we've experienced colors our perspective.  I've done short-term work in both Vietnamese and Nicaraguan refugee camps during their respective wars.  That does not make me an expert on anything, but deepens the well from which I draw questions and concerns.

     For decades I've been both intrigued and frustrated with our tendency as humans to put people into carefully constructed boxes.  These are fortified with readily available stereotypes, and our selective assimilation of information that coincides with our limited perspectives.

     Now that you have a little bit of my background, let me bring you into my hopes for this blog.  When we encounter a situation or read about some controversial issue, we are very quick to latch onto our fully developed position and resistant to truly engaging with opposing perspectives.  The news media (both left and right leaning) and to some degree, social media, are mechanisms of reinforcement.  I watch both Fox News and CNN every few days and learn different perspectives from each.  What I don't learn is the middle ground between positions. 

     My GOAL with this blog is to present either an experience, encounter, or some contemporary issue, and then solicit viewpoints regarding the midpoint of the issue where most people could agree if we actually communicated; it is to pursue the unaddressed perspectives or the common denominators in the middle.  I do not want to deal with extreme positions. There are thousands of blogs reinforcing division.

     I invite all of my readers to offer their perspectives AND will do my level best to respect and respond to as many as I can.