“The practice of medicine is an art, not a trade; a calling, not a business; a calling in which your heart will be exercised equally with your head.”
– William Osler
I hear a voice in the still of the night when all the sounds of the world have been hushed. It should be a time of peace and rest for me, but instead, concerns and fears rise to the surface. Who will speak for me when there comes a time when my voice is unable to express my wishes? Does anyone care, or am I just one among a sea of the unfortunate?
It’s like I went to sleep one night and woke up to a world turned topsy-turvy. So much is so wrong. Wars, mistrust of those who are supposed to be protecting and governing us but instead are self-serving, looking the other way at problems and simply collecting paychecks, armed individuals without consciences walking into churches, synagogues, and mosques blasting away at innocents, people gunned down on our streets, shopping centers, and entertainment venues simply because they were at the wrong place at the wrong time. What is happening here? A 7-year-old child walks into his elementary school armed with a gun and shoots his teacher: What’s he doing having access to a gun, let alone knowing how to use it? It seems we are coming apart at the seams.
A person fears falling ill because health care costs are beyond what he can afford. “Affordability remains the top reason why some Americans do not sign up for health coverage, while high out-of-pocket costs lead nearly half of the working-age adults to skip or delay getting needed care.” (Commonwealth Fund)
“The United States spends more on health care than any other high-income country but still has the lowest life expectancy at birth and the highest rate of people with multiple chronic diseases.” (Commonwealth Fund)
Prescription drugs, including generic drugs, seem to be continually upward without any flattening out of the curve in sight. How can one afford to be sick? An individual feels overwhelmed, not knowing where to seek help. Does one spend money for food for the family and rent for a place to live or spend it on a doctor’s visit and a prescription for a bacterial infection? The first choice wins every time. How can the voice of a single individual stand up against Big Pharma and its lobbyists who bend the ears of many of our politicians? Are we a country where tax loopholes benefit rich corporations while there are homeless people on our city streets looking simply to keep warm on a cold winter evening?
Our senior citizens on fixed incomes seem to be the target of money-pinching schemes by certain politicians wanting to take a “closer look” at those so-called “entitlements” like Social Security and Medicare. For many, these are the only means of scraping by in today’s world. Instead, why take a look at those billionaires, those huge corporate entities who take advantage of “the system” and do not ever pay their fair share?
Are we in a moment in time when huge corporate health systems tend to depersonalize the care of the patient? “Bigger is better,” so the saying goes, but is it the case when tending to the sick and destitute? They say they hear the “patient’s voice,” but is it just a slogan for publicity’s sake, for the roadside billboards?
Those who are to heal and keep us safe from illness have raised their “white flags” and retreated. Many physicians and nurses have been made to feel that their voices have also been ignored.
“Change will come. Just be patient, “they have been told by hospital administrators, but it seems never to happen. Overworked, overstressed: Many have taken leave of their professions, leaving patients in a bit of a quandary: long waits for appointments and, at times, inadequate staffing in hospitals and clinics. At times, physician and nursing positions are being filled with lesser-qualified staff(the dwindling number of primary care physicians are being replaced with NPs whose knowledge and training experience lag far behind that of an MD who has spent four years in medical school plus three or more years in residency just for starters).
A better question to ask is why our best and brightest are turning away from a career in medicine. Could it be they see “the writing on the wall” and are aware of how corporate medicine has been treating its physicians for the past decade or so? Current on-the-job nurses are asked to work longer shifts, more shifts. The patient feels the repercussions of this unfortunate chain of events with the potential of less than optimum health care being given and, in some cases, threatening their well-being.
As patients, we have the right to safe and respectful care at all times. We have the right to receive medical information in a way that we can understand. We have the right to receive care safely, free from neglect, abuse, and harassment. We have the right to appoint a support person, if necessary, to act on our behalf in protecting our rights. Most importantly, we have the right to be a partner in our health care; our voices are to be recognized and validated.
So in this time of turmoil and unrest, what can we do? We can start by simply listening to the concerns of the other. Come from a direction of finding solutions rather than taking sides and pointing fingers. Realize that the health care field differs from a corporation producing nuts and bolts. The health and welfare of living and breathing human beings are at stake. Profit margins should not be the chief concern.
Those with the immense responsibility of attending to the sick should be shown that they are valued team members, not just employees working on an assembly line. Their voices and ideas on improving their working conditions should be heard, acknowledged, and put into practice for the betterment of all.
“As to diseases, make a habit of two things — to help, or at least, to do no harm.”
Michele Luckenbaugh is a patient advocate.