Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Food for thought

This will be a different sort of a post, as I'm in a different sort of a mood right now, and have been for the last few days. I'm a nurse, but I don't often post about work on here. Obviously I fear being sued for libel, which I might have mentioned on here before once of twice. Also, it is easier to post things that are more superficial in nature. I mean, not to say that, say- ordering a Slap Chop or vacuuming up popcorn is superficial, because of course, it's not, but in the scheme of things, it's not overly profound.

People complain about long wait times for surgeries and overcrowded ERs, and I know that there is a growing sense of unease out there. I hear the talk about privatization, murmurs and whispers which grow louder and more insistent all the time. This worries me a lot. I know our health care system isn't perfect, but I don't think that we need throw the baby out with the bathwater here. And I pondered the question"what would make our health care system better?"
This was an exercise in futility.

For a long time I couldn't think of anything that would really, really, put a dent in the spiraling costs of tertiary care. It's easy to think of things would temporarily help, such as recruiting more doctors, or building bigger ERs, but to really get to the root of the problem? I couldn't think of anything.
Nothing feasible, anyways.
But then I thought, well...
OK. So what's feasible? To hell with feasible. What would make our health care system better if anything was possible. That's a big if, of course, I know. But still I thought about that. And I thought: what if we could eliminate obesity? I mean, how much does obesity cost us as a society? Heart disease, joint surgeries, diabetes, high blood pressure. How many hospitalizations from these things alone?
But then, of course, how do we eliminate obesity? Where to even start? So lets say the sky's the limit. What if fruits and vegetables were free? What if anyone could go to any grocery store and purchase any quantity of fresh vegetables and the government would pay for it? Would people eat healthier? Of course they would. Poverty is linked to obesity, and it isn't hard to understand why. The cheapest items in the grocery store are easily the least nutritious: wieners, macaroni, chips, noodles, only the worst, fattiest cuts of meat. What can you buy in the grocery store for less than a dollar? I'll tell you what. Chips. Pop. Macaroni. I mean, there are food banks, true, but even the food banks are doling out high carb, low nutrient food, which is better than nothing, but is that really acceptable? And I mean, where's the dignity in going and standing in line to get your allowance of charity hand outs?

And what if gym memberships were free? What if companies gave their employees paid time off for physical activity, or brought in people to teach yoga or other fitness classes on the job site? I mean, it sounds like a long shot, right? but then when you think of it: healthy employees benefit everybody, don't they? Productivity goes up, sick time goes down. And besides, once upon a time, medicare itself seemed like a long shot.

And then I thought: what if we could eliminate poverty? Why stop at obesity? I've heard it said that money is the root of all evil, but when I think about it, really think about it, I think it's precisely the opposite that's true. Poverty is the root of all evil. It's poverty that makes people desperate, that pushes them to the very fringes of society where the only relief they can get is the kind that comes from a bottle or from a needle in their arm. Where they are forced to make impossible choices: to pay for rent, or to eat? Where violence becomes an outlet, where prostitution becomes an income, where gangs become a family.
Last week at work, I saw a man who was homeless. Not an uncommon story. But it happened that this man had a dog. A dog which he loved more than life itself. This dog was the only thing in this mans life that was good. Let's just say it like that. Anyways. He's sleeping along the river bank. It's cold outside. His dog is his warmth and is his shelter, his companion and his friend.
Truly, his only friend.

And then the SPCA comes along and takes the dog. Won't give it back. So we phone the SPCA to find out what's going on. "We won't release the animal" they say. "We're concerned for the animals welfare as the dog has no home."
I sat in my office for a moment to absorb this. I felt something close to sadness, but not sadness precisely, boiling over inside of me. It felt like a sense of loss, somehow, although what I was losing, I wasn't sure. Something I can't quantify or articulate. I felt, too, a sense of remorse and regret that I had been complicit with a society that can even allow this. It's a feeling that I get from time to time at work, and I try to just keep it down.
Sometimes I just try not to think too much.
But I'm not sure that's the right approach, either.
And I wasn't sure why I should feel this way, this sadness, this vicarious loss. I mean, I've myself been concerned about the dogs welfare from occasion to occasion, truth be told. But I thought, bottom line, where's our compassion? I mean, we won't let a dog live like this! Perhaps for good reason, even. But there are people out there, actual people. But it's like, with the people, we turn our heads, even as the temperatures plunge to below thirty something. They're homeless and we know that, but we console ourselves by thinking, perhaps even subconsciously, that somehow they deserve this fate. But let me ask you this:
Does anyone deserve that?
I mean, could you imagine? To be outside right now? In this cold? With no where to go?
I have looked into this mans eyes, I have seen him cry and I have heard him laugh. I've seen his desperation, and yet he still has pride. I feel badly for his plight, to phrase it simply and mildly. A hair dresser, he told me. He would have been. Would have if his life had stayed on the straight and narrow. He had his hopes and his dreams.
But. Now they are broken as he is disheveled.
And here I sit. In a position to help, and yet, completely helpless all the same.
Here is a link to an article in the Star Phoenix. The man, I believe, froze to death while sleeping along the river bank. That's the word on the street, anyways. I was finally able to find this article after looking through the the Star Phoenix website for about an hour. Apparently, if you are Eric Tillman and touch your babysitters belt buckle, you will be front page news for days and weeks. If you are a homeless person who freezes to death you will get a one paragraph article at the back of the paper.


Lorrie said...

That's exactly what I thought...they took the dog away but didn't help the man?????????????? Like literally, took the dog away from him and left him standing there? That is so sad. I don't know how the hell you work where you do lady!!!!!!!
I think the real problem with healthcare is the abuse of it by some people...and miscommunication between professionals...I guess unavoidable when you have so many freaking patients to track!!

Lorrie said...

WHAT? He died? That is freaking ridiculous that a man, in a city this size, can't be helped through the winter. I mean it's not like we're Vancouver and have people strewn throughout the alleys and parks!
You should write a letter to the editor asking why this sort of local topic doesn't get more of a reaction?????????????? Seriously, you should do it!!!!!!!

randine said...

It wasn't the same dude, sorry for the confusion. Ya, probably I should write a letter to the editor. It's insane.