More Fear and Loathing, or, Why Health Care Discussions Are So Scary

I wrote the other day about Americans having no balls.  What I meant by that was: I feel that we should give reforming our health care system a serious, dramatic, bold, brave try.

I’m going to add, today, that my rah-rah goes out with a full understanding of why people are afraid.

I would like to believe that if I have good health insurance and good health care, I will avoid pain, aging, and even (fingers crossed) death.

Good health insurance and vitamin C, perhaps.

I understand that the idea of changing anything about doctors or hospitals is scary.  The problem is, I am already suffering (sometimes), diseased (right now this nagging tooth infection), and mortal (I think).  Whether or not I have health insurance, I will get sick, get old, and die.

This is bad news, I know, but the entire force of advertising is out there trying to argue against this, so sometimes I feel like I have to stand up and repeat it.  No matter what you own or buy or grasp at, you will get sick, get old, and die.  Best case scenario.

Even if I am responsible and good and I tell my representative not to change a thing about my health insurance, I will get sick, get old, and die.

That’s the bad news.  The good news is, if we’re all living in these crackerbox bodies, then we can at least look out for each other.  We’re all in the same boat: mortals, easily broken.  There is never enough money to keep people healthy and whole forever.  But we can look out for each other, and try to share the risk and the healing in a way that is fair.

We are in this together, and we have to believe in each other.  If Canada’s system has problems, that is no reason to ignore everything they have tried.  Some of it probably works, some of it doesn’t.  We can study!  We can learn!  We don’t have to recreate Canada or the UK with our system.  (You know they just go there to film because it’s cheaper and they speak English.  Where’s the footage from Japan…?)

I think the scariness of health care reform hits Americans pretty hard.  We are not invincible or immortal.  (It seems easier to remember mortality in Europe, surrounded as you are by the stuff of long-dead people.)  And we are not independent.  Our health (or lack of it) affects the people around us.  In a big way.  We are not lone cowboys who can all rope our own doctors.

I think we can change, we have to change.  We cannot throw up our hands at our problems and say, “Rationing!” anymore.  We can’t watch footage of cute British towns with Splash Mountain*-length queues and say, “I aint waiting to see a doctor!”  The price of not changing has become too high.

So please don’t vote out your representatives next fall because they are trying to be brave.  Maybe you disagree with them, but this is a brave move.  Not brave like “Just doin’ my job, ma’am,” but like when people risk their dream of wearing a grey suit with a blue tie and an American flag pin and attending endless meetings with droning speeches and votes at the end.  (Obviously not my dream!)

Somebody needs to go out on a limb and imagine a better way, and try to create it.  That’s what we want our leaders to do.

*As some may be aware, the lines for Splash Mountain are outrageously long, especially on a warm day, although my personal experience with this is quite limited, as I was only brave enough to ride it one time, many years ago.  I have in fact waited for others to ride this ride, and believed that I could have gotten on and off Space Mountain, a far superior ride, in the time they took to reunite with me at the Winnie the Pooh gift shop.  This is just a little levity since I wrote so much about the harsh Zen truths of living.

Fear and Loathing at Splash Mountain

I didn’t ride a roller coaster until I was twenty-one.  My life was basically a disaster, as it should be when you are twenty-0ne.  I was submerged in a codependent romance.  I was annoyed that my first three years of freedom were not more fun than rebelling against my parents.

My misery led me to join my family on their vacation, and may have also inspired my epiphany.  Unlike some famous epiphanies, mine lacked a spotlight or an orchestral crecendo, but still startled me: rides at Disney World are not something to be afraid of.  Cancer and death are things to be afraid of, but Disney roller coasters… no. 

Epiphanies force you to do things you don’t want to do at all.  I did not want to line up for Splash Mountain.  I wanted to listen to the sanitized “Song of the South” tunes in the Winnie the Pooh gift shop and rock in their rocking chair, while maintaining a moderate heart rate and dry palms.  The rest of my family would return in a half hour, and then we would seek the mild, sing-songy pleasure of the raping and pillaging Pirates of the Caribbean.

But Splash Mountain wasn’t cancer, or death, or even dangerous, so I lined up.  One of my sisters held my hand as we snaked through the maze.  Another sister narrated the entire ride (“First you do a small hill, which really isn’t bad at all…”), and yet another sister repeated that I was going to be fine, that this was actually going to be fun. 

It clearly wasn’t going to be “fun.”  I thought I was GOING TO DIE, and I weighed by options: actually riding the ride versus the shame of ducking out at the last minute.  I wondered if they would stop the ride if I screamed something like, “I can’t do this!  Let me off!” as the train pulled away and I was all strapped in like a mental patient about to receive electroshock therapy. 

I rode every ride that year: Thunder Mountain (which is a baby ride, even for me), Splash Mountain (I don’t like that slippery-falling feeling!), Space Mountain (now my favorite), the Rock n’ Roller Coaster (upside down, no problem), and the Tower of Terror (falling is fun, but the suspense almost kills me). 

My new plan was to spend the rest of my twenties doing scary things so that I could relax.  The more things I could cross off my list of fears, the more relaxed I could become.  So I went to Europe alone.  When confronted by my infuriated boss, I refused to snitch on my coworkers.  And I taught high school freshmen– by far the scariest. 

Still, I’ve been disappointed by how fear returns.  It’s not like a cockroach you squash– it’s more like diabetes.  You have to be keeping an eye on it all the time, monitoring yourself, and it could flare up into a big crisis at any time. 

Just because I’ve vacationed alone doesn’t mean I’m not scared to do it again.  Just because I rode the Tower of Terror in 1999 didn’t mean I wasn’t scared shitless to ride Expedition Everest in 2009.   Everest was awesome, though, and I rode it twice, screaming the whole way.