When I was a child there was a TV show Queen for a Day, 1957-1964, (which originated on radio) that presented four women telling sob stories about their dire straights and what it would take to relieve them. Hosted by Jack Bailey, an ex-carny, one woman would ask for a wheel chair for her "crippled" child with polio competing with another woman who needs money to visit her dying mother who she hasn't seen for decades since leaving Kansas for California. After hearing these tales of woe, Bailey would line them up, and the audience would applaud for each and the one who would moved the needle the most on the applause meter would get her wish as she was wrapped in a royal robe with a tiara placed on her head.
Saintly child that I was, I would wonder what would happen to the woman with the dying mother if the polio-mom got the wheel chair. I feared that she and the other losers would just be left to their sad fates.
Queen for a Day came to mind after I watched a woman at a town hall meeting with Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), who also happens to be a physician.
The woman, in tears, told her Coburn, "We need help! My husband has traumatic brain injury. His health insurance would not pay for him to eat or drink. And what I need you to tell him where he can eat or drink. We left the nursing home, but they told us we're on own. He left with a feeding tube. I've been working with him, but I'm not a professional, a speech pathologist that takes six years for a masters, and I'm trying to get him to eat again and speak."
"Well, I think first of all, yes, we'll help," a seemingly encouraging remark.
But then he veers off into Jack Bailey Queen for a Day Mode.
"But the other thing that`s missing in this debate is us, as neighbors, helping people that need our help. You know, we tend to--The idea that the government is the solution to our problems is an inaccurate, a very inaccurate statement."
I hope he did help her, although I could find no evidence of follow-up after intensive googling. I wonder, too, about all those veterans with state-of-the-art prostheses from their government run health plan their views on whether government is the answer, and let's not forget that Coburn is the beneficiary himself of government-sponsored health insurance.
And if Coburn did in fact help her, my child-mind wonders about all those losers who didn't happen to get his attention.
Neighbors helping neighbors is a wonderful concept, but if my neighbor had traumatic brain injury, I could offer him counseling but little expertise for his dysphagia other than to refer him to a speech pathologist.
Some clever wags have suggested that anyone with a health care problem should phone Coburn, and published his number, but I doubt he'd take my call about my neighbor with a brain injury.
Those opposed to Obama's health care reform stress that reform can come from tax credits and health savings accounts.
The fact is that the preamble to the Constitution reads, "We the people," i.e., our neighbors, and it goes on to state that one of its purposes is to "provide for the common welfare."
Sounds like our Founding Fathers could have had health care in mind.
Health care, as is the case in every other industrialized society, is a human right, not reserved only for game show winners.
My book, Nasty, Brutish, and Long: Adventures in Old Age and the World of Eldercare (Avery/Penguin, 2009) provides a unique, insider's perspective on aging in America. It is an account of my work as a psychologist in nursing homes, the story of caregiving to my frail, elderly parents--all to th accompaniment of ruminations on my own mortality. Thomas Lynch, author of The Undertaking calls it "A book for policy makers, caregivers, the halt and lame, the upright and unemcumbered: anyone who ever intends to get old."