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The Peace of the Cynic

We've been to the doctor a lot lately with the kids. And strangely, I'm at peace about it all.

My son woke up this morning making a horrible sound. A familiar sound. He padded his way into the living room, where his sister was on the nebulizer, coughed a bit more, and then promptly informed his mother, "I need to go to the doctor."

My wife looked at me. I shrugged. Fifteen minutes later, he had an 8:30 a.m. doctor's appointment, and the doc diagnosed him with the croup.

An hour after that, we were sitting in the Emergency Room of Gwinnett Medical.

Jonathan was fine - the ER trip was necessary because the main treatment for croup can only be administered by doctors in an observational environment - and after a couple hours of watching Madigascar and Over the Hedge, we were on our way home with a prescription for oral steroids and permission for Jon to eat as many Popsicles as he wanted. This comes on the heels of Ella having been to the doctor twice last week (and possibly again this week) because of a bout of viral pneumonia, which is a bad thing for an asthmatic to have.

So, two kids, two different results of a virus, and more medical bills that eat away what little money we have. And that's just on co-pays and prescription costs. That doesn't even touch whatever the insurance company won't cover.

The funny part is I'm not even angry any more. I could be, but my kids happen to come down with stuff that's treatable. Asthma's no picnic, and it certainly can curtail my daughter's zest for life from time to time, but it's not terminal. It can be managed, and she can have a happy, productive life until she's old and wrinkled and squeezed the last bit of joy out of her time on this planet. And Jonathan's main health issue is the fact that he's 3; once he gets old enough to be a tad more discerning where he places his hands in relation to his nose/mouth area, he should be significantly healthier.

Would it be nice if health care costs were down? Absolutely. It would help us out quite a bit. But here's the thing, and I had to arrive at this position slowly, over the course of a number of years of dealing with insurance and providers and all the stuff that comes with having kids who are frequently sick:

It's not going to get better.

It's just not.

We can talk about revamping health care all we want, but the fact of the matter is that most of the 300 million plus U.S. citizens are but a statistic in a spreadsheet. If we can be charged and shuffled and ignored to help some company's bottom line get a little fatter, then that's what will happen, because we have become a nation that's all about the bottom line. Just look at the current election: chances are, you're going to vote for whichever candidate you think will do the most to make the economy better. I don't blame you. After all, we live in a country that requires money for things to happen.

Unfortunately that also means that sometimes we get burned at the expense of someone else making money.

My sister-in-law has appendiceal cancer and has battled it for over five years. A few weeks ago she posted on Facebook her frustrations with major pharmaceutical companies not using their considerable R&D power to create treatments for people with appendix cancer because the market isn't large enough. And because the market isn't large enough, it's acceptable to those companies to not work on a drug that might save someone's life because they won't profit on it the way they will on drugs that treat other illnesses.

Like erectile dysfunction.

Now, before anyone jabs at me for being anti-marketplace, I'm not saying that the company has a moral responsibility to make any drug they can't sell. That's not the way our system works; companies produce what they think people will buy. It's tough to market a life saving cancer drug when less than 5% of the population will develop that type of cancer and therefore need the drug. So I get it.

But if you stop for a moment and read the preceding paragraphs, doesn't the black and white statement that death is allowable because it's not profitable strike you a bit hard?

Sure, I could make an appeal that we all stop our selfish ways and join hands and sing Kumbaya around the campfire in an effort to restore dignity to the human experience. But not only is that not going to happen, it's ridiculous on it's face. It would seem to go against the human instinct for survival; if we help the sick stay around longer, there's less resources for the healthy ones, right? And aren't we hard wired for survival?

It's not often you get a moment of lucidity like this one, where you see things so clearly and recognize that the best we can really expect is the inequities that currently stare us in the face. Usually, I would be tempted to despair, or raise my fist in anger at the injustice of it all. But today I am at peace, and it comes because of something I read this morning, something from the keyboard of Carson T. Clark:

It seems to me most of contemporary American Christianity can be summarized as Fiscal, Political Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Let me explain...

What I mean by fiscal is this sort of nebulous, presumed social contract between deity and believer such that God will bless us financially if we’ll be faithful. (To be clear, while that last sentence sounds like the overt Prosperity Gospel, that’s not what I mean. Though perhaps the two are insidiously linked.) For example, when I was broke and unemployed a couple years ago I was shocked to find this deep-seated sense that somehow God hadn’t lived up to His end of the bargain. I was being faithful. Where was He? I didn’t expect, or even hope for, overt wealth. I did expect basic financial provision, and felt a terrible sense of divine injustice when it wasn’t happening. (I cognitively knew this was absurd. It took no more than reflecting on Paul’s life and the book of Job to know that, but I’d nonetheless been so imbued by my uncritically capitalistic church culture with this financial-religious link that it was nearly impossible to be rational about it.) If my life experience is in any way an accurate measure, the vast majority of American Christians have that sort of unknown presupposition underlying their faith experience.

Carson nails exactly what I'm feeling, and what I'm guilty of - believing that God somehow owes me a financially just existence. That my life should be attributed a monetary worth that translates into my basic needs being met. Instead, I find a system where I am worth less than I would hope, and have less than I often need. And it feels unfair.

But it really isn't. If you take away the notion of God, the raw rules of natural survival still apply: only the strong survive. So in nature, so in business. As Bruce Hornsby sang, that's just the way it is.

So bizarrely, I'm grateful today for my son only having the croup, and for my daughter only having asthma. Call it the peace of the cynic, or whatever you'd like.

I'm just glad that for once, when it comes to my kids being sick, I actually feel at peace.

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jim November 05, 2012 at 06:35 AM
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