We Are Kindred All

Digby calls this story as an example of health care being fucked up. And it is. But there’s something else going on here, too:

In the emergency room at Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital, Edith Isabel Rodriguez was seen as a complainer.

“Thanks a lot, officers,” an emergency room nurse told Los Angeles County police who brought in Rodriguez early May 9 after finding her in front of the Willowbrook hospital yelling for help. “This is her third time here.”

The 43-year-old mother of three had been released from the emergency room hours earlier, her third visit in three days for abdominal pain. She’d been given prescription medication and a doctor’s appointment.

Turning to Rodriguez, the nurse said, “You have already been seen, and there is nothing we can do,” according to a report by the county office of public safety, which provides security at the hospital.

[snip]

“I am completely dumbfounded,” said county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who has seen the video recording.

“It’s an indictment of everybody,” he said. “If this woman was in pain, which she appears to be, if she was writhing in pain, which she appears to be, why did nobody bother … to take the most minimal interest in her, in her welfare? It’s just shocking. It really is.”

And that’s the idea that hey, it was the third time she’d come back to the emergency room. She must have wanted drugs, or attention, or something to which she wasn’t entitled. She must have been running some kind of scam. She must have been just trying to be a pain in the ass, as the article states, a complainer, and who has time for that, anyway?

We’re all so goddamn sure these days, of everybody else’s life. We’re sure everybody’s lying, looking for money, wanting a favor, trying to get something from us. We’re sure that if we give that homeless guy money he’s gonna spend it on booze. We’re sure that if we donate to charity it’s never gonna get to the people it’s supposed to help. We’re sure everybody on public assistance is just too lazy to work and we’re sure that everybody who got hurricane relief money just blew it on plasma TVs.

We have these stories in our heads about people who speak Spanish in the grocery store and about how they’re illegal immigrants who can’t learn English. We have these stories about young black schoolchildren and how they want iPods instead of textbooks. We have these stories about Generation Y and how they’re all flashing their titties on the MySpace. We have these stories about liberals who don’t care if the terrorists win, and we have these stories about the government taking all our money.

We have these assumptions about the lady with the screaming kid in the doctor’s office, about how she’s a terrible parent. We have these assumptions about the man with cancer, and how he should be spending less time at work and more with his family. We have these assumptions about how the guy across the street is gay, or not, and we make up these little narratives, and use them to justify our positions, true or false, and we don’t allow others to challenge them. Nothing is as powerful as something we only think we know.

We have these assumptions and they’re not harmless, not when they’re used as the basis of public policy, not when they’re used to justify ignoring someone in pain. A far greater threat than even malice is our certainty that, when we look at somebody, we know what they’re all about. People talk a lot about white middle America being fat and being lazy and being mean, but I think the larger problem is we’re certain.

We’re certain we know exactly who’s trying to do what, and we’re not going to let anybody’s screams distract us from the story we’ve told ourselves about her in our heads.

A.

10 thoughts on “We Are Kindred All

  1. When I lived in a parsonage, and people came to the door or the church office looking for money, help, food, anything, I never asked questions.
    I know people who won’t give money to “beggars,” or should I say “Those in need.” It may be they will use it for alcohol instead of food, but I didn’t keep coupons on hand for food. I usually had some money, though. I never asked why they needed it, never wondered whether they bought cigarettes or liquour or peanut butter and a loaf of bread. It wasn’t my place to worry about what they needed, just to help them if I could.
    Can’t stop to judge the need. Can’t stop to determine what’s legitimate, and what isn’t. Bad enough people have to ask for help, in culture that teaches them not to: at all. One more story, then I’ll stop.
    My daughter has a friend whose family is clearly from Mexico. Legal, illegal, who cares? They drove her down to our house once, and called ahead to say the car was steaming, could we give ’em some water? First time we’d ever met, and they expected help. Well, sure, we could do that. Drove her home later, and her mother asked me if I knew of any job openings, she needed a job. She asked as if she thought nothing of asking, as if she expected me to help.
    Not demanding, you understand; not discourteous or rude, just as if people always helped people, and that was the norm, the status quo. I realized I never help people, I offer help. Or I wait for them to ask.
    Her culture was different. Help was what you did. It was expected. Asking was just a way of opening the door, not a way of “begging.”
    I like her way better.

  2. anonymous says:

    seems to be time to change out the staff. move them to another station. move them to another hospital. move em out. the careworn are too tired to help. the helpers get worn down. just like other jobs.

  3. S2 says:

    A far greater threat than even malice is our certainty that, when we look at somebody, we know what they’re all about.
    exactly right. again.

  4. joejoejoe says:

    Rep. Tim Ryan has a great 3-part video of a speech he gave at the Akron Press Club where he talks about health care and competition. He basically says we’re a country of 300 million people competing with billions of people in a global economy and we have to put all of our people on the field to compete, we can’t spare any because they aren’t getting treatment.
    I thought the sports analogy was a good one for politics as people can equate health care with a “trainer” being the difference between a player staying in the game or missing action at a key stage in the game because of lack of treatment. Think Steve Nash’s bloody nose in the NBA playoffs, he missed a few minutes getting the nose taped up and it cost the Suns. Imagine how much it costs the United States not having 45 million people in their best possible health in a global economic competition.
    Check out the entire Tim Ryan speech. It’s really inspirational about a lot more than healthcare. Ryan is like a plainspoken JFK.
    Tim Ryan Akron Press Club Speech (parts 1-3)
    Part 1 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sx6f-0hWmlk
    Part 2 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PHIH-G0vDek
    Part 3 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R18EEozIIS4

  5. aimai says:

    Whenever I get inspired by a Tim Ryan, I get brought down again reading the blogs–no doubt its their function–but the blog trolls who represent (sometimes fraudulently sometimes sincerely) the right wing point of view simply have an entirely different metaphor for society, an entirely different vision for society. They *don’t* think of everyone in our society as “family” and they don’t think of everyone as “on the same team” they think of everyone here as *competitors* and they think always of *comparative advantage* against those competitors. Read these people (who mercifully don’t post over here) and you will be chilled to the bone. Their entire worldview, and the way they vote, is influenced by what someone (can’t remember who) called “spite” in the last election. They are “screw you” voters. They are convinced that the poor are out to get “something they don’t deserve” and are “sucking up our tax dollars” while “lazing around.” If they get sick and die, so much the better, goes the reasoning. And the less they cost us the better.
    aimai

  6. tena says:

    It goes deeper, alright, Athenae, and this is potentially explosive. If we get a national health care system that has this attitude up front, we’re fucked. And it’s not just ethnic and poor people who will be fucked – it’s everyone.
    If they decide that they aren’t going to treat us for whatever reason they can come up with: that we’re hypochondriacs, drug fiends, or don’t take care of ourselves (and that’s the biggie) then nothing will improve, IMHO.

  7. dan mcenroe says:

    >>They are “screw you” voters. They are convinced that the poor are out to get “something they don’t deserve” and are “sucking up our tax dollars” while “lazing around.”
    The great thing about our political system, though, is that we don’t have to get rid of these people, we just have to outvote them. Now, I’m not saying that’s easy, or that these voters aren’t a cancer in our society, but at least we can keep them from fucking things up too seriously.

  8. pansypoo says:

    emergency rooms are overloaded. not appreciated. and our system is just broken. doctors working to stop universal care eons ago was their doom.
    this is what is killing car manufacturing and the rest.
    what is WRONG with single payer?
    insurance companies help pay for elections! can you say bribe?

  9. slim says:

    just as if people always helped people
    I have a friend who needs a lot of help with her kids right now, because her husband is mentally ill. My husband and I take care of the two boys as many as 3 nights a week. When someone asked why I was going so far out of my way for her, when I have a job and kid and concerns of my own, the idea of not being able to help my friend – of somehow not being up to the task, whether for lack of time, compassion, health, or anything else – brought tears to my eyes.
    We’re here to help each other through this life. Otherwise, it’s meaningless.
    Somewhere along the line in this great country of individualists of ours, we forgot that. The rich get pulled along in a golden chariot, while the rest of us are supposed to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps and run to catch up – even those among us without boots or even food to sustain us on the journey.
    Of course, if we stoop to help our neighbor, we lowly pedestrians might just become strong enough together to overtake that chariot, and take control of where the country’s headed.
    Much better for the rich if we just keep blaming each other for our poverty, ignorance, homelessness, and disease.

  10. r@d@r says:

    beautiful post, beautiful comments, all of it just beautiful. i am proud [and humbled] to be able to think of you all as neighbors, wherever you are.
    and that’s how i like to think of people – as neighbors. [family isn’t such a good metaphor for me, as i often can’t stand my family.] if your next door neighbor is in trouble – you help him. if he needs to borrow your hedge trimmer – you loan it to him. if he looks hungry and worn out from a long week of overwork – you invite him over to your weekend barbecue, even if he doesn’t know anybody in attendance. similarly, your neighbor watches out for you. if someone tries to break into your car while you’re gone, she calls the cops. if some middle aged guy is trolling around the neighborhood offering candy to little girls, she chases him off. and if you just can’t deal because the new baby hasn’t slept in days and neither have you – h bakes you a casserole. so often we say to ourselves, “i can’t help right now – but i’m sure someone will.” you don’t think that when it’s your neighbor – you realize you’re the first line of defense. you don’t think to yourself, “well, i’d like to help him, but maybe somebody two blocks down can help him instead.”
    my neighbors leave cookies on my front porch at christmas. they will spend half an hour answering the question “how you doin’?” they ask me to share the cost of taking a truckload to the dump, and in exchange offer to take some of my junk. sure they’re colorful (read: crazy) – they get in fistfights over basketball games, scream at teenagers who are driving too fast. that’s what makes them interesting. families can be dysfunctional, but neighbors really ARE stuck with each other. so you might as well just get along.

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