Innocence, Indignation, and Idealism:  An Optimist’s Reconciliation

I took my daughter to see “Wonder Woman” last weekend.  I highly recommend it—such a strong, complex, and inspiring portrayal of humanity at its best and worst, with a hopeful ending.

Today I’m (somewhat) inspired in parallel by (some) politicians, three Republican senators in particular, calling for transparency in drafting healthcare reform.  I hereby present my attempt to integrate that exquisite Wonder Woman Experience with my current political outlook.

***WARNING*** THIS POST MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR THOSE WHO HAVE NOT SEEN THE MOVIE.

Innocence

Diana of Themyscira grows up believing in the innate goodness of humans.  The Amazons are educated, independent, strong, and proud, and also collaborative, compassionate, kind, and sensitive.  When Diana learns of the horrific war waged by mankind outside of her paradise home, she relates it to the story of Ares, the God of War, who corrupts the hearts of men to commit acts of hatred upon one another.  So, naturally, she sets out to kill Ares and fix it.

We journey with Diana through challenge and triumph, as she learns that, of course, it’s not that simple.  She kills the man she thought was Ares, and nothing changes, the war rages on.  She must reconcile the possibility that the heart of mankind is not actually pure goodness.  Even without an insidiously corrupting God of War, humans are prone to their own malignant beliefs and actions.  Her innocence is pierced.

In the summer of 2009 or 2010, my best friend from college and his wife came to visit.  He, a molecular biology and political science double major and emergency medicine physician, and she, a worldly intellectual and future legal counsel for a major media outlet, were the first to burst my innocent political bubble.  For some reason, likely due to the tremendous inspiration of Barack Obama, I had gone from thinking all politicians were liars and performance artists, to seeing them as genuine public servants, working to advance their authentic ideas of how society functions better for all citizens.  I know, La-La Land!  My friends described an alternative, more realistic path to politics: Person succeeds at business, rubs elbows with regulators and influences them (with money or otherwise) to facilitate his/her business success.  Said person then realizes s/he could actually become one of those regulators and make a more permanent positive impact on these business interests, and so runs for office.  I still remember how deflated I felt, shoulders slumped, spine rounded, at this sudden and stark realization.

Indignation

As with everything, I’m sure political reality lies somewhere in the messy middle between pure altruism and blatant, self-serving avarice.  But these days, for someone who loved Obama and almost everything he stood for, it’s hard not to see the whole of our current political landscape as the latter.  I think, Really, WTF?  Can those in power really see nothing valid whatsoever in anything accomplished the past 8 years?  Do they really think that see-saw policy-making, each administration reversing everything from the previous one, replacing wise, experienced public servants with ignorant neophytes (my opinion), is the best way to govern?  OMFG, you have got to be kidding me.  I seethe.  But what can I do?

Ares reveals himself, and taunts Diana in her most vulnerable moment with his arrogant disdain for man’s weakness and corruptibility.  He also reveals that she is, in fact, the only one who can vanquish him—only a god can kill another god.  Diana, daughter of Zeus himself, possesses the power to Kick. His. Ass.  Yet he dismisses her out of hand, oblivious to her inner strength of conviction and compassion (I know, so much to expound on here, maybe in another post!).  Nope.  Righteous indignation rises.  She digs deep, finds that core courage, and obliterates him.  Fist pump.  He never saw it coming.

Idealism

In the end, Diana realizes that humans are a paradox: a big jumble of contradictions, perpetrators of horrific rage and destruction, and also fully worthy of love, forgiveness, and compassion.  She somehow finds peace in this enigma, loving the best of humanity and vowing to protect us against our worst selves, helping us to become better.

This resonates with the idealist in me.  This is how she helps us, and how we can help ourselves.

How Can We Help?

We can choose to fight against one another, and thereby focus on what we hate (about ourselves).

Or, we can choose to seek the good in one another, and focus on what we love— even better, focus on love itself.  We all want access to healthcare, and to be free from bankrupting medical expenses.  Everybody wants to be safe from gun violence.  We all want an efficient government that sets reasonable regulations, protects citizens’ constitutional rights, and spends money wisely and with accountability.  We all want to feel protected and free, loved and free to love.

The messy middle is the how.  That is where we negotiate.  That is also where the magic happens, as Brené Brown says, and that is where we must go, where we must persist.  We can bring our best selves to meet others’ best, in mutual respect.  It can be high risk, so we can enter slowly, strategically, with realistic expectations and a few trusted friends.

To this end, I will continue to seek out and hold up elected officials who call for more thoughtful political processes.  My friend Triffany and I have made a habit of writing thank you notes to Members of Congress to validate their cooperative acts.  We harbor no illusions about purity of intent, but we also know that positive reinforcement works.  We can be Diana to anybody’s Ares.

Focus on and fight for what we love: common goals and interests, shared humanity, connection, and one another.  It’s a lifetime’s worth of work, and well worth the fruits, if we can stick with it.

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On Shared Advocacy

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NaBloPoMo 2016, Letters to Patients, Day 14

To Patients Concerned About the Future of Healthcare:

We need one another now more than ever.

In April last year I started this blog to help patients and physicians connect in an increasingly disconnected healthcare system.  Both patients and physicians feel bound and invaded from multiple directions, all interfering with the doctor-patient relationship.  We all suffer for it.

It occurs to me that many of you may not know exactly what we physicians struggle with, that makes some of us so grumpy every day.

What assumptions do you make about us, and how does that impact our interactions?

Here are just a few of our challenges:

Electronic Health Record.  You’d think this would make everything faster, easier.  It has not.  It’s not only your chart.  It’s your billing record.  It’s the demographic, biometric, diagnosis, treatment, and outcome data repository.  And it’s clumsy, to say the least, at all of its functions.  Read more about how it negatively impacts physicians’ quality of life and care here.

Quality Measures.  We all want you to have the best quality care possible.  But how do we measure that?  Many payers base it on outcomes.  Physicians are judged and compensated, for instance, based on their patients’ blood pressure, blood sugar, and whether or not they have quit smoking.  But I cannot control these things.  I cannot make you take your medication or stop eating sugar.  I cannot make you stop smoking.  What I need is to talk to you about your life, so we can figure out the solutions.

Quantity pressure.  But talking requires time—quality time.  The 15 minute clinic slot is designed to maximize volume, not quality (how ironic?).  If you have an acute problem, on top of your uncontrolled blood pressure and diabetes, and we also have to set up your mammogram and colonoscopy, how can I possibly have time to explore, let alone address, the nuances of your health behaviors?

Some of my colleagues advocate for policy change at state and federal levels.  When I suggest that we consider bringing patients on board to help advocate for/with us, some eschew the idea.  We advocate for our patients, not the other way around, they say.  It’s as if we will be seen as weak that we bring you along to speak on our behalf.

The way I see it, we should all stand and speak up for one another.  Yes, in our working relationship I have more power and authority in many ways, and it’s my job to take care of you.  But we are all participants in the larger system, and I think we can make greater, faster change for the better if we all fully understand our shared interests and goals, and advocate for them side by side.

What else do you need to know?

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*For your information, here is an excellent article describing the movement toward integrating physician health into healthcare policy for the benefit of all.