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(2) Health Policies Studies

Why I Do It

At one of the health seminars I hold, someone once asked me why I do what I do. “Why do you care so much about health, why are you so passionate about it?”


At first I didn’t have a good answer. I mean, I’m not a doctor and never wanted to be one, though I grew up surrounded by them. Although my mom and dad weren’t doctors, I grew up in a medical family.  Since I was the youngest, I grew up amidst a constant stream of medical jargon. Our Thanksgiving turkey was the only one in the neighborhood that was closed up with surgical sutures. But despite this, I never had the calling to be a doctor. Even as a youngster, when  my mother  would take me to the hospital, I always felt more kinship with the patients than I did with the doctors. I was always fascinated by their stories, their point of view. I would pepper the doctors.

I met with questions about how they felt about their patients. Most of the time they would look at me strangely and talk about some surgical procedure they had planned for that day. I was always intrigued by the way the doctors talked about the patients as “cases,” rarely acknowledging that they were people.

They never seemed interested in their families or their situations, just in curing them-and yet it was their stories, their lives, that fascinated me the most. Once I asked some brain surgery students how they felt about getting close to someone while knowing they might die. One young doctor told me, “I can’t get close to them. My job is to save their lives. The only way I can do that is not to think of them as people with lives. That’s just too hard. I’ve got a nine-year-old with a brain tumor. I can’t get distracted thinking about how tragic it is. His family is counting on me to save his life.”

I was blown away by the self-sacrifice and dedication of these doctors. But I also knew that I would never be able to give up that part of myself. Never be able to put those thoughts aside and see a person as just a “case.” I knew that if I couldn’t do that, I would be too emotionally. So I went to work for the government, and after that, both corporations and nonprofit organizations, developing health, safety, and marketing programs to help people learn how to manage their health and their lives. And as I worked on these programs I became more and more aware of the disease that was infecting our health care system, making all of us sick, threatening our health, our safety, and our lives. I’m not the first or by any means the only person to note the dangerous direction our health care system is heading in, hurtling toward a real crisis. But instead of just sounding the alarm, I’ve become convinced that the only way we are possibly going to save this system and save ourselves would be if each of us took responsibility for our own health, start demanding the care and the life we each deserve, and begin to reform the system from the outside in.

As time went on, I became impassioned about turning the stories that people had told me about their health struggles into something positive that people could use to feel better and save their lives. I wanted to give people information, tools, and resources they could trust and use to help them make the decisions and choices that will let them live a healthy life, and a long one. So one day I thought about it-about why I was doing it; about the course my life had taken that had brought me here, talking to you about your health. You see, when you’re healthy (and especially when you’re young), your health doesn’t seem to matter, and our health care system and how you interact with it seem like just a distant idea. The weird part is that when you’re healthy you’ve got no reason to think about your health. You don’t use the health care system-that’s for sick people- so why worry about it?

But here’s the thing: when you do need it, when that moment comes-you or someone you love gets sick or injured-you not only need it, you rely on it. It must be there and it must work well. Let’s be honest. The system failed F. and his parents in the worst way it  possibly could. And the thing is, it wasn’t a fluke. It wasn’t an accident. It wasn’t just “one of those things.” F. had symptoms. F. did what he was supposed to do-she went to the doctor. But when a strapping twenty-year-old walks into your office with a headache, it’s easy to wave it off as nothing. F. didn’t have to die like that. But it happens every day, hundreds if not thousands of times a day. It’s happened to me. It’s happened to people I love. It’s happened to hundreds of people whom I’ve met who have told me their stories.

Missed conditions. Mixed-up medications. Treatments that don’t work. Doctors who don’t care. Test results that you aren’t told about. People whose lives end way before they should. Families that lose children, mothers, fathers, grandfathers, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, and the love and joy that they bring to their lives. People who suffer through debilitating illnesses that could have been detected with a simple test. I thought as I grew older that our health care system would get better. As we developed new medical discoveries and cures, people would stop dying. Well, I knew that people would still die, but I thought they wouldn’t die because we didn’t know they were sick.

They wouldn’t die because they got the wrong medicine or the wrong treatment or no treatment at all. They wouldn’t die because we never thought to ask them how they felt. But the system kept evolving and people kept dying. In fact, the more time passed, the more people seemed to be dying unnecessarily. “Why?” I kept asking myself and everyone else. “When we’ve got the best medical system in the world?”

I got a thousand different answers, but none of them satisfied me. So I guess that’s why I do it. Our system is sick. I know that I can’t fix it on my own. But I can take what I’ve learned, take what I’ve heard, and turn it into something you can use to protect your life, keep you feeling better, and save the lives of those you love. Did knowing F.  lead me here?

I don’t know. I do know that I believe everything happens for a reason. I couldn’t save F. life. But maybe by having had the privilege to be F. friend, maybe I can take that anger, that frustration, that sadness, and the sadness of everyone who’s told me their stories, and use it to help others save their own lives or the life of someone they love. Because I’ve decided that even one more life, one more soul, lost because of mistakes, neglect, incompetence, or apathy is one life too many.

Especially if it’s yours.



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