In Support of Genteel Hypocrisy
In early May when I presented myself at the Emergency Room of Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, they didn’t know that they were about to be treating a world famous poet, writer and social critic. To them I was just a slightly down at the heels old hippie-looking guy who could prove that he lived in Dallas County. This is the secret sauce that makes the whole enchelada of American Healthcare taste so damned good. No matter who you are, you can walk into an Emergency Room and you will be treated. It doesn’t sound like much; it’s not exactly Universal Healthcare, just a reflection of the American values of compassion and mercy. We don’t let our sick suffer without trying to help them. If they need treatment, we treat them regardless of their ability to pay. It’s a good, solid National ethic; The Poet’s Eye approves of it.
We would think that a nation with such generosity and ethical bearing would have a system of healthcare distribution simply reflecting this ethic. But American greatness is not based on what is reasonable or logical. If there is an impossible solution to a simple problem, we prefer it. It’s no wonder that our system of healthcare distribution is as twisted, byzantine and diabolical as possible and still work. The strongest leg of the American ethical milking stool, the leg that must always reach the floor is Functionality. If it doesn’t work, then we have no need for it. It’s the Stoic’s Way.
This poet can’t walk through the doors at Parkland Emergency room without thinking about that day in 1963 when we all were there. That was the day we learned what a fatal fashion combination the colors of pink and blood red turn out to be. Even though Dallas was a hot-bed of conservatism, the doors of Parkland Memorial were open to conservatives and liberals alike. They didn’t even care if he was a Catholic. American Emergency rooms are open to one and all. A liberal public health policy is as essential to a functioning democracy as a sound public education system and the right to vote. The only plausible system of healthcare in a democracy is one in which healthcare of the first order is Available to all. Our American healthcare system as expressed in institutions such as Parkland Hospital demonstrates how close we can get to having a system of universal healthcare without actually calling it that.
Like many wildly effective public institutions, our public hospitals are perpetual amazement machines running on the rare fuel of pure paradox. They combine the cold efficiency of a bureaucracy with the hands-on compassionate art of healing. Who could imagine such a thing? such a fortuitous suspension of opposites? The American De Facto National Healthcare System, is a rare example of the type of public corruption and hypocrisy this poet fully supports. No matter what bureauslang we want to use to talk about it, as long as the Emergency Room is avilable to all, we have Universal Healthcare.
It showed up in my singing first. I’ve never been a very good singer. I can deliver a song, to be sure, but I’m not a singer’s singer; I’m not what I call a Voice. My voice has also changed throughout my career in a perpetual adolescent sort of way, it cracks and breaks without my conscious control. So at first I didn’t pay much attention when suddenly I could hit that note I never could reach before or if one of my trusted memory notes did not come forth on command. I had begun looking for singers to sing my songs. By the time I walked into Parkland I was pretty much down to a wheeze and a rasp. I figured it was only a matter of time. I had never seen this story take a happy ending. I only hoped they would not be stingy with their painkillers.
Like many of our great big-city hospitals, Parkland is a teaching hospital. That means that in association with various universities, the hospitals are learning laboratories which train our young doctors and nurses and technicians. It’s a tremendous win-win situation for all involved. During my stay at Parkland, I was visited by a good friend who has always been an advocate of scientific secular humanism. He said to me, “I have one of those pieces of paper somewhere, A Living Will. One thing it tells them to do is bring me to this hospital. Oh, I could afford to go to Baylor or out to Presbyterian or Methodist or St. Paul’s but I want to be in a hospital where they are still learning things not ones based and funded on superstition.” The Poet’s Eye likewise sees remarkable things being accomplished with creative public funding and bright, young professionals who are dedicated to the highest traditions of the medical sciences and the healing arts.
At the end of my first visit to Parkland Emergency, they presented me with a bill which was over six thousand dollars. I pointed to the line on the form that said ‘occupation’ and under it was written ‘poet.’ The nurse seemed to understand perfectly. When I indicated that I had no money, they didn’t blink an eye, just referred me to their financial assistance department. The care I received that day, some blood-tests, a spot of morphine, the odd x-ray and CAT scan, could have easily been done for under a couple of thousand in a family clinic or a doctor’s office. If I lived in England or Canada or Denmark I would simply have handed them my medical ID card and everybody would have been happy. I probably would have sought care a good deal earlier in the course of my illness and might have saved my voice in addition to the thousands of extra dollars in care costs. But in order to cling to the myth that America has a ‘free-market’ healthcare distribution system and that somehow such a system works better than a single payer arrangement, the generous taxpayers of Texas reached their hands into their pockets and paid for my first-class medical care and did it in the most expensive way possible. I would like to thank them for this. The Poet’s Eye usually takes great delight in exposing hypocrisy to all the ridicule it deserves but on occasion hypocrisy deserves praise for being the blessed flexibility which prevents the whole skeleton of our body politic from shattering behind its own rigidity.
We have two kinds of morality side by side: one which we preach but do not practice and another which we practice but seldom preach. ~Bertrand Russell