So I was all set to post a blog past Tuesday (12/12) when my life hit one of those unexpected detours that got me to thinking and compelled me to rewrite my thoughts, as well as changing what was on my mind. In my 30 years so far I’ve learned that when these curveballs come your way it’s best to take a moment, take a deep breath, and take the plunge into the rabbit hole appearing before you. Try not get mad—get even by making your new circumstance mean something. So my blog on the pharmaceutical industry will have to wait for another day, because today I have something else on my mind…
As some background and context let me start by introducing myself. I am a third year medical student at the University of Colorado in Denver. I also serve as a National leader in the American Medical Student Association as a Regional Programming Coordinator and member of the Health Policy Action Committee. During our third year at my medical school, we take a total of 7 “core” clerkships in different areas of medicine for 2 ½ to 10 weeks at a time. This past week was my last week of 5 in Family Medicine, where we are required to leave the Denver Metro area for a more rural medicinal experience.
On that fateful Tuesday a few days ago it was my last night in small-town Colorado before coming back to Denver for two days of exams and presentations to complete the clerkship. Now I’m ~11 weeks pregnant and starving most of the time, so I thought it would be a good treat to eat out that night, before going back to my host families home to pack my things up and dutifully post my pharma blog on this very site. It was ~5:30 and the sun was just going down when I pulled into the local strip mall and parked right across from the Applebee’s front door. Coming directly from the clinic, I had all of my medical garb as well as my textbooks and required paperwork for the clerkship. I always feel self-conscious going out in public with my medical stuff when I’m not actually working. I’m still more than a year away from actually being an MD (and closer to 10 years away from being done with my training) so it’s awkward when people approach you like you’re already a doc. Anyway, those are my excuses for putting my briefcase in the passenger floor and my white coat over it instead of taking them inside with me to dine.
As you might have already guessed, by the time I walked back out of the restaurant ~6:10, my driver’s side window had been smashed in and the briefcase and white coat with all their contents were gone, surely to never be seen again. First I was in shock and dealt with the situation calmly, calling the police, rattling off the list of valuables that were gone, picking the 10,000 bits of glass off my car seat and console so I could drive, and driving back to where I was staying without a window in the near freezing night air. Later, the despair and devastation of the reality of the situation set in and I had a good cry. My PDA, which organizes my whole life and cost almost $1000… gone. All my textbooks and materials to study for my final exam (in less than 2 days)… gone. All my assignments due for the end of the clerkship… gone. My final PowerPoint presentation for the clerkship and this blog article, as well as all the other info on my flash drive… gone. My white coat that had been a gift from a doctor who’s a good friend, and was the coat she wore as a medical student… gone. My stethoscope, a gift from the Alumni Association when I matriculated into medical school, and all of my other medical equipment and invaluable notes in the pockets of my white coat… gone.
Yes, in some ways I was “lucky”. I did have my wallet, house keys, and cell phone in the pocket of my jacket I wore in to the restaurant. I wasn’t hurt, and at least the car itself was still there and intact so I could drive home the next day (again with no window and chilly temp). But the most disturbing part of the whole experience, which grabbed me and just wouldn’t let go, was the heartlessness it took to ruin someone’s life in an instant in exchange for a lousy PDA. The rest of the stuff they took was utterly devoid of worth to anyone else on this planet, unless of course the thieves were healthcare professionals really pleased with scoring a new reflex hammer and Maxwell’s notebook, and most likely ended up in a dumpster somewhere.
Now it used to irritate me when I heard older generations spout off with statements that began with “back in my day” and “kids these days”, but as I’m getting older I have to say that I have noticed trends in people’s behaviors, the qualities exhibited in how they lead their lives, and the crimes they choose to commit. Unless of course I just notice it more now than I used to. Either way, I think the time has come where thoughtful Americans need to critically look at the culture we’ve created and policy that shapes it, before trying to spread that culture and policy across the globe…
Maybe it’s just because I’m sort of a Health Policy geek, but I can’t help but think that our policy
defines the ethical boundaries of our culture
which determines the behavior of the people
. What, for example, does it say to children that the adults so far in the history of this nation have not made it a priority to provide basic healthcare to all of its people? What kind of message is it to them that some people are not worthy of basic human rights? I think it makes them understand our world from the viewpoint that there is a tier system in place to define who deserves what kind of opportunity and life. Ironically, that framework of a class system and a pre-determined fate is exactly what America supposedly is not, being “the land of opportunity”. I also think that most middle class and above Americans can easily make themselves unaware that this tiered level of opportunity in our country does actually exist. Being multi-generational white trash myself, and one of few from my social standing growing up to break the mold and not only go to college but go on to be a doctor, I vow to remember the perspective life gave me growing up, poor and uninsured, and all of the obstacles that existed in my path.
The overarching policy that shapes our economy tends to breed a self-centered viewpoint and competitiveness with your fellow citizen, so my argument is that our social policy needs to balance that viewpoint with those of humanity and sharing. That way it really can be the America we all want it to be, with a culture that not only embraces innovation, hard work, and determination to succeed, but also truly be the land of opportunity where basic human rights are just that, and not something to be earned. To truly be a land where each child does, in fact, have the real possibility to attain all their goals and ambitions.
I didn’t write this today to get sympathy for my own personal circumstance, but to point out that these random acts of unkindness that happen to millions of people in this country every day speaks volumes about the culture we live in. There is a level of selective sociopathic behavior that is tolerated and even encouraged. From corporate scandal, to politics, to violence, we hear countless stories of how the people of this society get away with as much as they can for as long as they can to personally get ahead. We must make the decisions in health policy, and national policy in general, to shape the country and culture we wish to have. I am compelled to keep fighting the good fight, not only because it is the right thing to do, but for (and selfishly so) the future of my first child on the way…Dani Haakinson, MS3University of Colorado SOMRegion X RPC, AMSA