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Est. April 5, 2002
March 01, 2018 - Issue 731

In the Winter of Our Discontent
There’s Something in the Culture’s
Narrative Called “Health Care”

"In the long run, they already know I’m not
likely to submit to a battery of chemo pills
with side effects such as heart, kidney, and
liver damage, to boot. They would be right to
think that. Immunization treatment would be
the way to go, but I don’t expect my
doctor/insurance providers to agree."

The stability of the large world house which is ours will involve

a revolution of values to accompany the scientific and freedom

revolution engulfing the earth. We must rapidly begin the shift

from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society.

Dr. Martin L. King, Jr., “Where Do We Go From Here?”

I’m not Tom Brokaw. I have the kind of cancer he has—but I’m not him. After I was diagnosed in 2016, my GP at the time, suggested I read Brokaw’s book. Read his book, she said, and then chuckled. Maybe, she added, you could respond to the book, in print. You know, he’s the privileged between the two of you, with the best of medical care this country has to offer.

Near the end of his book, Brokaw acknowledges his privilege: Multiple Myeloma is more prevalent among African Americans. And, yes, he’s aware he’s white and a male. He has clout as a personality and that has benefited him with financial advantages not afforded many African Americans. As a media personality, he’s sat at opposite Henry Kissenger at a table in a swanky restaurant—working, both men, for the common good, of course. He properly doesn’t think much about quitting.

For as long as I can remember, it’s been suggested to me that I just quit. You know, just give up, already! There are times when quitting is the best course of action for survival. But there are other times when it’s akin to drinking the Kool Aid, as we used to say. Today, it’s finding yourself fraying, trying to escape the “sunkin place.”

My mother thought it best I should quit before anything even begins. After I spent more time in the hospital rather than the classroom my first go around in First Grade, she let it be known to the nuns and priests that the child, “born with a heart condition,” could no longer engage in extracurricular activities. Period! I wouldn’t expect cardiologists, in the 1950s, recommending much else to my mother in terms of care for me, a Black girl—except maybe drugs, beta blockers.

At the end my first semester away at college, my mother had a plan and she found a cardiology with a plan. He had a beta blocker that would decrease the frequency of a rapid, out-of-control, heart rate! And I could test this new drug out by quitting school, my mother suggested. What’s a Catholic girl, the oldest girl, doing away from home anyway?

Recovering. Recovering.

Returning back home to attend college would be grudgingly acceptable.

But I didn’t return home and, in the subsequent years on this drug, I complained. And complained. I had a plan, too. But unlike my mother, I didn’t have an ally in the medical profession.

What can I do, I’m asking this cardiologist a few years later, about energy? I’m struggling to climb the stairs to catch the el train in order to get from one college campus to another to teach, to earn a living. I can’t stand too long. The label on my beta blocker warns: fatigue and insomnia! I’m also trying to work on a master’s degree. I’m trying to support residents in a public housing facility by teaching literacy…

Take speed!

He lives in a suburb of Chicago known for its residents’ wealth. He’s an office at a major hospital and a private practice downtown. All these years, (I’m now in my mid-thirties), he doesn’t even notice that I always come into the examining room carry a book as well as a satchel of student papers and textbooks.

It’s funny, so he laughs.

He fills out the prescription for the beta blocker. That’s what I’ve come for anyway. It’s the only way to continue taking the drug my heart has come to depend on, forcing me to wake up in the morning thinking only about reaching the bottle in the bathroom—the way I’ve seen people addicted to recreational drugs do on television.

I look down at the prescription: he’s added another daily dosage. Three times a day!

In his plan, I’m to remain the patient. Complacent with the plan. I don’t have insurance. I work. Have always worked since I was 14-years old. I teach, but I don’t have insurance.

How much did he receive from the pharmaceutical company? From the men in dark suits? There’s nothing about me in his/their plan.

One day, I focus on the problem, immediately at hand: I’m still sipping on the Kool Aid if I don’t think about this too. The heart is a muscle. Beta blockers slow down irregular and rapid beats. The heart’s a muscle. Like the muscles of your arms, legs…

Breath deeply. Exhale. Inhale.

I have a plan, too.


Last month. I call the hospital to speak with someone. A patient representative. Again. To vent. My oncologist has a plan. He’s said he has a plan. He’s not talked with me about this plan. To me, yes. Like, listen, little one, I’m the expert here. I’m the one here who knows.

Let me see your tongue.”

Later, at home, I have to google to see what this is all about.

It’s been two years now. He’s been training me to quit asking questions. Submit! He’s only allotted fifteen-minutes sessions with patients anyway.

The M Protein. The calcium level. I see the results of blood tests online at MyChart and I google. I google to come up with a good diet to lower my intact of calcium. I stopped drinking two bottles of Ensure per day. I don’t even buy the product, and I’ve cut back on cheese.

I’m still not Tom Brokaw.

But I call anyway. I’m used to being in a State/state where to speak out while Black is to be pursued for lock up, or worse. I do understand the risks.

I leave a voice message but soon receive a callback. Maybe I didn’t record the proper amount of cheeriness. Hi, how are you today? Oh, please, at your convenience, please, please, give me a call. My number is... Thank you! Thank you! Maybe my voice didn’t sound happy.

I know the quick response is really for the safety of the hospital, its patients, its personnel. I left there not long before. I didn’t have the doctor’s attention, but now I have the attention of the hospital’s patient representative. And, of course, she remembers me. It’s been a few months, but she remembers.

Are we safe? She will not say this aloud, but I hear it in her voice.

Heaven forbid I should mention I’m anxious. She’ll suggest a doctor and he or she will have a pill for my anxiety. Black Americans, reports tells us, are very stressed out, you know. No kidding!

She’s calmer after a few minutes. I can hear she’s taking notes or just moving paper on her desk. I remind her about my previous call about the white male assistant to the GP, an employee at the hospital, suggesting I read The Shack. I’m only a patient at the hospital because I have cancer—not because I’m in need of religion!

But maybe, another nurse tells me weeks before, he was just trying to help you.

I’m recovering still! I’m not religious. And the hospital is neither a religion-based nor is it a church! I expect this doctor’s assistant to be a professional care provider!

The patient representative on the phone asks if I would like to talk with a nurse in patient resources, someone who could help me with—transportation. Transportation? Did she hear me explain how I feel when I’m in the examining room with my oncologist—another employee of the hospital! He’s not yet explained “the plan,” let alone explained to me what to expect! What does M Protein mean? I’d like to hear that from him rather than hear him report that it’s up this month and down the next. I can read the numbers! I don’t yet (outside of what I’ve learned by googling) understand how this disease works.

Transportation. You without transportation to get out to Highway 94 where we’re located as easily as others (and she doesn’t have to remind me of what I don’t have. But I hear it in her voice and in her suggestion). I’ll have ________ call. She’s really good. Nice. A nurse. She can help you. I’m aware that in this profit-driven society, where every disaster, private or public, has a dollar signs: psychologist masquerade as police officers and nurses... So no threat, but how can we further profit, maybe?

The white woman in my ear is aware of it. She calls the next day. After ten minutes or so, she knows I’m aware of it. We are playing a role in this narrative. She must deflect my attention from the problem, nonetheless. It only works for so long, however.

Two years in. I don’t have Brokaw’s team of care givers, providers. My doctor is a “nice” man. Yes, everyone is “nice.” And I walk away from my monthly fifteen-minute sessions knowing no more than what I’ve researched on the Internet. Time is money. Money is time. Sometimes, I don’t know why I bother.

As I leave the doctor’s office, I hear something behind me and turn back suddenly. I catch the receptionists giggling behind my back. I’m hilarious, I’m sure. Something they aren’t too used to seeing. I’m not Bill, or Sue, or Evelyn, or Allen—any of the white cancer patients I watch being treated as if they were receptionists’ relatives.

The staff isn’t sure what to do or say to me, but, from the screen in front of them, there’s a hint on how to receive me. It comes up there on the screen. They read it while I read their faces.


Yes, the kind of insurance that medical insurance companies, Big Pharma, wealthy politicians, and the current man sitting in the White House wants to gut. The haves are breeding a culture in which medical personnel don’t care unless there’s a financial incentive will result in no care for the nation’s children, for its poor, its disabled and elderly.

Is your insurance the same?

The oncologists, patient representatives, patient resources nurses, receptionists seem to do well enough as foot solider. Most don’t live in the city. There’s a hierarchy among them, of course; nonetheless, all are rewarded for their services to Big Pharma and other medical corporations while continuing to validate the narrative about “care giving.” Caring. Surrogates to the wealthy and their interests, bow to the few at the top. The surrogates relationship with patients can’t be one about caring. Human decency is just too costly.

This is a tragedy perpetuated everyday. To confront it and call it a tragedy is what the corporations must not allow. We can’t even have the discussion! That repression of alternative ideas is the violence in a so-called Christian nation. Let a good chunk of the American citizenry believes it’s a superhuman entity, a “devil” tempting or a “god” testing good Americans! Deflection. And deflection is good, too. The business of the media and institutions, too. But for others, dissenters, laws against protesting. Jail time for insisting. Or a pill for anti-religious or anti-American or anti-capitalists sentiments. Anger is not good!

The nurse and I talk, and we talk. I tell her how I’ve been told for years that I don’t have this, don’t have that. That’s how I end up now talking with her. Not because I don’t have transportation to this way-out cancer center, but that, most important, I don’t have the proper attitude because I don’t have the proper insurance, and, therefore, I don’t show the proper respect towards medical authority that’s expected on me, a Black woman.

Oh, but you have. You do have, she responds. But we are Americans. She knows and I know which reality between us really matters.

Who really is content with where this nation is headed?

It’s not only Tom Brokaw; it’s not him, alone. It’s a culture about having. In excess. As a result, how can we expect the health care system in this country to be about caring?

She was a “nice” nurse. I think she thought I was “nice” enough not to warrant a “care” squad.

We end the call amiably enough. I’m thinking to myself, I’m not a likely candidate for “the health care providers” to “care” about. In the long run, they already know I’m not likely to submit to a battery of chemo pills with side effects such as heart, kidney, and liver damage, to boot. They would be right to think that. Immunization treatment would be the way to go, but I don’t expect my doctor/insurance providers to agree.

I thank the nurse for taking the time, at least, to listen. I don’t expect the kind of change needed now. I’m just one person and it’s a system. And attitude, if I may say so, that is inhumane.

I’m an educator. I’m not flashing cash or appearing on Oprah or Trevor Noah. I’m an educator even if that’s not visible. Breath. Inhale. Exhale…

Later that evening, on Valentine’s Day, I look at the news alerts beeping on my computer. Another school shooting. Seventeen dead. Several injured. A 19-year old, former student. Trained in the use of firearms. The NRA. The wealthy politicians. Call the young shooter, mentally ill. And he is, given his attitude and behavior even prior to the shooting. But call the survivors “crisis actors”!

That’s a culture committed to violence. Editorial Board member and Columnist, Lenore Jean Daniels, PhD, has a Doctorate in Modern American Literature/Cultural Theory. Contact Dr. Daniels.




is published every Thursday
Executive Editor:
David A. Love, JD
Managing Editor:
Nancy Littlefield, MBA
Peter Gamble

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