Friday, June 22, 2012

Healthcare in the US

What is is about healthcare in the United States that gets people so upset? Have you ever noticed that as soon as you bring up the topic of universal healthcare (UHC), an argument breaks out? It's really the most fascinating thing to watch. People have this bizarrely unfounded internal measure of who "deserves" access to medical care. Not that anyone would readily admit that, they would say things like "I don't want my taxes to go up to take care of people who don't buy insurance!" when what they really mean is "I deserve proper care while others don't". 

The United States is supposedly this amazing country to live in, yet millions of citizens go without access to medical treatment. Many actually avoid going to the doctor when sick, because they know they simply can't afford it. There is something inherently wrong with a place that categorizes the value of those who live there by their ability to see a doctor. Think about that for a second....if you have a job that provides some sort of insurance, you've done "well". And yet it's the people who work the jobs that would rarely if ever provide medical care - foodservice jobs, machinery jobs, housekeeping, etc. - that are most likely to need regular doctor visits due to repetitive injuries! 

What about children? In this country, people have to decide whether to treat their children when a medical need arises & risk not paying the bills for a few months or having a giant chunk of debt to pay off over a few years. How is that acceptable - I mean after all, which do you choose....a healthy child or a roof over said child's head? It's an impossible decision. 

Here's the thing that many people don't seem to care about, get ready for it, it's a huge secret.......

     insurance companies are overcharging you astronomically!

I know, I know, I bet everyone is shocked.  Seriously though, since we all know that insurance companies are money-grubbing leeches & we all know that millions go without medical care because of it, then why are people against UHC?! The same little aspirin for a Medicaid patient is charged around 15cents, while for an insurance patient could be $32! No kidding! You'd actually save more money with UHC, have more cash in *your own* pocket that you aren't paying to the insurance company....but nobody seems to realize that. 

Is it any wonder that people in the US are going to other countries that provide free care to anyone on it's soil for their medical needs? I for one, am not surprised a bit......

(now how much do you want to bet that the US will rapidly become the country that people in this generation & the next LEAVE to seek a better life?)

Saturday, June 9, 2012

40 years later...

War is not something that's new to the human experience. It's a phenomenon that has taken place for thousands of years. People disagree, & they think the answer is to kill off everyone then declare those left standing the winner. Novel idea for conflict resolution, huh? Clearly, it's worked well. Oh we are millennia later, still fighting.

I can buy into the notion that until the last century, commoners were more or less removed from the battle scene, relegated to back-home cheerleaders for "their" cause. Soldiers brought back stories of war that would make anyone think the "others" were barbaric enemies. And of course nobody would imagine that "their" guys could be just as vicious...after all, they were fighting for the right cause. And with both sides holding the same viewpoint with one-sided information, I'll accept the idea that this lack of full perspective allowed the concept of a just war to continue. 

BUT...& this is a big one...that all changed 40 years ago. The Vietnam war was the first globally publicized war that showed true horrors firsthand, delivered to average homes on tv. I'll give you a moment to go to google images & type in "Kim Phuc". You don't have to be any more descriptive, the photo will come up. I'm choosing not to include it here because it is so horrific it leaves me in tears. It's a prize winning photo of an 8 year old girl and her brothers running away from their village, burned by napalm. Her skin literally falling off her body. She survived, she's still alive, but that is not the point. The point is....40 years ago we, as a global community, started to have regular access to images of the comprehensive effects of war. Not the soldiers returning home with battle scars. Not the tales of the unholy things "the others" would do. But the stories of the innocents. The ramifications of our actions on people who had nothing to do with the fight in the first place. 

Now, one would think that as a whole, the world would be horrified & put an end to this immediately. But we didn't. Instead, we found bigger, deadlier, scarier ways of proving how right our cause is. Right now, over in the Middle East, there are children being burned to the bone by white phosphorus. This stuff melts away skin & reignites when doctors try to operate. And before you get so horrified that those barbaric Middle Easterners would do such things....there was recently another little girl who suffered this way and the US military issued a statement that they cannot be sure if it was our weapon or theirs that caused it.

Let that one soak in for a second. The military intelligence does not know what their weapons are targeting. They are...unsure. They use terms like casualty of war & unfortunate incident. These are CHILDREN! Children are not casualties, they are not in the wrong place at the wrong time by playing out in the streets of their home town, they have no understanding of the asinine politics going on in the world...all they know, at that moment, is that they are in terrible pain. 

And we, as a global community, allow this to continue. We perpetuate it by funding scientists who find more lethal ways to do it.

When will people understand, we borrow this earth from our children? We inhabit it for a short time, while our future bloodlines continue to live here when we are long gone. Instead of leaving a legacy of beauty, health, and generosity....we're leaving behind nothing. And by nothing, I don't mean vast wastelands of devastation & toxic remnants. I literally mean nothing. It is the goodness, the kindness, the love within humans that sets us apart from other creatures. In teaching our children that destroying other lives is an acceptable means of conflict resolution, we are destroying the humanity within all of us. We are leaving a legacy devoid of anything but atrocity. We should have learned from those images that first streamed into our livingrooms on tv. We should have learned from the generations of innocents that we have destroyed. We should have found a way to protect them, to say no more. Instead, we were so outraged that we found ways to make it worse. 

This is what I want to change in the world. When I say I got into social work to have an international impact, this is what I mean. I tell people I'm not interested in child welfare work, but that isn't really accurate. I'm interested in global child welfare work. In educating others as to how our misguided ways have & will continue to affect the youngest of our generation the most. In speaking up to ensure that the world is a safer place for those who will be here when I am long gone. In being a voice for the children who hide amongst rubble and bombs who have no understanding that this is happening because people on the other side of the world pray differently, or vote differently, or live differently. That is what I want to change, and advocate for & educate about. This is why I love working with refugees, I have a very tiny impact in my very tiny corner of the globe on a very tiny number of people affected by the atrocities that governments have committed in their "just wars". And if I am very fortunate, one day I will be able to have a greater impact.

There are no just wars. There is one earth, one global community, & one human race. And we are destroying it one child at a time.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Empathy in social work

Empathy is a very important part of being a social worker. I think sometimes though people confuse empathy with an exact replication of someone else’s experience. This is not the case. In fact, one of the worst things that can be said to a client in distress is “I know exactly what you’re going through….” because well, you don’t. Saying that diminishes their own experience, even if the social worker has been through something extremely similar.

More often than not though, I hear it being used in a completely unrelated context. For example, I have 2nd-3rd degree burns on both of my hands. Burns are painful, no doubt. However, this doesn’t mean that I have any type of relevant first hand experience to be able to tell the client I recently worked with from Haiti whose body was covered 40% by burns from the earthquake that I know the feeling. It would be a terrible mistake to look at that client & say “oh I know how awful that feels, I had burns that took months to heal on my hands.” First of all, I have no idea what it’s like to have significant burns across my body or to spend years in the hospital with countless life saving and reconstructive surgeries. Second of all, I cannot relate to the trauma of going through a natural disaster. And even if I *did*, that doesn’t mean that my experience or reaction would be the same.

This is an example of self-reflection, and a realization as to how my own experience could potentially impact a client if I *think* I know what they are feeling. Self-reflection and empathy are both important in social work in order to check your own biases, values, and practice ethics. Caution must be taken to ensure that the line from empathy to self-righteousness or dogma isn't crossed.

Never, ever tell a client that you know what they are going through. You don’t. Having a similar experience is a good starting point to be able to make a connection – albeit quietly & in your own head – with what the client may or may not be experiencing. Empathy is a good jumping-off point to being able to help a client understand their own feelings, but it is imperative that workers do not confuse this with *knowing* what the client feels. This has the potential to do harm because it relegates the client to a lesser role in their own experience.

One particular population that I've noticed this happens a lot with is the LGBT community. People like to say "well why don't they just live their lives & not worry about what others think?" or the one that irritates me the most "we've all been teased about something". Yes, that's probably true. However, being teased because you wore a certain outfit or something equally changeable is *completely* different than being targeted not only in your immediate peer group but by society as a whole simply for existing. So while you may understand what it feels like to be teased a time or two in your life, & it's good to have an understanding of how uncomfortable that is, unless you have been told repeatedly by politicians, media, religious institutions, legal frameworks, and society as a whole that you are innately unacceptable the way you naturally simply cannot relate. 

LGBT equality isn't about an individual ignoring what a few mean kids at school say or getting over a breakup by focusing on a hobby for a while. It's much bigger than that. It's about changing the entire framework of a society that deems a whole portion of it's members to be subhuman. It's about re-defining everything to include equality at all levels, whether it's marriage equality or simply the right to hold your partner's hand in public without getting dirty looks from people. It's about changing the very perception of "normal" to include a broad spectrum of identities. When LGBT equality truly exists, there will not be questions as to why that boy likes to wear pink or assumptions that a girl with a short haircut must be into other girls. There will not be discussions telling a transwoman to be a man & quit dressing like a woman, or insinuating that there is something "sick" about them when there most certainly isn't. 

The LGBT community is society's largest civil rights fight today. Which side do you want to be on in history? I know for me, I want to be on the side that stood up to speak for justice. And the first step in that is realizing that although I may have common experiences, it is entirely inappropriate to assume that my experience is the same for others. It is my greatest wish for society that we can learn as a whole to look at someone who is different in any way &, instead of judging & assigning value, simply say "I don't know what that's like, will you talk to me about it?" And then accept that their truth is as valid as anyone else's.