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Candid Reflections on Sick Days: A Glimpse into the Broader Healthcare Challenge

Recently, days into a nasty viral infection, I had a standard follow-up “e-visit” with a new nurse practitioner who was unfortunately dismissive of my flu symptoms and patronizing and suspicious regarding my request for a note for work. She promptly concluded that my recent onset of symptoms was dismissible before asking me relevant medical questions about their nature. Instead of investigating the symptoms, reviewing my medical record and understanding the history of the onset of my illness, she had concluded within 10 seconds of speaking that my needs were not valid. And while I didn’t necessarily need written documentation for my “sick day”, as I fortunately work for an employer who is supportive of my health needs, what is the purpose of healthcare when it cannot even perform it’s core duties? What if I desperately needed such a note to retain my job? In my sensitive state, I am now doing what I shouldn’t…ruminating about my experience and feeling shame over my most simple, basic needs.

I wonder, even in the realm of health, why are we so frequently dismissed and blamed, instead of validated? In an economic system where corporate profit isn’t regulated and basic needs are not guaranteed, it’s not surprising that this is common. Like the phrase, “hurt people, hurt people”, if we cannot take care of ourselves, we most certainly won’t be able to take care of each other effectively. In a full-circle moment, this takes me back to the original root of the issue: profit-driven systems, such as American healthcare, are not ethics-driven systems.

As counterintuitive as it is, at it’s foundation, our healthcare driven businesses are ethically problematic in the way they address human needs and so, I am not surprised that the system is fraught with systematic quality issues and at times, poor medical advice. Amplified by poor care is the fact that plenty of Americans have healthcare debt and can’t afford hefty insurance premiums. Predatory pricing and productivity standards prey on workers and patients alike. Chronic disease, obesity, and difficulty accessing healthy food, water, and shelter compound health problems. While such systems will never be perfect, per say, these mostly preventable issues all come back to the same core issue: profit-driven systems are not ethics driven systems.

I remember a distant memory in the hospital, when my father was bedridden with cancer, confused and upset as to why he was provided canned fruit in corn syrup if it was bad for his health. My response: “It’s cheap and it’s not regulated. I know it’s crazy, but that’s why.” His response reflected a theme that I noticed throughout his life: confusion and avoidance regarding healthcare and ultimately, it’s failure to meet his needs. Lucky for me, I have these life experiences to guide me as I navigate the healthcare landscape. I have my laptop to write, a warm bed to rest, health insurance and health literacy, a loving fiancé and an employer who understands. But what about those who aren’t so privileged? What about those like my father, in the last days of his life, confused and nervous about his health? What about people who call their provider, in desperate need of a doctor’s note, at risk of losing their job?

If we can’t turn to healthcare to actually keep us healthy, well, what else can we do right now? I for one, will keep advocating, writing and supporting political candidates that are passionate and knowledgeable about healthcare reform and beyond. Climate change, education, healthcare, and tax reform are all worthy reforms that can change the modern world. Despite the rhetoric of the conservative powers that be, there is enough wealth in circulation to achieve these goals without compromising the quality of life of Americans or completely changing the government. As the 2024 election approaches, those of us who are able need to use our minds, voices, and resources to help create a better world — healthcare, and beyond — if this isn’t the purpose of capitalism, then what is?

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