With the ever-present exposure we all get to the modern health care system it’s easy to forget that all this technology is relatively new. Until a few years ago almost all Americans who could do so dealt with disease, illness, injury, impairment and old age in the context of a family and a community of friends and neighbors.
This isn’t a “good old days” fantasy about how things were always better in small-town America where everybody pulled together and cared about each other. In years past there were lots of people without friends or family who suffered and died alone – that’s one of the origins of the centralized health care delivery system, the urgent social need to care for the millions of people, many of them immigrants, who lay sick and dying alone in the city streets of the last centuries. Centralized health care institutions grew out of this core failure of the industrializing American system, when the very closeness of family and community which enfolded those in need was not available so many, for whom there was no alternative but the brutal poorhouse or dying alone in the streets.
But there were also tens of thousands of smaller cities, towns, villages and rural communities where few lay alone, whether sick or injured, where aging people were passed from family member to family member if need be, but were kept, and where the medical profession was an enormously useful adjunct to the family-based health care delivery system but was not the primary caregiver. These days are recalled as quaint by some modern docs who chuckle about the days of house calls, though many doctors still wish that they could make a decent living doing just that.
We live now in an age when care has become interpreted as technical intervention alone. When a person becomes seriously sick or gets badly injured or simply old and frail they are often removed from their family in a manner that brooks no interference. Medical emergencies convey license upon lifesavers who rush you to the central facility where you are handed over to technical specialists, who then take charge as you are transformed into a “case” or “patient”.
Your family or friends, if you have any, are reduced to huddling in a waiting room where they are visited from time to time and provided reassurance that you are in good hands and everything possible is being done.
If and when the emergency subsides you are then passed on to other specialists who apply whatever medical technologies they are familiar with and choose to use in the name of standard medical practice. Their choice of technology and strategy is determined by many considerations, and their motives are usually the highest, but their methods are not to be questioned, and there is literally no room for family or friends to function in the role of caregivers. They can come during visiting hours, and that’s it, because the institution is in total charge of care-taking, and their version of care-taking is how its going to be.
If the institution and the specialists can’t fix the problem you will be designated incurable and sent somewhere called a home, but probably not a home with your family in it, for long-term care. You generally won’t go with your family because they “aren’t able to take care of you”, meaning that there is no system to provide the resources that would enable them to take care of you at home. The systems that exist to provide and allocate society’s health care resources choose to allocate those resources to taking care of you in institutions which they administer and from which they profit, not to home-based alternatives which, while better and more cost effective for you, do not benefit them. They’re not evil, just doing what comes naturally, which means surviving at all cost.
If you recover you are released which means you are free to go, after dealing with the bill of course. You walk out to rejoin your family, if you are very fortunate, and maybe on the ride home in the car someone will ask you – ” So, how do you feel?” Well of course you feel “fine”, and that’s about it. Everybody goes home and goes on with their lives until the next time they crash or drop or break or pass out and then it all begins all over again.
But are you healed by all this? Your disease certainly seems to have passed, your bones mended, your new organ functions perfectly, your heart beats. But what about how vulnerable, how violated, how isolated you feel even behind the pills you are given to “make you feel better”?
Given the institutional cultures of the current health care system, there is no “feeling better”. The isolation and emotional and spiritual deprivation of the severely ill or merely very old person grows until death by loneliness becomes inevitable.
This is the precise point at which families of sick and elderly people ought to begin taking Cannabis seriously, because this marvelous little flower has the capacity, when given with loving hands to a sick or just plain old and worn out person, to not only treat but even to heal, and most certainly to make a difficult life more bearable. There is so much more to say about the Cannabis option, and I will be posting some of my thoughts on this in coming weeks and months.
But for the moment I simply want to say to all those who have already discovered the healing properties of this little flower of the Gods that you are on the right path, and my hope is that if there are others who you care for and love that you will be able to help them walk this same path to a better world. With no fear.