After years of battling penny-pinching governments to get more funding for health care, we saw those same governments open their treasuries to the corporate sector.
Increasingly, the needs of sick people are being sacrificed to support ailing businesses.
Heather Caron is a 64-year-old retired teacher whose kidney is being sacrificed to the god of profit.
Thirty years ago, Heather developed a kidney stone large enough to block the flow of urine, so that her kidney became swollen and distressed. She went to the hospital, where a non-invasive attempt to remove the stone failed. Within 48 hours of being diagnosed, she had emergency surgery and was kept in hospital for three weeks to recover.
On October 30 of this year, Heather developed another stone in the same kidney. Again, the stone was blocking the flow of urine. Again, her kidney was swollen and distressed. A CAT scan confirmed the diagnosis. And that’s where the similarity ends.
This time, the blocked kidney is not treated as an emergency, requiring immediate surgery. Instead, Heather is sent home with a prescription for powerful painkillers and told to return on November 11, at which time the doctor will try to remove the stone using a non-invasive procedure. She anxiously inquires if waiting so long will damage her kidney. The doctor confirms that it will, but tells her there are no earlier appointments.
On November 11, Heather’s kidney stone is too large to be removed easily. She is scheduled for in-patient surgery on December 9, 40 days after her diagnosis! Not only that, Heather must find someone to transport her home the day of the surgery and take care of her at home, or her surgery will be canceled.
Heather is beyond stressed. When she explains that her previous blocked kidney was treated as an emergency, the doctors reply, “Things are different now.” When she goes to a different hospital, the doctor tells her,
“We can’t help you any faster. We’ve got a line-up of people at our door for this surgery. If you’re in pain, take drugs. If you develop an infection, take antibiotics. Good luck, and goodbye.”
Heather sits in my office shaking with fear. She feels trapped in a horrible nightmare where no one seems to care that her kidney is dying a little more each day. She wonders if she’s being neglected because she’s an older woman. She asks. “Do you think I’m expecting too much?” I can barely contain my rage.
A deficit of humanity
Things have changed. Thirty years ago, the Canadian medical system was funded well enough to provide Heather with timely treatment. Today, cutting costs is more important than patient care.
A budget deficit is simply the difference between what governments raise in taxes and what they spend. Both factors are regularly juggled to meet political priorities.
In boom times, the surplus is spent on tax cuts and corporate subsidies. In hard times, social programs are cut to support business. At all times, the war machine is amply funded.
Budget deficits are not the problem. The problem is that capitalism puts profits first. The billions of dollars being lavished on banks and other corporations is blood money. It is made available by robbing people like Heather of their health and their lives.
The capitalist class are responsible for this economic crisis, yet they demand that we sacrifice our health, our lives, our homes, our jobs, and our futures to bail them out.
In Canada, the mass media, the medical profession, and the government alternate between denying the crisis in the medical system and using it as an excuse to further privatize the system.
Frogs in a pot
When I tell Heather’s story, most people are outraged. However, some tell me that she’s ‘lucky’ to have to wait only 40 days instead of 3 months! How did systemic medical neglect become ‘normal’?
Decades of funding cuts to the medical system and the subsequent acceptance of rationing remind me of the story of the frog in a pot of water on the stove.
At first the frog feels fine. As the water slowly heats, he feels sleepy but not alarmed. As the water continues to heat, the frog falls asleep and is cooked for dinner.
Appealing to the capitalist class is useless, because their priority is to protect the profitability of their system. When they need medical care, they can afford the best.
Medical workers are caught between increasingly desperate patients on one side and cost-cutting bureaucrats on the other. While we work to relieve human suffering, our social role demands that we function within the system as it is. It does not have to be that way.
Medical workers have a choice. We can become as heartless as the system we serve, or we can organize on the job and fight for patients’ rights.
People’s needs must come first. If the capitalist system cannot do this, then we must replace it with a social system that can.