Tom Finneran: Running on Envy
Friday, April 18, 2014
America’s healers must now run the gauntlet of envy. Headlines blare the numbers—“Doctors bill Medicare for millions”. I suspect that the writers of these stories expect to stoke public rage against rich guys ripping off the public. It’s the favorite narrative of America today, an offshoot of the nonsense associated with the “Occupy” movements and the “we are the 99%” crowd.
I’ll carry no water here for the Wall Street crowd of hustlers. And corporate CEOs who get paid handsomely even as their companies tank is an absurdity of our age. The remedy is simple however—don’t buy their products, their services, or their company shares.
Picking on the wrong profession
Regarding doctors however, might we open our eyes and minds to their talent and skills? Once upon a time, America valued education. Are there any professionals in the world who are more highly trained and educated than America’s doctors? Once upon a time America honored effort. Are there any professionals in the world who make such a concerted effort over many years to develop their skills? By the way, we are not talking about the continuous efforts many of us make in meeting our responsibilities to put bread on our families’ tables, whether we are butchers or bakers or candlestick makers. Coal miners for example work very hard. As do farmers and roofers and fishermen. All those occupations and many many more require a diligence and an effort that never ends. But the skill and ability one needs to open up a vein of coal is very different from the skill and ability one needs to open up a vein in a child’s head.
Might we not value, even cherish, those gifted ones in our midst whose God-given talent has merged with stupendous personal effort and who actually save the lives of our families and friends and neighbors? Before tomorrow’s sunrise there will be a little child lying on an operating table in a local hospital and caregivers will be huddled over that child fighting some frightening medical odds in a race against death. Blessed be the caregivers in that room.
Or consider the relevant facts associated with those screaming headlines about doctors “making millions” off of Medicare. It turns out that the most expensive doctors are ophthalmologists and radiation oncologists. I don’t know about you, but blindness and cancer are fairly high on the list of things I never want to experience. And for those poor souls who suffer such diagnoses, I suspect that their doctors are seen as gods. The radiation oncologist is undoubtedly the most important person in the universe for someone struggling with cancer.
The ophthalmologist who must inject very expensive and unique drugs into his patients’ eyes every month in order to preserve sight and prevent blindness is now one of the nation’s bad guys? Come on now, let’s grow up here. The office itself, the elaborate imaging equipment, the highly skilled nurses, the necessary drugs, and the brilliant doctors are all part of a team effort to help frail and elderly Americans live their final days with some sight and grace and dignity. Can we consider for one moment the notion of operating on someone’s eye? Is it not a miracle? And is it not a miracle peculiar to our age? No other generation of humans in the long sweep of history has had so many science-fiction medical miracles come to such full reality. We are blessed beyond measure, yet we seem resentful. And jealous. And envious.
Doctors save lives, not baseball games
Of course there’s one sure-fire way of keeping medical costs down in this age of medical miracles. We could let patients simply transit to the obituary pages which is the norm for a big chunk of the world’s population. There are no big outlays in countries whose lifespans don’t top forty years.
Sports fans will argue about what to pay David Ortiz for another year of baseball heroics. Business folks will argue about salaries and bonuses and stock options for executives at both failing and successful companies. Such arguments, usually over lots of beer, can be both funny and infuriating. But let’s not succumb to beer and utter foolishness. Doctors save lives not baseball games. And David Ortiz himself would tell you that he just plays a game. For more than fourteen million dollars a year………………………
Americans have instinctively valued a person’s effort and education and achievement. It’s part of our nation’s DNA, most likely evolved from our resistance to monarchy and the ruling classes of Europe and other lands. Here we judge the individual not the family lineage, and here we admire hard-earned success. Envy, and its cousins—resentment and discontent—are poisons to be avoided. And doctors, God’s healers and true soldiers of effort, are not to be stoned in our public squares.
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