An Open Letter
If you’re not part of my health care solution, you’re part of my problem.
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Dear Congressman John Culberson or the staff member who may potentially read this email:
About five years ago, I had one of my first meaningful encounters with our nation’s health care system. My wife, who was about four months pregnant at the time, called me at work to tell me she was in excruciating pain and needed me home immediately to get her to the hospital. I sped to our house in the Heights as fast as I could, handling a drive that usually took a half hour in under fifteen minutes. When I arrived I found the front door wide open, and my wife gone. I called her cell phone, but she didn’t answer. I was terrified.
I drove to the Heights Hospital, only to learn that they don’t have an emergency room. There they told me that the nearest ER was at Memorial Hermann Northwest. I arrived at Memorial Hermann Northwest to find my able-bodied wife in a wheelchair in a crowded waiting room, doubled over in pain. Within seconds of calling me, she had called an ambulance, which Houston Fire Department dispatched to our home in mere minutes. Their quick response did nothing to soothe my anxiety. I had no idea what was going on, and my mind ran through the most horrible scenarios. In my uncertainty I had no way of knowing whether or not the life of my wife and unborn child were at risk or if she just needed a simple treatment.
This was a weekday afternoon and the waiting room was packed. We waited for three hours to get out of that waiting room. Sitting beside people with chronic illnesses or simple bugs left for too long to fester, it was evident to me that some of the folks in that waiting room with us chose the ER simply because they knew they wouldn’t be turned away. I didn’t begrudge those people for seeking out the only care that was available to them then, even as the most horrible contingencies raced through my head. I knew that my wife and I were experiencing a legitimate emergency and I didn’t understand why that wouldn’t get us quicker treatment but amid my fear, my anger was directed at a system which turned its face from the problem.
We got into the ER and after another ninety minutes of waiting, my wife was diagnosed with sciatica—a set of nerve pain symptoms that were treatable with pain medications, even for a woman carrying a child. We were insured, and the expenses of her ambulance ride and the ER service were manageable.
Today, some five years later, I think back to that experience and I think about the tremendous opportunity that this country has to move beyond those sorts of experiences, and I hope you will have the strength to help us do so. The child that my wife would deliver some months after that terrifying day at the ER is now four years old. He loves baseball more than just about anything. He throws right and has batted left since he first picked up a bat, at 18 months old.
My wife and I work every day to teach that young man and his younger brother how to grow to be responsible adults. We teach them that it’s not right to call people names. We teach them that you listen to folks, even when they disagree with you. We teach them to use their inside voice, even when they’re excited. We teach them that lying and exaggerating are dangerous, and we teach them that even when they’re scared, they need to be in control of themselves and that even at those times, they will be held accountable for what they say and do.
As I have watched the debate over health care, the behavior of some folks who attend town hall meetings, either here in Houston or elsewhere, have lead me to believe that some parents, some thirty, forty, fifty years ago, might not have gotten those lessons through to their children. Some people are saying horrible things about your fellow members of Congress and about our president. There are folks who are saying absolutely absurd things about the legislation being considered and I believe they’re discrediting their arguments, as well as their own authority to make such arguments. Congressman, I believe that a Republican leader, such as yourself, could make a big difference if he would stand up and ask people all over this country—from radio talk show hosts and TV personalities to our neighbors who venture out to town hall meetings—to just remember how our mothers and fathers raised us.
As this issue gets debated, I hope that folks can talk about who’s right and wrong, instead of who’s good and bad. The questioning of our nation’s leadership is critical to our democracy. Questioning the motives of our elected leadership—either amongst your ranks or by the public—is unproductive. However, when questioning motives becomes the default position of political disagreement in this country, it’s simply tragic.
When we watch a ball game, my sons often ask me, “Who do we want to win?” They don’t ask me who’s good or who’s bad. When we go see the Astros play in other cities, I hope my sons are coming to understand that the folks there rooting for their home team feel the same way about their team that we feel about our ‘Stros. We don’t agree but we have our reasons and we respect each other. We’re not Cubs fans, Congressman, or Phillies fans—we’re Texans.
Looking back on that day in the emergency room, I understand the opportunity that our country has. What if ERs were just for emergencies? Real emergencies! What if other young dads-to-be who have to rush their wives to the hospital didn’t have to wait for two, three, four, five hours or more just to see a doctor who can tell him that it’s going to be all right? The key is real health care for every American. Sure, there are a lot of moving parts but the solution is fairly simple. If every family has a doctor, that reduces acute care cases and saves money. That’s as conservative as it gets.
Also, the data is clear that federal and state tax dollars already pay for more of the health care costs of this country than any other sector—more than insurance, more than employers, more than patients. I hope you’ll encourage your colleagues to give this “socialism” nonsense a rest.
Congressman, I’m urging you to participate in this debate in a way that might make us proud. We’re expecting you to listen to us, your constituents, with an open heart. I’m also asking you to avoid the silly scare tactics that some have adopted. In short, treat us with respect and use your position to encourage others to do the same.
Lastly, I implore you to engage in this debate in a constructive way. I would like for my congressman to support health care reform but I understand that might not be possible for you. However, I hope you’ll realize that when you choose to stand against every suggestion to solve a problem, you’re really just standing up in defense of the problem.
P. Jacob Lipp
P. Jacob Lipp is a writer in Houston.