Healthcare Not Warfare

[ Published in the March 2009 Friends Journal ]

Dave pulled up to our "Eyes Wide Open-Ohio" at dawn, Sunday morning. Dave, a Marine veteran of the April 2005 assault on Fallujah had just finished night shift on his factory job. Dave walks slowly, looking at the names on the empty combat boots arranged in formation on the Courthouse steps of our small town.  He is visibly upset, his walk is unsteady , like one weak at the knees from unexpected emotion. I go out to greet him.

"What is this about?" now collected, a Marine, ready to fight those who would not value his service, not value the war he gave so much for.  My friend Tom has noted that our "Eyes Wide Open / Cost of War" exhibit has been a safe place to talk about the war. Good, that is why these empty boots and shoes are here, to be seen and felt, with open eyes and heart. Many have been angry, use one finger gestures, yelling, "They died for you! That's why!"  Tom, Jake, and I quietly respond to these affronted ones that we are sorry they died at all, that so many Iraqis died.

Dave's fists are clenched but his eyes are lost, he relaxes visibly, the words come when he sees my Veterans for Peace hat, as I tell him that I had served with the U.S. Army 256th Evacuation Hospital. Granted, I saw no wartime action, but I was trained to treat the casualties. I tell Dave he looks wounded.

Looking at our photo display of Ohio troops KIA, Dave tells me about each of his three buddies killed when their Blackhawk went down over Fallujah, we seek out the boots with their names. This one was married, this one's girlfriend dumped him a month before he was killed, this one had joined up to escape his Ohio rust-belt town. Dave was assigned to be on that Blackhawk that morning, a last minute detail put him on another ship.

Dave had been promised that the Marines would make him a man, with an employable skill, instead he is 70% disabled from post-traumatic stress disorder. He is embarrassed that this "stupid job" is all that he can do now. He has trouble sleeping, from the PTSD and the night shift work. I look at the infant Iraqi shoes as Dave drives home. I am glad we were here for Dave.

Rose came to my emergency department (ED) when her blood pressure got so high , her headache so bad she couldn't work. Rose's job , cleaning hotel rooms gives her no health insurance. She cannot afford her blood pressure medicine or husband's diabetic care. Her husband was laid off from economic downturn, he had had insurance through his former job. He does day labor now. Rose is grateful when someone leaves a tip for the housekeeping staff when they check out from the inn. I think of Ruth gleaning in the fields.

I write Rose a month's prescription for blood pressure medicine, one I know is on Wal-Mart's four dollar list. I send her home from the ED, knowing her month of meds is a temporary band-aid. Without insurance, no primary care doctor will see her, or her husband, for the on-going care they both need. Rose and her husband will both die early of entirely preventable complications of their high blood pressure and diabetes. Before dying they will live sicker, less productive lives. The Institute of Medicine estimates that 22,000 like Rose and her husband die yearly from lack of health insurance.

The cost of the Iraq War will be well over three trillion dollars. The Supplemental Children's Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP) that President Bush vetoed would have cost less than 10 days of the Iraq War. I confess I am rarely at peace in Meeting for Worship. I am led to action, for Dave's and Rose's sake.

----  Brad Cotton

Brad Cotton is convener for the Circleville, Ohio Friends Worship Group as well as a full-time emergency physician and activist.