It’s been difficult to watch the debate, passage and response to health care reform from Malawi. As I sit with friends though misdiagnosis after misdiagnosis, pray with a neighbor who watched his son die without a diagnosis, and worry about what Wilson and Finna will do in the four months we’re gone without access to the clinics and medicine we have been able to afford, I’m sad and stunned to read the ire and hateful messages regarding the passage of this bill.
We have chosen to live in a developing nation, chosen to live without a salary, chosen to live among the poor. And we also choose to pay for medical bills of those we love. I don’t deny or minimize the effect these decisions have on my views and don’t expect others to do the same, understand or agree with those views. But those circumstances, nevertheless, create the lens through which I see events unfolding at home.
My political views when we lived in the USA with a six-figure salary would have been the same as they are now. But from a much more isolated and academic point of view. Reading in the New York Times this morning that the legislation will mean that those who make over $250,000 will be taxed to help pay for those making less than $80,000 makes sense to me – practically, morally and theologically. We made closer to the $80,000 than the $250,000 but we were wealthy and I understand how all that money flows out each month just as quickly as those making much less. I understand additional taxes and expenses are a burden in any tax bracket.
But how can citizens who love their country so much that they put the flag in their church sanctuaries be so hostile about providing the citizens of that same nation equal health care? What national ideals do we worship so fervently that are in such violent conflict with the health of the individuals who make up that nation?
I am about to attend the funeral of a 10-year-old boy whose parents watched him die waiting for a neurologist from Lusaka, Zambia to arrive and read his brain scan. In a country where there are 40 surgeons for 17 million people there are more stories like this than one could bear to hear or to tell.
So today I am even more biased than I was before I left America. My friends, family and husband call me a bleeding heart liberal. Today I understand that metaphor. My heart has been painful in my chest for over a month, bleeding for those I cannot help, for systems I cannot fix.
But in the USA, Congress has taken steps to fix the system for thousands, millions, of people. To make sure that the innumerable surgeons, the sanitary and even beautiful waiting rooms, the undiluted and life-saving medications, the functioning and accurate equipment, the educated and trained personnel are available to those who need it regardless of income, employment status, or pre-existing conditions.
When I sat with our friend Lucy several weeks ago on a stone bench, in a waiting room where mothers fetched mops to clean up their own children’s urine, I prayed a prayer that I never imagined I would pray for anyone but my children. I placed my hand on Lucy’s back and prayed that God let all my strength and health flow to her, to revive her, to ease her pain. After such an experience, such a change of heart, how much easier to give a portion of my money. This bleeding heart will have to let it go.