One thing that older people have in common is their growing and intensive need for health care. Of course, old people do not have a monopoly on such needs, as many younger people and children are faced with critical health care needs. But the common denominator for old people is the growing frequency and increasingly critical nature of health care needs.
Come with me and sit in the oncology infusion room for awhile while I wait for my wife. Watch the sad and tired faces, the bald heads covered with scarves and bonnets, the looks of resigned patience and hopes written on their faces. Now join me in the dialysis clinic, and look at the patients who stoically accept their lifeline to a continued life as they restore their kidney function after hours and days of sitting, waiting, and hoping. Wait with me in the doctor's offices. Study the people who come to oncologists, to urologists, to nephrologists, to cardiologists, to ENTs, pain clinics, dermatologists, surgeons, and every other kind of health care professional. Watch people carefully as they struggle to negotiate the hallways in their wheeled walkers, using their canes, or just inching along, step by step by tortured step to get to their destination. Watch the tears flow, the quiet sobs. Look at the forced smiles, the looks of resigned hope, the attempts to ward off discouragement, the fears that are always so much more vivid in the dark of night, the wondering, wondering, the hoping, the dogged detrmination to never give up hope, to cling to whatever and whoever we have for as long as God allows us to do so.
Come wait with me, come watch with me, come talk to people with every illness and health crisis known to medicine. Study the many faces of pain, the many faces of quiet resignation, the many manifestations of hope. Learn the many faces of sick people, the many faces of health care. And after you have spent weeks, years, making such observations, listening and watching the faces, the halting walks, the grimaces of pain, then tell me that you think we don't all need the best health care we can muster.
Now come to appreciate the wonderful and magnificent health care professionals who devote their lives to their patients. In all of our health care experiences the past several years, we have only encountered one such person who was so cold he should have found another line of work. We have been fortunate to have so many caring doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, ambulance crews and others who show the faces of compassion, of quiet professional competence, of willingness to spend time and provide encouragement and treatment to help make us better. We have been grateful for OR nurses who told me they were praying for my wife, to doctors who offer such bright words of encouragement that we repeat them over and over to ourselves when we get down and out.
Once you have seen the many faces of pain, the many faces of illness and incapacity, the halting and labored walking and breathing, the strained lines across tired faces, then you may find that you can be come compassionate and competent enough to talk about the politics of health care. But not until.