We’re so VERY sorry, Carl Sagan…

As a writer, I see my ‘job’ as telling stories, sharing fanciful tales about fictional peoples in made-up places doing imaginary things. Nothing is real per se. Yet, the way I make that compelling is to root it in the tenets of reality, to infuse my specific voice into the story and to give it weight and meaning; I’m not here just to amuse or entertain but to evoke and inspire. These require a foundation, ample soil to root themselves in so they can grow into something real and affecting. So, my tales might be of swashbuckling airship captains or alien infections in the frigid antarctic or of demigods or the walking (and talking) dead but everything has to have some connection to this world, the real world.

Wise writers generally avoid risky topics, especially ones like politics and religion. Being overstated about your own personal feelings on these topics can have the tendency to alienate groups of potential fans. When one is trying to establish a reader base, avoiding be strident or overbearing is paramount. However, events in the country are reaching a point where I feel that not speaking, not expressing my confusion or outrage is even worse of an option. Damn the consequences.

With the election of Trump, we’ve seen a lot of commentary concerning the role of the press as well as its integrity or veracity. Pundits on the far right disclaim that the majority of news media sources are actively ‘lying’ to the American public, a statement repeatedly made as well by the current President. Additionally, we’ve seen aspects of life, like science and medicine, which should be apolitical becoming immensely politicized and their proof or effects called into question.

I’m no mewling babe, seeing this world anew. I know both science and medicine can be highly political. But they shouldn’t be. Science and medicine are methodical and disciplined. They have a set process to prove or disprove their veracity. While human error or intent can influence the results, science innately polices this: you can’t ‘prove’ something in science without peer review. That requires a rigid and documented process that can be tracked, examined, questioned and tested. You could claim that Pomeranians are actually a higher-intelligent alien race sent to conquer us, but to call it Science, you have to prove it with experiments and verifiable data. Once that is accomplished, once you can prove the substance of your hypothesis and peers can duplicte your results, then you hypothesis becomes scientifically true. It is Fact not Opinion. You might interpret what that means moving forward, but the numbers, statistics and calculations are not in question. They are true, no matter what political party you caucus with.

That’s why when I hear average people saying that science is opinion, I am both outraged and deeply concerned. Science can only be science if it is proven, as well as consistently and repeatedly probable. If 99% of the scientific populace says that the world is warming dangerously, that our ecology is in peril, that mankind is (at least partially) responsible for it, then the debate concerning what steps to take to remedy can definitely rage on, but not the very truth of where we stand, where we are at. The fact that the environment is in trouble is not debatable. You cannot decry that fact. Not without PROVING IT. If you’re going to wage a ‘science fight’, bring your charts and your figures, your thesis and your experiments; don’t bring faith or hunches or politics. They have no place in science.

The same is true for health and healthcare. You can argue that the government might have no place providing healthcare. But it currently does, imperfect though it might be. If you support people who want to take that away from your fellow Americans, people will needlessly get sick and suffer.  Some will die.  Limited to no access to health care can and does increase your chance of serious harm, even death.

I have been in a place many times when good healthcare was not available to me; I simply could not afford for it. Nearly a decade go, I had a fibrous cyst resting on my spine between my shoulder blades. It was not cancerous, but it was growing because it was infected and was pressing on my nerves. This began causing chronic pain as well as limited mobility. If it continued, the results could have been much worse.

I could not afford surgery, so all I was left with was visiting the much touted (by conservative voices) emergency room. All that they could do was to lay me on a gurney face down and have an attending ER doctor cut open my back and try to cut the cyst away from the muscle and tissue. And – of course – my SPINE. Beause it was an ER procedure, they could not give me general anesthetic and the local anesthetic that they could and did use simply mingled in my infected cyst.  So great was the pressure due to the infection that when the doctor nicked the cyst, it literally exploded onto the room and everything in it.  That included the anesthetic; I was treated to a 45 minute exploratory back surgery where I felt every slice, ever tug.

After all of that, I could not even pay for the ER, so all of my debt fell upon my fellow (at the time) New Yorkers. After the excision, I had a open wound on my back for nearly two months. Because I held a job that made at least a minimum wage (yet offered me no health care plans), I was not eligible for basic health care benefits from the state. I could not afford EITHER a pain reliever or ANTIBIOTICS. I had an open wound and was not able to ensure that I was preventing an infection or have any relief from pain.  I worked a 40-50 hour work week and could not afford nor was eligible for the more basic remedies for my health condition.

So, let’s recap: I was working a full time job, but my employer was too cheap to provide even basic health insurance and assistance (for those who would say ‘get a different job’: Walmart was the only major employer in a thoroughly rural upstate New York township). I had an existing condition that was potentially deadly and verifiably debilitating and painful. My only recourse was the emergency room and while – YES CONSERVATIVES! – they did have to provide medical aid, they were only obligated to do so for the bare minimum of expense. The resulting aid was painful and dangerous and created a danger of (for me) secondary infection and was a bio-hazard for the emergency room and for the nurses and doctor who were present. After the visit, I had to treat an open wound site for a several weeks but could not afford either pain management or preventative measures to ensure optimal healing.

That is the definition of a broken system. ObamaCare would have provided me some means for proper treatment, but this was too long ago. I will not say that the Affordable Care Act is perfect nor is it universally affordable to some. But it was better than nothing. After the House of Representative voted to repeal the ACA, that is precisely what it will soon become: nothing. No (or limited) aid for those in need.

At the very least, your representatives should be willing to meet you and hear your very real concerns. Most are simply avoiding their constituents, an act as cowardly as it is brazenly and unequivocally disrespectful. If they are willing to deny healthcare to the young, the old and the disadvantaged and disabled while simultaneously shuffling that money into tax breaks for those who have no issues obtaining healthcare due to their wealth, then they should do more than enjoy a barbecue and beers in celebration with their president. They should stand by their decisions and their goals and not brand the medical professionals, the financial professionals and the reporters who decry their actions as liars.

Worse than our representatives are their supporters. Not because they are fundamentally bad people, but because they simply do not question the explanation and excuses they are given. I have a frequent (and largely unproductive) argument with a family member who responds to every accusation or point I make against conservative goals and actions by pointing back at the Democrats and at the past election. While in many ways, his comments about the Democrats are not completely wrong, simply deflecting my comments with a mirror is not answering my comments; its ignoring them. Willfully ignoring them. This lack of critical questioning and moderate skepticism is dangerous and destabilizing. Neither point is 100% correct in this debate, but dismissing facts as ficiton or lies, choosing to not turn around and look at what is happening around you is perilous at best. It is letting go of the controls of freedom and democracy and hoping that someone else will maintain control and not wreck the entire thing.

With Trump as president … that’s a dangerous gamble, at best.




Honest Seeking

My first impression of the Honors Dorm at the University of Oklahoma was the large common room, filled with couches. The couches themselves didn’t look particularly comfortable (but at times, could be) but they were almost always covered with students, talking. I had been a relatively introverted teenager in high school, so the concept of just sitting around and talking was alien to me in many ways. Indeed, it was several weeks before I wandered downstairs one night and joined my fellow students.

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