America’s Red Herrings

Do you know the term “red herring?”

Dictionary.com defines it as “something intended to divert attention from the real problem or matter at hand; a misleading clue.”  The concept, removed from argument context, should be familiar; we’ve been exposed to it every news cycle since the 2016 election process began, though examples can be found throughout history.

But back to 2016 and our present. It was an efficient distraction to say “look at her emails.” It may now be worth it to the President to sacrifice a son to media frenzy in order to make darker moves behind the scenes. The red herring has to receive notice, it must be given attention to be effective.

That process is made easier with reduced access to information. The media and public are ready to pounce on any morsel delivered by POTUS via Twitter, even when the tweets don’t make any sense. That’s what happens when he controls the message. From the ranks of dubiously moral Mad Men character Don Draper: “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.” That’s exactly what we’re witnessing. The conversation keeps changing. “Alternative facts”  have ascended. The term is part of popular vernacular and explains why Kellyanne Conway still has a job despite never saying anything relevant.

This shift is worrying, but dig a little deeper below the surface distraction. The big, bold red herring headlines aren’t always what’s important to the American people, the stuff of daily life. What does impact us? The little things hiding behind Don Jr. ‘s turn at e-mail scandal, or what’s been swept under the rug of America’s consciousness:

These examples brings me back to the point: the surface craziness of Team Trump serves as distraction from the larger agenda. It’s the flash that hides the impact, allowing the Trump administration to dominate news cycles with loud, hollow clamor. Meanwhile, the shady bits are happening outside the average citizen’s social media or news feed. It’s not just POTUS engaging in this charade. Congress is complicit as well,  as with 2016’s non-appointment of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. In 2017, it’s secretive discussions on healthcare reform that are meant to strong-arm support while introducing massive, decimating reforms under a arbitrary deadline.

This kind of flimflam is completely unacceptable, particularly from men and women elected to  lead America through an increasingly complicated 21st Century. This is not the America we were promised, and local elections are beginning to show impact from concerned citizens awake to the con. Long declared party loyalties are disintegrating – with good reason.

As easy as it is to place blame on a distant and cynical Washington D.C. for the easy circulation of red herring news, we are equally culpable.  We must overcome all-too pervasive apathy toward staying informed and engaged. We don’t have the luxury of avoiding tough challenges that can depress the mood. The health of our nation is like work, oxygen, love – we need it.

Staying informed is a responsibility bestowed upon us by privilege-turned-rights of the First Amendment. Cutting through the din is unpleasant, but sticking your fingers in your ears is much more dangerous.

 

Unsolicited Arrogance (October 10, 2013)

“Good advice is often annoying. Bad advice never is.”

-French Proverb

I’m a huge fan of pithy, enigmatic quotes, but the Frenchies couldn’t be more wrong on this account. After weeks of sitting on the receiving end of advice from friends and strangers alike, I can confidently declare that really tone deaf guidance is more offensive than the helpful variety. Although when it comes to perfect strangers, I’d rather prefer they offer nothing at all.

For several months I have been grappling with a progressively debilitating case of pompholyx eczema on my hands. It is a particularly mercurial form of the skin affliction which affects only one of out every 20 eczema sufferers. Its causes are mysterious and there is no known cure. Available treatments offer limited results, are typically expensive (Coming soon in my annual blog series: America’s Healthcare System is Still Broken – Part III, wherein I examine an employed woman with a “Cadillac” health insurance plan dropping $540 on necessary medications at the local CVS), and bear the threat of their own detrimental side effects.

The attacks are affecting my work, exercise and wellness routines and most certainly, my self-esteem. It is my firmly held belief that creative types such as writers are already cursed with inordinately high levels of insecurity and self-consciousness. The misfortune of contracting a disfiguring and crippling chronic condition compounds the pain of profile immeasurably.

For the most part, friends and colleagues who want to discuss my illness and treatment course are loving people who mean well. Though there are times I’d rather reflect on something, anything besides the constant burning itch and unattractive qualities of my hands, I have patiently indulged their collective desire to help. I’m confident that I’d have much bigger problems to deal with if these souls lost interest in me altogether. And there have been times where the sincere pain I see in the eyes of a valued friend, envisioning my suffering, acts as an imperceptible balm for the heart and soul. May I never grow so cranky from inveterate discomfort that I stop appreciating these overtures.

I have noticed a real peculiarity, however, on the part of people who don’t know me from Adam. And it has taken me the more by surprise since I hail from, and still reside in Chicago, a bustling metropolis known for harried citizens who shuffle quickly down the streets, avoiding eye contact at all costs. It’s as though my embarrassing malformation has become community property. I can be quietly minding my business, reading a book or what have you, staring out the window of a CTA train. And it’s just then that an interloper crashes my reverie, feeling fully empowered to question and offer unwanted, asked for counsel about my “problem.”

I give you two anecdotes from the last 10 days, by way of example.

On my way home from a particularly dispiriting workout at the gym, where my hands cracked and bled profusely after relatively mild strength training, a man seated next to me posed the following question: “Excuse me, but I’m a professional chef and I have to ask. Did you burn your hands?”

Before I could organize my thoughts, humiliated blood rushed to my cheeks. I love the anonymity that city life offers and I was suddenly acutely aware that the hated eczema came with a price I’d never anticipated. I no longer blended. Once I recovered from this horror, I grew incensed by the man’s impertinence. The visibility of my affliction does not make it a topic for public discourse, and the whole “I’m a professional chef” declaration seemed to suggest that this show of concern was merely an excuse to talk about himself.

This was one for Ms. Manners. What do the rules of civility say about my obligation to indulge and respond to such unwanted conversation? I downshifted to the sunny disposition I typically reserve for telemarketers and unwashed tavern suitors: a dead eyed, nail-to-the-floor bitch stare accompanied by as few words as possible, spoken with flat affect. To my later amusement, the man seemed to take this disinclination for engagement on my part as a character flaw. I had to appreciate the irony.

But you know, CTA weirdos and miscreants abound, and I was ready to chalk it up as a one-time, annoying encounter. Until last night.

I was on my way home from the pharmacy chatting with my younger sister on the phone. I reached the station where I was to change trains, when a young woman tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around briefly and pointed to my cell. I figured she wanted directions or something and would understand to seek them elsewhere. Alas, she wouldn’t let up and I told my sister I’d call her right back. The most creative fiction writer in the world could not have devised what I heard next:

“Sorry to bother you, but you know, doctors aren’t going to tell you that it’s all the toxins in your body causing that problem with your hands. What you need is a colonic. It will clean your system and fix you right up.”

I believe my mind actually went somewhere else for several seconds. I was paralyzed and emotionless, incapable of doing anything more than standing and blinking. Then a well-bred autopilot functionality kicked in. I thanked the women for her counsel, told her I had a train to catch and walked away.

What. The. Hell. My beloved and hilarious friend Beth summarily labeled this “The Magic Poop Theory,” offering me my first genuine laugh of a trying evening.

This pattern of unmitigated gall has instilled more than a wish for invisibility. I am left wondering about the crust of people. When did it become socially acceptable to identify people’s physical ailments and then discuss bathroom cleansing rituals in the same breath? I mean, shouldn’t she have bought me dinner first?

I don’t know if anyone who might be tempted to quiz me about my hands will come across this blog post, but just in case let me be clear. John Q. Public: your desire for information and need to pass yourself off as an expert of some sort pains me more than the pompholyx. Real talk. I am under the care of several physicians and have tried more remedies in the last several months than you can imagine. You do not have the answer, and even if you did, frankly, your disrespect for my personal space and privacy renders me unwilling to hear it.

I read somewhere recently that there is strong connection between chronic conditions and the development of agoraphobia. At the time, I found the relationship puzzling. How could the spirit crushing itch and burn with which I struggle lead to a fear of open spaces? Turns out I was missing the Jean Paul Sartre principle so important to this correlation. Hell is other people, or in my case, outsiders who mistake my condition’s perverse visibility for a “Help Wanted” sign.

America’s Health Care System is Still Broken Part II (April 24, 2012)

Our-Health-Care-System-Neither-Healthy-Caring-Nor-System

 

 

I will keep writing about this because I am one of the lucky ones. I will keep screaming about the system’s inherent abusiveness because I can and I must – for all those who are sicker, less financially solvent and don’t have a forum in which their voices may be heard.

Nearly a year ago, I wrote this post, recounting the stress of divorce compounded by unexpected health news of the unfavorable kind. After being diagnosed with Stage 2A cervical cancer, I learned that I was considered persona non grata by prospective health insurance providers until I was in remission. At the time, I received the core-rattling news that none of my women’s health needs would be covered for 3-5 years, or until the part of Obamacare that forbids insurance companies from playing pre-existing condition roulette with people’s lives takes over in January 2013.

Since I wrote the first post in this series last year, a few important events have occurred:

  1. I underwent a successful procedure in June, 2011 that completely removed all cancerous cells from my body – no chemo or radiation required. A six-month checkup in December found no evidence of irregular growth.
  2. I have since gotten into the healthiest shape of my life. I was already no slouch in the exercise department, but have taken the upkeep of my temple in whole new directions. I have learned, through therapy and hard work, to better manage stress. I am invested in a romantic partnership that brings untold levels of peace and satisfaction. I am more careful about what I put into my body and my approach to preventive medicine has changed completely.
  3. I am officially divorced, no longer on my ex’s insurance plan and employed full-time at a housewares manufacturer with great benefits.

As I have already indicated, I was fully prepared for my women’s health coverage to be excluded for 2012. Whether I think the situation is fair or not (not) is irrelevant. You know the saying, “it is what it is.” I was planning to bide my time, and though I am not religious, ask Mother Earth to keep the cancer at bay. My single-adult premiums on the new policy amount to $6,000 annually and while I felt forced into a “cross your fingers” strategy as pertained to the cancer, at least I would be covered under all other circumstances right? Wrong.

The new Big Brother in my healthcare decision-making world, a company that will remain nameless but rhymes with Dew Toss, Dew Field of Iroquois, has declared a blanket “pre-existing condition clause” that covers EVERYTHING for which I have ever been treated. Surprise! This clause runs the full calendar year, so I have the honor of forking over $6,000 in the event I am shot or hit by a bus (neither of which has ever happened), but if I need therapy (you know because I was depressed about having cancer), antibiotics, birth control or my first annual cancer screening – all of that must come out of my pocket. My doctor and I jumped through numerous hoops and made many arguments, to no avail. A girl who rides her bike 68 miles to work and back, under the age 35 with the bad luck to get a little spot of cancer last year, is reduced to nothingness until 2013.

And as we all know today, the conclusion above represents the best-cased scenario. Subsequent to the decision by a bunch of corporate bureaucrats that I am too risky for any sort of benefits, though my money is still welcome, a bunch of mostly old ,white men on the Supreme Court will sit in judgment of my fate beyond this calendar year. By June we are told, the ladies and gentlemen of the jury will decide whether to throw the baby out with the bathwater on health care reform, because a few hundred lobbyists and Tea Party crackpots chafe against the individual mandate portion.

So we can make car insurance as a condition of vehicle ownership law, but this is somehow different? Can they really declare that no part of the reform benefits the American people? What about the part where, I don’t know, insurance companies can’t refuse you access to ALL TYPES OF HEALTHCARE because you had a treatable cancer that was cured in one shot?

If the Supreme Court overturns Obamacare, I am out in the cold for 5 years, perhaps longer if an emboldened insurance syndicate decides so. I can’t believe this is America.

About the Supreme Court’s deliberations, the Daily Beast remarked in November of last year, “By agreeing to rule on the issue of national health care, the Supreme Court foolishly politicizes its deliberation process and needlessly damages its own reputation.”

But this is about more than a simple PR misstep, the negation of jurisprudence. This is about American rights and lives. I think I have a patriotic duty to protest my provider’s current right to kill or bankrupt me in the unfortunate event that my cancer recurs, or that I come down with the flu and need antibiotics and a short hospital stay. I want the Supreme Court to consider that with the same fervor with which they seem to regard a libertarian’s right to refuse health coverage when that refusal burdens everyone else.