blog posts from GYC's participants, alumni, & staff
by Alex Majd
On Sunday, June 26th, I set out with my fellow GYC in NYC delegates to the Human Rights Watch Film Festival’s screening of Escape Fire, a documentary about health care in the United States. I walked into the Film Society at the Lincoln Center expecting to see just another saddening documentary full of numbers and statistics telling me that our system is broken. I expected to be told what was wrong in an abundance of ways that would make me feel that the problems are intractable.
This was not the case, however, as I was instead shown not only what was wrong with health and health care in America, but also what solutions are already in place and ready to be replicated.
The documentary only needed a few strong examples to support its case. Yes, the documentary did throw some pretty scary statistics at the audience, however we were able to see these statistics through the lives of a handful of people that have been victims of this country’s suffering healthcare system. That being said, the documentary made it clear that there is not necessarily any single person to blame, and that it seems as though we are forced to choose from a handful of bad choices.
While watching the film, I couldn’t help thinking “hey, I can understand this.” I have often pondered the topic of health care, however, before this film, I had been more hesitant to discuss it. Even after watching the documentary, health care is still a very complex topic that deserves careful scrutiny and deliberation. I had always felt that something was very wrong, yet this film gave me a few places to start. Again, these are all topics that are extremely debatable, but I found them important and worthy of consideration.
For one, incentives in the medical field’s salary are in all the wrong places. Physicians are paid by the number of patients they see, and surgeons are paid by the number of surgeries they perform. All I kept thinking was what is our government’s obsession with quantity? Whatever happened to quality?
The second problem is that healthy food is too expensive. It’s no secret that attaining a job in the U.S. is no easy feat these days, and those who do have jobs have an ever increasing amount of bills to pay off. So when it comes down to a McDonald’s ‘Big Mac’ costing only a few bucks, or an organic cooked meal with all the necessary veggies and nutrients, the Big Mac is going to seem awfully tempting.
The third problem is the power and influence that big corporations have on the pharmaceutical industry. This creates the possibility that unsafe drugs are passed by the FDA because of power of vested interests. The film discussed the drug Avandia, the best selling pill in 2006 for those suffering from diabetes. A doctor interviewed in the documentary explained that Avandia raised patients’ risk for heart failure by a staggering 30%. That is a deathly statistic especially considering that one of the major risks a person suffering from diabetes faces is heart failure.
You may ask why I am discussing these three points, and why it makes this documentary special. The answer is that this documentary took three arguments and broke them down so that people who know very little about the health care system can clearly see that something is wrong.
Beyond the simple yet effective arguments used by the film, directors Susan Frömke and Matthew Heineman used the art of storytelling to capture the audience’s attention. For example, we were able to see how the use of pain medication nearly destroyed the life of a member of the United States Army, Sergeant Robert Yates. We first meet Yates aboard a U.S. Military medical aircraft, flying back to the U.S. Doctors onboard quickly discovered that Yates had consumed a horrific amount of morphine without their knowledge. It was not until this discovery that they made the decision to confiscate his medication and administer it to him themselves. Throughout the documentary we were shown Yates’ remarkable recovery without the use of pain medication; meditation and exercise, such as yoga, were used to relieve him of physical and mental stress.
Sergeant Yates was not the only person who benefited greatly from non-medicated treatments. The Army experimented with the use of acupuncture as a way of relieving pain, and found that it received great results. The message was loud and clear; maybe our reliance on pharmaceutical products isn’t worth the health risks. There are other methods that cost much less money and are far more effective. While treatments such as acupuncture may not be the one step solution, it does bring us one step closer in the right direction in hope of alternative treatments when managing pain.
To tie a personal experience to this fantastic documentary, I must mention my visit to The Floating Hospital of Long Island City in Queens. This hospital began aboard a ship on the Hudson, but eventually moved to land after the events of 9/11. This hospital reaffirms the message that Escape Fire stressed, which is that primary physicians are irreplaceable, and that medical treatment is a human right no matter one’s income. We as human beings have the right to be treated by those who can make us healthier. Society will always have income disparity, but that does not mean we should let this disparity compromise equal treatment. Everyone deserves to be healthy.