I will warn you. You may be angry after you read this essay.
On September 11, 2001, I was in a wide, dark, linoleum tiled hallway lined with curtained stalls. In each of these stalls lay a sick human being. My team of doctors, residents, medical students, and nurses was charged with curing them. Some were very ill; they were dying of Kaposi’s sarcoma, drowning in their own blood as tuberculosis consumed their lungs, homeless and suffering from elephantiasis of the left leg. Yes, these things happen in Chicago, IL, in the U.S. of A.
I was a third year medical student. My uncle Harvey was in the hospital across the street suffering with the very kind of cancer he was trying to cure. I was pregnant with my second child. The sun was brilliant and the sky iridescent blue over Lake Michigan. Out of nowhere, a classmate came running down the hall and announced “Guys, someone just flew a plane into the World Trade Center!!” We all looked at him, paused for a moment, and then continued to discuss the patient in the curtained stall.
I turned to my classmate and whispered “Someone has just declared war against us.” He stared at me blankly, and eventually our supervising physician, finally acknowledging the chaos rising around us, stopped rounds and released us for the morning.
Walking down West Harrison Street towards my school, I became more and more tense. People were shouting. Crying. Running. I entered the student lounge, just in time to watch a plane fly into the Pentagon. And then I panicked. I cried and shrieked and really, just, freaked out.
My parents live 19 miles from Washington D.C. At the time, my 4 cousins, and youngest uncle, as well as 5 of my best friends lived in Manhattan. I lost friends the World Trade Center bombing. The chaos, logistically and emotionally, of that day, were real, and tragic, and the continuing consequences have been even more horrid.
2000 dead. Maybe 6000 injured. Hundreds of firefighters and police heroically sacrificed their lives and health attempting to rescue the victims of the terrorist attack. The wars we launched in the wake of the attacks have killed tens of thousands of Americans.
I mourn those. I do.
But I have a question.
Why are we not mourning the dead Americans dying needlessly every day because they simply can’t get medical care?
In 2002, just 8 months after the 9/11 attacks, 18,000 deaths were blamed on lack of health insurance. Four years later, 22,000 deaths were blamed on lack of health insurance. And two years ago, 45,000 Americans died because they lacked health insurance. As we approach the end of 2011, this number almost certainly totals more than 100,000 dead due to lack of health insurance.
The terrorist attack on 9/11 killed thousands of innocent human beings, and turned us into a nation at war against an invisible enemy. It turned a maverick nation into one infused with psychic and physical barricades. It was tragic for the immediate loss of lives, and for the ongoing damage to our national psyche.
I mourn that...
And also, every day, I mourn the 80,000 Americans, dead, because we are waging war against ourselves, every day. We are allowing our neighbors to die because we don’t have the national will to solve our health care crisis.