The Real Health Care Crisis, According to Glenn Beck

I'm going to refrain from making the obvious jokes about Glenn Beck's hemorrhoid surgery, mostly because I know he's been expecting liberal bloggers to take the cheap shots and I frankly don't want to give him the satisfaction. I do want to point out, though, that people have been referring to his "botched" surgery, but I'm not sure that's the right adjective to use. I get that he wound up in more pain than he expected, but that doesn't mean that the surgery was "botched" necessarily-- Beck hasn't claimed that the hemorrhoid is still there, or that it's grown, or that his rectum was somehow butchered. He's just told us that he wound up in a lot of pain, and that he had some unpleasant reactions to some of the medication he was on. The surgery itself, from what I've read, seems to have been successful.

(If I'm wrong, please, someone set me straight-- despite the fact that I generally think Glenn Beck is an amoral hypocrite, I don't have any desire to make fun of his suffering).

I'm assuming everyone saw his original rambling, drug-fueled 7-minute YouTube clip where he first disclosed the fact that his surgery hadn't been fun and that he'd been having a miserable time. If you missed it, here it is:

Pretty shocking stuff. From what I've seen, liberal bloggers have-- for the most part-- been silent on this story, but Beck apparently reads liberal blogs that I don't. "I find it interesting," he has said, "that those who are always saying how intolerant I am, what a hate-monger I am, are the ones posting `I wish he would have died,' `I wish he would have killed himself, it would have saved us all this trouble.'" Again, I didn't see such things, but maybe some dickhead commenter on the Huffington Post or the Daily Kos really was that ugly. That certainly wasn't the response of the majority-- which, again, was mostly respectful silence or get-well wishes-- but if Beck wants to focus on the negative, fine. I sometimes do that myself.

What's been really striking about this story, from the beginning, is that Beck has been awfully evasive about what happened to him, and what should be done about it. Here's a clip of Beck trying to clarify what he meant:

But that's not much of a clarification, really-- he claims to have seen the "system at its worst," but-- from what I can gather-- his complaint is that he frequently had to wait a long time for service and that people weren't always as respectful as he thought they should be.

Well. Yeah. That's what happens in hospitals, I'm afraid.

The Huffington Post has a few more details about what happened to Beck, and what he thinks ought to be done. Frankly, his complaints and ideas are so patently obvious that they're absurd. "We have to stop looking at medicine as just a science and put the people back into it," Beck said. Well... yeah. Doctors and researchers like Arthur Kleinman have been saying that in books like this one and this one for years. Kleinman in particular has been an advocate of what he calls a "psychosocial model of medicine" that treats illness (a phenomenon that includes social and cultural influences as well as biological symptoms) rather than disease (which is pretty much just the physical manifestation of something that negatively impacts the patient's health). Dr. Kleinman's ideas have become so widely-accepted that he's now routinely taught at medical schools and in literature and medicine classes nationwide.

And yet, the problem still exists. Why is that?

Actually, I know the answer, but Glenn Beck isn't going to like it. His entire thesis is simply that doctors and other medical professionals simply need to "care more," and that money has nothing to do with it. This is preposterous, as anyone who's ever known a medical professional or has spent time in hospitals knows. Medicine is an inherently altruistic career-- to devote your life to helping and saving others already demonstrates more compassion for your fellow humans than just about any career-- including radio and television douchebaggery.

The problem is that a lot of the hospital staff-- residents, interns, nurses, etc.-- are overworked and underpaid. They're bombarded with requests and demands from seriously ill or injured people who aren't always models of patience-- it can, after all, be difficult to say "please" and "thank you" when you're bleeding rectally or you're throwing up your stomach lining. Furthermore, hospitals are frequently short-staffed, which makes caring for large numbers of people even more difficult.

Beck complains that at one point, it took over two hours for him to get medicine for his pain, "and it wasn't a busy night at all." But there's no way for him to know that-- he doesn't know what these medical professionals were doing when they were out of his line of sight. Unless they actually came into his room to watch Gray's Anatomy, he really can't say how busy their night was. And how does he know what was going on at the pharmacy? Or how quickly his doctor responded when they notified him or her that the patient was requesting more pain medication? No, all that Beck knows was that it was night-- which means there were even fewer professionals around to lend a helping hand.

Beck insists that he's still against universal health care-- apparently, rich and famous patients deserve top-of-the-line car and constant ass-kissing... er, wait. Better make that foot-rubbing, in this case (Damn it! A cheap shot!). But poor people? They don't even deserve service without a smile.

And I wonder how Mr. Beck feels about the importance of hospitals hiring translators and what Anne Fadiman calls "cultural brokers" to assist immigrants dealing with illness. I would like to say such aid for patients clearly falls under Beck's call for more compassion, but it also seems to violate his "no need to spend more money" rule, so who knows?

Actually, I think I know. I think Glenn Beck is so used to being a pampered TV star that it was shocking and humbling to go to a hospital and be treated like every other patient-- which is to say, he had to wait around a lot, he was in a lot of pain that no one could do much for, and he was treated with same level of importance as the other patients received. At times, it even felt like those caring for him were just doing their job.

Look, I'll be the first to admit that hospitals are deeply unpleasant places to be-- I lived in one for almost a month, and it wasn't like on St. Elsewhere and Chicago Hope, where I knew I was the special guest star Ed Begley, Jr. and Mandy Patinkin were going to take extra super special care of. But that doesn't mean that my doctors didn't care, or that the staff lacked compassion. Far from it. They were doing the best they could do under very difficult, trying circumstances.

Glenn Beck is right about one thing, though: the bottom line, profit-driven health care system in this country is broken. But he's wrong when he says that the problem is that those who are actually caring for patients in hospitals lack compassion, or that government intervention and money won't fix what's not working. Just as he wrong to think that he-- a rich white English-speaking man-- has actually been victimized by this broken system. He's the type of person who's benefiting the most.

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