42 and Our Country’s Health

I hope you get to see the
movie about Jackie Robinson’s baseball’s career wearing the only number retired
by all teams, number 42.[1]
What does it have to do with
the health of our country? Let me explain.

Robinson was humiliated,
ridiculed and grossly abused because of being the first African American to
join Major League Baseball. Of course, those attacking him were a product of
their culture; they could not help themselves. But, they did not make any
effort to transcend their culture, as others did who sensed the innate
injustice of discrimination. The latter were enlightened enough to go beyond
the injustices that the Constitution had only partially addressed 100 years

Whenever I review any case
or historic episode where ambition, fanatism and ignorance oppress the human
mind I am deeply moved, as I was when first standing in Thomas Jefferson’s
rotunda 3 decades ago. The immortal words therein inscribed had a profound
impression on my young heart (they still do):

I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form
of tyranny over the mind of man

And so it was that the same emotions
were stirred in me watching this film and reading a recent article in the
Journal of the American Medical Association. It states what I have consecrated
my career to, and for which I have been reviled, and still do by the most
ignorant and prejudiced sectors of our rapidly changing society:

“Bridging the divide between
health and health care,” JAMA 2013;309:1121
  • “Health Care delivery accounts for only 10%
    of preventable deaths, with the remainder attributable to personal behaviors,
    social and environmental determinants, and genetic predispositions. As
    currently constituted the Health care delivery system has little direct control
    over these other factors. However, consensus is developing that truly
    controlling health care costs and improving the overall health of Americans
    will require a much closer partnership, permeable boundaries, and increased
    interdependence among the health care delivery system, the public sector, and
    the community development and social service sectors.”
  • “To create a culture of health will require
    creating a market for health, moving away from the current market for treating

No, I have not suffered as
much as #42 did, but, as an ethnic man, I have had a taste of what he went
through in that respect. But, the anguish of being rejected when I only
expressed what more brilliant minds have documented in the best of medical,
anthropologic and science journals since I graduated from medical school, can
be equally wounding and distressing.

I have forgiven all those
who “know not what they do.” I also
have forgotten them. Truly; but, I cannot fight the tears when such movies
touch my soul.

[1] The Yankee’s Mariano Rivera is
the last to wear it by the end of this season
[2]Slavery by any other name,”
by Douglas A. Blackmon; Anchor Books, 2008
  1. Anonymous Reply

    In watching the movie "Lincoln" I was similarly moved by the efforts of people who fought to overcome the prejudices of the times. It was probably step 1 in American history towards the possibility of #42 being able to play as he did.

    Slavery was an economic issue to the people profiting from it. Today, healthcare is an economic issue to the people profiting from it. In those minds, a healthy population translates to zero profits and that's a bad thing for them. For us, it translates to zero costs, and capital to invest elsewhere. The conflict of interest in the healthcare industry is clear.


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