Healthcare Debates: Is There a Cure for the American Healthcare System’s Chronic Pain?
Over the last few years, my freelance writing job led me down the road of becoming more informed than the average person when it comes to the American healthcare system. I wrote articles on whether healthcare is a privilege or a right, whether dentistry should be covered by health insurance, and whether people in the US should be allowed to end their lives using medical assistance, and why American healthcare is so expensive.
I explored why there isn’t enough diversity in nursing, and I have a robust understanding of online master’s degrees in healthcare designed for busy working professionals. I examined the more functional elements of healthcare systems in other countries and how big data influences healthcare delivery, and I spent an entire season writing about the primary care physician shortages in every state in the union.
Regardless of which topic came across my writing queue, one theme kept appearing: the American healthcare system is chronically suffering.
The suffering, as far as I can tell, isn’t a result of neglect. People are improving healthcare through efforts like insurance, pharmaceutical, and legislative reform; improved educational pipelines; ecosystemic approaches to care; mental health service expansions, and developing new medical technologies.
Based on three healthcare jobs, and based on being surrounded by doctors and nurses who I call friends and family, I’m also sure the vast majority of people in healthcare are kind-hearted humans trying to make a positive difference in the world around them. Despite the millions of good people with good intentions taking action to make a positive difference, American healthcare’s story hasn’t changed much since I started writing about it.
With all the solutions fueled by all the presumptively kind-hearted people, I can’t help but wonder why the American healthcare system is still in chronic pain. When I think about what’s happening inside American healthcare, it reminds me of what happened inside me when I was younger.
American Healthcare and My Experience With Chronic Pain
In my late twenties and early thirties, I was no stranger to chronic health issues. For several years, my left shoulder, scapula, trap, and neck were bound up in near-constant knots. I also experienced episodic right knee and left forearm pain that would last for months, disappear, and then come back. I was constipated for a year-and-a-half and experienced a seven-month stretch where I stopped menstruating.
The physical therapy exercises, foam rollers, laxative teas, massages, yoga, pharmaceuticals, colonics, diagnostic testing, and standing desks I threw at my chronic body issues definitely helped from time to time, but they didn’t cure me. After six years of cycling through these issues, I resigned myself to a life with chronic pain.
Like me when I was younger, the signs of American healthcare’s chronic suffering are numerous. American healthcare spends twice as much per person on healthcare than other affluent countries but remains the least equitable, least effective system in the affluent world. Doctors in the system graduate with a range of 150 to 400 thousand dollars worth of debt, and experience burnout at the scale of 50 to 80 percent. Pharmaceutical prices are 112 percent higher than other affluent nations, and pharmaceutical dependence is everywhere.
The signs of suffering could go on for pages, and the solutions being implemented could go on even longer. The solutions make a difference—but they don’t seem to hold the cure. My friends and family working in healthcare for years seem resigned to this chronically painful reality.
An Accidental Cure to My Chronic Pain
The beginning of the end of my chronically painful period of life began when a truck smashed into my smart car at low speed on my way to work. My tiny car was totaled, but aside from my existing shoulder and menstrual issues, my body was fine.
My first thought was, “I’m just glad I don’t have to go to work today.” The crash opened my eyes to the reality that I wasn’t thriving in the job I worked my whole career to earn. Not long after, I found the courage to leap away from all my experience and degrees and important titles and into the enveloping darkness of an unknown, jobless future. Completely unsure where this huge leap would take me, a series of bright lights led me out of the darkness.
The glow of writing emotionally vulnerable first-person narratives would help me settle into the truth that I’m meant to do things I have infinite internal motivation to complete. The illumination that came from listening for understanding and providing judgment-free reflections to the people I love would drop me into the clarity that I am meant to serve others. The radiance of practicing Thai massage rooted me into the reality that I am meant for tasks that make me feel more energized at the end than I was at the beginning. The brilliance of facilitating conversations that bring people into unified action grounded me in the fact that I feel complete when doing what I’m meant to do, even when I receive nothing tangible in return for doing it.
Very early into this journey into the unknown, my periods came flooding back and my shoulder pain disappeared. When these issues vanished, it seemed miraculous. As I look back, it was no miracle. My physical symptoms were never the problem—they were the warning system.
My chronic pain was my dying spirit screaming at my mind to realize that I was sacrificing my values for financial gain, stretching myself to do things I wasn’t made to do for status, and being someone I wasn’t meant to be in my choice to live up to outside expectations.
With each step I took toward the person I’m meant to be, the warning system naturally stilled to a peaceful silence. A journey started by a complete accident ended in some deep understanding of where my chronic pain comes from and at least one strategy to cure it completely.
What American Healthcare Could Be—And the Questions That Matter
Because of my experience, I wonder if there’s something deep down inside American healthcare that is causing all these surface-level symptoms. When I think about healthcare, it’s fairly clear to me where this system is a shining beacon of light leading the way—and where American healthcare is destroying itself.
The cure for my chronic pain came from within me; it wasn’t going to come from anyone or anywhere else. Like me, I have an instinct that if a cure exists for American healthcare’s chronic pain, it will come from inside the system.
When I dive below the surface-level symptoms, trying to get all the way to the root cause, the journey always takes me to the millions of people who are a part of the American healthcare system. While my story of chronic pain is not everyone’s story, I can’t help but wonder how many people touched by American healthcare are chronically suffering the same way I did when I was younger. I can’t help but wonder what would happen to the American healthcare system if a critical mass of people within healthcare—people suffering the way I did—asked themselves the following questions, and then started living by the answers they discovered:
- What do I have infinite internal motivation to complete?
- What do I do that makes me feel more energetic at the end than it does at the beginning?
- Whom do I love to serve?
- What would I do even if no one ever gave me anything in return for doing it?
- What is the worst thing that would happen if I started only saying “yes” to the things I’m meant for?
- What’s the best thing that could happen?