The Shadow Gallery
It happened at night. Your ascent began with an unpleasant awakening. You could tell she was scared and in pain. Movements occurred faster than reason. Clothes on, car keys found, eyes awake, bodies moving towards the car, road leading to the emergency room. Then, all motion stopped.
The emergency room was packed. You found two seats and helped your wife complete the necessary forms. Scanning the room, you observed mostly minor injuries - nothing shocking. A screaming young woman entered with four drunken compatriots. As she went behind the doors separating the currently being treated from the wait-your-turns, all but one of her supposed friends scurried off. The oldest stayed. He was mid 30's-ish. His face had a leathery appearance, most likely from too much exposure to drugs and smoke, juxtaposing his boyish blond hair. Attempting to strike up a conversation with anyone around him, he spoke loudly, unaware of the volume of his voice. You wished he would shut up.
The wait for a doctor was excruciating, but even more so for your wife, who was given nothing to ease the pain in her stomach. She said it felt like being stabbed repeatedly. Anger built inside you. At last, your wife's name was called, and a wobbly penguin of a human being came out from behind the castle walls to escort you to a hospital bed.
As far as you could recall the next day, no tests had been performed, no investigation commenced. Your wife was given a high-powered pain killer. Two hours later, they tried to release her from their care with instruction to see a gastrointestinal specialist. However, your wife was so discombobulated from the drugs, she could no longer walk. You remember pleading with a group of nurses for a wheelchair, so you could take her back to the car. Then, from the eyes in the back of your head, you sensed something was about to go horribly wrong. You turned, and she was falling - out cold and heading for the ground. Faster than you have ever moved... no, you thought, faster than you've ever seen anyone move... you lunged and caught her inches from the ground. The nurses stood in wonder. They could hardly believe it. But you were not mollified by their compliments. Nobody was helping you. As you wheeled her out of the emergency room at sunrise, another thought entered your consciousness. You needed to speak with Vijay.
The Shadow Gallery
"There are two types of omelets. Omelets with jalapenos and omelets without," Vijay declared, mostly for his own amusement. "Of course, an omelet without jalapenos isn't really an omelet at all. The dictionary would say otherwise, but this is my argument and I get to set the terms."
You wondered with whom Vijay was arguing. And if you were not in his kitchen this Saturday morning sharing a breakfast, would he be arguing with himself?
"It must be convenient to always set the terms of the debate. Hard to lose that way," you observed.
"In this case, it's relevant. Since I'm the one that has to eat the omelet, I get to say what should be in it," he smiled as he delivered the verdict.
"Can you be serious for a second?"
"Perhaps. What's wrong, big guy?"
Without hesitation, emotionally recalling the events from two nights ago, you launched an attack on your adversary's belief system. Sleep had yet to catch up, forcing you to ramble at times, but you felt confident that the main points were spoken clearly. Something was wrong with our hospital system, with our medical care system, you had decided.
"So I guess that's what your free market health care gets us, huh," you inquired in closing.
The question hung in the air for longer than you'd like. Vijay wasn't particularly interested in a philosophical debate. Not after hearing such a harrowing story. Friendship always has priority.
"How is Allison?" Even though you expected him to be concerned, his inquiry made you feel apologetic for the nasty tone of the previous rant.
"She is better. We are seeing a specialist tomorrow. She might have an ulcer. We don't know."
Neither person spoke for a minute. An unspoken truce had been established. A chance for both armies to tend to their wounded and bring up supplies for the battles that lay ahead.
"Why do you think you witnessed free market health care the other night," Vijay asked at last.
You weren't sure you understood the question. Hesitating, you reported the facts as you saw them, "well, we went to a Catholic hospital. It wasn't like we went to a government hospital or something.... And it's not like we were at the mercy of communist doctors or anything. In fact, we couldn't even get to see a doctor, which tells me that the free market doesn't produce enough to fulfill our needs. I guess it just doesn't work in health care. The market is about profits and we need people who care about us, not their bottom line."
Vijay began slowly. This was not a war that would be won with blitzkrieg.
"The level of service you received was forced upon you, but the use of force occurred way before you walked in that emergency room door. All that remains is the leftover effects of past coercion. In the days before HMOs and the Great Society, health care was primarily a free market operation. There were plenty of doctors, although there would always be more if government mandated licensing did not restrict the supply, and everyone who needed care received it, regardless of their ability to pay.
"But that all changed, slowly at first, and then rapidly starting in the 1950s. Part of this was an attack on Churches, since Church hospitals dominated the medical landscape before the government became involved. Those that survived learned to play by Federal rules or not play at all. Part of this was repackaged socialism sold as economic planning, since socialism had been rejected by Americans while it was being accepted in Europe. But mostly it is big business using the government to restrict competition - classic crony capitalism. Your health care coverage was mandated first through the HMO Act of 1973 and most recently under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010.
"The only people in America that have free market health care are those that pay cash under the table or have the ability to fly to India to have surgery - something that is becoming more common - and lawmakers. They exempted themselves and their families from the laws they forced upon us."
Vijay continued on, detailing the history of government involvement in and regulation of hospitals, the American Medical Association, and the prescription drug business. He began to talk of price and wage controls, but stopped as he seemed to sense you were not ready for an economic lesson this morning. When he finished speaking, you contemplated your view of the world. It seemed simplistic in comparison. You saw a point in time. He saw the steps from the past to the present.
When your worldview is unsettled, that is the moment when you are ready to receive new ideas. Vijay was keen to this. He put down his knife and fork, setting his jalapeno-filled omelet to the side.
"Want to see something?" You both rose from the table and you followed as he descended the steps into the basement of his small suburban home.
The two light bulbs in the ceiling were uncovered. Vijay pulled the old fashioned string, clicking them on. The basement was a dizzying mess of clutter, old tools, tables covered in every inch with instruments, books, papers and oddities. More books were on the chairs and floor and bookshelves lined both walls. The room looked half finished. A bar - clearly never used for drinking - and track lighting (with no bulbs installed) greeted you at the entrance. But then it appeared as though the moment was lost, and the carpenter had retired when he realized how much junk would need to be moved in order to completely refinish the room.
"What is this place... your panic room?"
Vijay scanned the musty lodge as if he were taking in the valley from a nearby peak. "If I had superhero strength and a mask, I'd call it something cool, like The Shadow Gallery. But it's just my study."
You pointed to a wooden piece on a nearby table. Clearly still under construction (or perhaps abandoned) it looked like a mad attempt to build miniature railroad tracks - perhaps a remnant of a childhood arts project.
"Oh that's my bridge," Vijay said nonchalantly. He quickly added, "I'm building a bridge."
"With wooden toothpicks and glue?" Feeling lighthearted, you added, "I think I saw this on a Simpsons episode."
"Yes, hah! I seem to have forgotten the macaroni noodles. I just wanted to build something. Then I'm going to see how much weight it can handle before it collapses and I move on to something else." Vijay motioned to the physics book nearby. Next to it was a legal pad with scribbled equations and designs.
"Why?" You were not sure you wanted to hear the answer.
"Because I should be able to create things. Even if they're simple, and stupid, and pointless. Not everything we make will have value. But if we make nothing, we will have provided no value."
"Not everything of value comes from human creations." The comment surprised you, as if it had coming from someone else. Were you thinking about spiritual value, you wondered. You immediately found that odd, since you rarely considered spiritual topics anyway.
"All value in this world extends from the human mind. We enter the world naked, and we would have just that - our naked bodies and nature - if we didn't create things of value." Vijay's tone was suddenly serious, "and if that is all humans desired, such a state of affairs would require no human ingenuity. For better or worse - I leave such value judgments to others - humans desire more than that."
Yet by the time you had entered his mind's path, he had already closed it with an exaggerated smile. He was directing you to a nearby bookshelf.
You did not recognize a single author's name or title on that shelf. In fact, quickly looking around, there was not a book in this room of which you had ever heard. The author's names - Beaulieu, Kropotkin, Mallock, Quesnay, Soloviev, and on and on - constructed an endless parade of words foreign to your mind.
"This is what I want you to see," Vijay said. From the middle shelf on the near wall, he pulled out a thin paperback. He held the book so that the cover was facing you. "Give it a twirl. I promise it will answer some questions." Vijay didn't add that it would leave you asking even more.
You took the book in your right hand ceremoniously. It had been read more than once. Vijay had an affinity for books previously read by others. He liked them bent, worn, to feel used, to have been appreciated by someone before him. It was his bond to others - those few who thought and acted as he did. Tilting it in your hand as if to measure its aero dynamic properties, you finally grasped it firmly and read the title aloud,
"'The Law' by Frederic Bastiat..."
To Be Continued