7/26/2007

#163 The Really Good Die Young and Unnoticed

NPR's Prairie Home Companion fans will be disappointed to here that, regardless of what NPR's Garrison Keillor says, Saint Paul is an armpit of a city, compared to Minneapolis, St. Cloud, Rochester, or any other city in Minnesota. Like every state in our nutty nation, the state capitol is the state's official embarrassment; the most corrupt, the most degenerate, the most poorly managed, and the one place in the state that most adversely affects the state's average IQ. Think Topeka, Kansas or Albany, New York or even Sacramento, California and you'll know what I'm talking about. Austin, Texas is an exception, but that city is surrounded by an armpit of a state. You could be forgiven in thinking that we've decided to put all of the worst people we know in a common location so that, if we ever decided to be a rational nation, it would be easy to identify where most of the problems reside. I stumbled into more evidence of our national capitol perversion this week when I decided to see a doctor for a ailment that has been persecuting me for the past month.

To build a little background, I spent a decade in medical devices during the 1990s and the most valuable thing I learned from that experience is that Ted Sturgeon's rule ("90% of everything is crap") more than applies to medicine. In fact, Sturgeon is optimistic. Most of the physicians I met were mediocre talents, barely involved in their profession, disconnected to the pain and suffering of their victims, and almost as principled as Enron executives (or any other company's executives, for that matter). From that experience and my history of minimal medical difficulties, I hoped to avoid contact with doctors whenever possible.

At the end of that miserable career path, I found myself exactly where I'd hoped never to be: looking for a competent doctor. Our of necessity and through a referral from someone who's opinion I valued, I met Dr. Jeevan Paul in August of 2001. I was in terrible shape and had been in and out of a dozen doctors' offices since May, with no result other than continued degeneration of my condition and increased frustration. Dr. Paul gave me a complete physical, his complete attention and empathy, and identified the source of and several possible solutions for my problem in a single visit. Unfortunately, my corporate insurance did not include his clinic, so I was forced to return to the other 90%, armed with the information Dr. Paul had provided. The cost of the tests he'd performed was high, since the laboratories he used were the usual suspects of medical practice. So, he helped me negotiate with my insurance company and, eventually, they paid for a portion of the lab costs. He stayed in touch with me for several months, through e-mail, to follow-up on the treatment I received from my insurance provider.

Like most Americans, I've been uninsured or underinsured for the last four years, so my contact with doctors has been limited to desperate times only. Once freed from my medical problems, I haven't had much cause to hang out with doctors, even the one I actually liked and trusted; Dr. Jeevan Paul. A couple of months ago, I decided to get back in touch and discovered that Dr. Paul died in 2005. He was thirty-seven years old. Typically, his brief memorial, buried in the back pages of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, requested that any memorials be sent to his favorite "hobby"; Medicins Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders).

Since I last saw Dr. Paul, he had moved to a different facility and a new specialty; chronic pain. He was active in the Minnesota Medical Association and constantly worked to provide medical services to low income patients and other disadvantaged citizens who are typically unprotected by our current profit-driven medical system. He posthumously received an award from a Minnesota physician's organization which described Dr. Paul in this simple statement, "Increasing access to care for underserved communities was the cause closest to Dr. Paul's heart, said Dr. Tooker. A general internist, Dr. Paul spent most of his career working at a community health center in St. Paul, where he worked to break down barriers to care for low-income patients."

Now, back to my original premise, the one that stated my opinion of St. Paul's low status as a city. Dr. Paul was active in local and state politics. He regularly participated in a physicians' outreach program that annually attempted to inform our state legislators of critical issues regarding the state's health care systems. I doubt that anyone in the state did more to promote community, compassion, or sacrifice than did Dr. Jeevan Paul.

In recognition of his life and death, the St. Paul Pioneer Press didn't even bother to post a notice of his passing. No mention was made in the state legislature of the loss of this great man. If it weren't for the Minneapolis Tribune's brief mention in the obituary column.

Maybe this makes sense to you. Maybe you really believe that the piddling activities of professional athletes warrants a seven page section of the newspaper? Maybe you think movie reviews are critical to the progress and outcome of civilization. Maybe you think government is wisely spending its time jabbering about gay marriage, abortion, finding more ways to reduce the tax burden of the wealthy, and slipping more corporate tax loopholes? I, on the other hand, think all this crap is wall-to-wall signs of a decadent society that has no moral guidelines, no purpose, and is so intently concentrated on greed and corruption that we won't even have Nero entertaining us with a violin solo when the walls crumble down on our heads.

October 2006

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