A lot people have been discussing the documentary film Escape Fire, and it might seem that everything’s already been said. But I can’t put the story out of my mind.
I keep thinking about what I would have done if I were one of those fire fighters. What if I had been one of those smoke jumpers who parachuted into that raging forest fire in Helena National Forest August 5, 1949, and found myself being overrun by changing fire conditions? With that terrifying inferno coming up behind him, smoke jumper foreman Wag Dodge took a counterintuitive approach. He stopped running, lit a match, and burned the brush around him, hypothesizing that the fire would jump over his area. He called on his crew to join him, but they didn’t. Dodge guessed correctly about his escape fire and survived; Thirteen members of his crew did not.
Dr. Donald Berwick, former head of Medicare and Medicaid, relates this anecdote, and ties it to the film’s point that we are embedded in the health care status quo, prisoners of old habits, and that unless we can change how we think about and deal with this situation, we are doomed to fiscal catastrophe.
So, can we think differently about health care – just as Wag Dodge did about the fire – at this very important time in our nation’s history?
Two individuals suggest good reasons why we must. Dr. Andrew Weil attests that our present health care system is not a health care system, but is instead a disease management system. And medical journalist Shannon Brownlee states, “We’re in the grip of a very big industry and it doesn’t want to stop making money.”
In many ways, changing the health care system seems impossible. Yet in Escape Fire, we follow an individual who could be like many of us. U.S. Army Sgt. Robert Yates sustained injuries in Afghanistan that left him a wreck, barely able to walk, and overwhelmingly dependent on medication. Yet, he found relief through a non-traditional alternative medicine – meditation.