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.
Maybe this is the way that the present broken health care system will be fixed – by finding what works for each of us. Even though the film made a radical point about the urgent need to change the present health care system, its ultimate purpose is to energize the nation to address and implement a national health care system that is based upon the public’s needs, and not the entrenched or vested interests of the health care industry.
What should we be doing? Steve Burd, President and Chief Executive of grocery giant Safeway, gave his workers financial incentives to make healthy choices, and as a result Safeway’s health care costs remained stable while the national average skyrocketed. Other suggestions include a more patient-centered system, patient accountability, information in a form that is available and more helpful, and a wider use of alternative therapies (which include prayer and meditation).
Prayer is an alternative that has been effective for me over many years.
One time, I was healed of throbbing headaches resulting from the pressures of a neighborhood gang who shot out my office and car windows while I was in the process of closing an unneeded neighborhood school. Upon studying the scripture passage, “Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rereward” (Isaiah 58:8), along with other Bible verses, the headaches of several weeks ended abruptly. The idea that there was a divine presence, which “had my back” so to speak, dissolved the fear and the pain subsided.
Whether it’s financial incentives at work or alternative therapies like meditation and prayer, people are finding ways to meet their health needs in a creative way, no longer feeling trapped by conventional options. Just like Wag Dodge did in 1949.
photo © GLOW IMAGES