“And tonight, he might be able to use that aching, old arm one more time to push the sun back up in the sky, and give us one more day of summer.” -MLB Broadcaster in For Love of The Game
Several decades ago, Hollywood released a film that, despite not being noteworthy by any standards, left a significant impression on me: For Love of the Game, starring Kevin Costner. In the movie, Costner played aging pitcher Billy Chapel, who was in his final season, and final game, as a baseball player. In it, Chapel grappled with the end of his baseball career and the significance of losing something so intertwined with, and so a part of, his identity that its loss could have engendered an existential crisis, a complete loss of a sense of self; that was how much Billy loved baseball, and how much baseball meant to him.
Throughout the film, Chapel would constantly look back on his career, with its highs and lows, seemingly content with his work, accepting both the breadth of its specialness and the inevitability of its demise. And, what made this film so significant, and so special, to me was Chapel’s love for what he did, his love for baseball. The viewer could sense that, for Billy, it was never about the monetary side of the sport, and it certainly wasn’t about the fame; Chapel played because he loved to, and because it gave his life a sense of order and meaning. And as I try to grapple with business side of my profession, and the medical profession overall, I often think back to this film and what it meant to me, and what it would mean to me to work in the way Chapel worked, to do as Billy did, to simply love the game.
In our country, as opposed to, say, the UK and their NHS system, our health care system is a purely for-profit industry, with a fairly minimal amount of concern for those it purports to treat. I often find myself struggling to accept that part of it, struggling to equate health with transaction and wellness with business. It isn’t as though I’m anti-business, not in any sense of the term, but our health care system, and in particular our mental health care system, appears to me as a great societal moral failing, our moral failing. Too often patients don’t have access to competent, and highly trained, therapists because they won’t accept their insurance. Too often patients aren’t granted help in finding more specialized and better-suited therapists because of greed. And too often, patients aren’t informed of the best course of action for their treatment because practitioners fear losing them and their co-pays.
In an industry which purports to be comprised of healers, we act as though we’re 19th century industrialists, trying to squeeze each and every drop out of a system created for the purpose of health-maintenance and general well-being. Somehow, capital has managed to claw its way into our private lives by co-opting a fundamentally needed structure to widen their own coffers; to them, health is nothing more than a bottom line, and their patients are simply ill-informed consumers who require their expertise; they are the mystical gate-keepers and purveyors of health.
It was said somewhere that absolute power corrupts absolutely, and the US health care system is a prime example of the major flaws of an indispensable system managed, almost entirely, by private hands, a system so necessary for our well-being that we fear challenging any of its parts, hoping that it doesn’t all fall apart. As I consider the notion of equality and the necessity of mental well-being and stability for financial and professional success, I wonder how it came to be that we’ve created a health-care system, medical and mental health, that better serves a specific sector of our economy, while promising equal care for all; the ones who need its care the most perpetually fall by the wayside.
And as I consider the individuals who can’t afford high levels of treatment, I think of Billy Chapel, wondering why a great portion of our clinicians and physicians entered the medical field to begin with. Fortunately, those whose ends are mainly financial are easy to spot, as their aloofness is unmistakable and their lack of concern frightening; but, the Billy Chapels of the world are easily seen, too, and you know them when you meet them, because you sense how much they care.
Somewhere down history’s line, the art of healing was perverted into the science of wealth-creation; and, I argue that something has to be done, for all of us, because we’re all patients, too. A system based on extracting the most money possible isn’t sustainable and destined to fall, despite of our fears of rocking the boat. If, as a society, we agree to make the health of others prominent, the Billy Chapels of the world will increase in numbers, and we’ll finally fulfill our creed of equality in health for all. I write this blog post advocating for a system which equally brings health and wellness to all of its citizens, a system comprised of individuals who accept that making a living is fundamental to their lives, but who heal through passion and love, because their work brings them meaning and joy, because they love the game.