The Blue Ribbon Days of April

Finally, comes April!

Winter’s hold weakens and warmer days are like blue ribbons awarded to those who greet April’s gifts with eager anticipation.

But all “Blue Ribbon Days” are not reminders of nature’s new awakening, dreams of longed for vacations or the planting of spring gardens.
Each April, there is another kind of “Blue Ribbon Day.” Ribbons are tied to trees and other places to remember those who are victims of child abuse and to remind every one of the terrible price millions of our children are paying each year because of abuse and neglect.

In America, at least four children die each day from abuse. Over 4 million reports of abuse and neglect, involving 6 million children,are made each year. Victims of abuse grow up being abusers and murderers, perform poorly in school and occupy a disproportionate share of space in prisons.

And each year, in April,we tie blue ribbons to trees to remember them.

Is there not something we can do to stop this disgrace and this unbridled disease that is killing our children?

Prevention of abuse means addressing the causes. Prevention however becomes a very complex problem, given that there is no single cause, or even a grouping of causes of abuse. Perhaps then, a different approach is needed. It would seem feasible that a major campaign, marshaling community, state and national resources, along with public policy support, could be effective if focused on just one or two of the most common and recurring factors associated with abuse. Once identified, then a full-scale effort directed at those causes could have a much better chance of making a lasting impact, increasing prevention and providing opportunities for healing.

Granted, such an approach will take the dedication of elected officials, committed citizens and the judicious use of funds that will still not totally eradicate the dark cloud of abuse hovering over our children. Still, such a new look is justified if April is to become a true “Blue Ribbon Month” and not one that remembers the ever-increasing numbers of the deaths of our children.

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The Trail

Ahead
Beckoning, inviting, encouraging
Beneath a canopy of sheltering trees
Against the resistance of the mountain
To an incomparable vista
The trail climbs
And challenges muscle, heart and lungs
And gives back
Solitude, peace, perspective
I wonder
Five thousand years ago
Who traveled through these dense woods and climbed this mountain
In search of renewal and solitude and peace
And I wonder
Five thousand years from now
If mankinds’ love for violence and fear for safety
And fascination with guns of all kinds
Will permit descendants of mine
Who will never know who I am
To exist
And walk as I am gifted to do now
On a trail
To see the world beneath my feet
And be refreshed by a canopy of sheltering trees.

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Dr. Huff testifying on the positive effects of access to care for families and children as provided by The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare)

DSC06255

Dr. Huff testifying today in front of a field hearing of the U.S. House Subcommittee
on Health, Employment, Labor & Pensions
photo by David Huff Creative

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Wednesday’s Child

Telling a child’s fortune by the day of the week in which she or he was born is an old tradition, dating at least as far back as the mid 1500’s. In 1838, the rhyme that began “Monday’s child is fair of face” and based on that old tradition, was first recorded in the book Traditions of Devonshire. It has remained a popular nursery rhyme ever since.

The rhyme continues “Tuesday’s child is full of grace . . .”

And then comes Wednesday.

“Wednesdays child is full of woe.”

Judging by what took place in the United Sates Senate this past Wednesday, that prediction has a surreal and frightening quality to it. For indeed, there may befall ALL children the woeful consequences of the actions, or rather lack of actions, of a supposedly respected governing body. By failing to even consider a rational or thoughtful dialogue about how to reduce the danger to America’s children – nee, all Americans – brought about by the rampant ownership and deadly use of  assault weapons, and by failing to consider ways to guarantee that only those persons responsible enough to own guns, should have that right, the US Senate has forever made Wednesday a day of woe.

Why?

The vast majority of Americans believe there should be a lawful, effective and expanded means of checking any person’s credible reason to own a gun of any kind. Especially that should apply to weapons that can spew widespread death and destruction in mere seconds of time. Certainly the bereaved and grief stricken folks in Newton, CT and Aurora CO believe it. And surely those left behind in countless households across our country where vacant places  and snuffed out dreams are permanent testimonies to an ache that will never disappear, believe it.  Every one of us who wake each morning, desiring nothing more than the opportunity to go about our constitutionally given rights to a free, safe and happy day, believe it.

So why don’t those we send to the hallowed halls of legislation believe it? What retribution do they fear when they pull away from their duty to protect those they are sworn to defend? Are they so enamored with their own power, beguiled by their own stature, owned by their own greed that they are deluded into thinking that “my way or the highway” is the standard by which they are entitled to serve?

Are they so beholden to the likes of the NRA and other ideologically driven forces who use the Constitution as a weapon rather than as a life giving document that opens doors to freedom, justice and equality for all that they have lost their own claim to those same opportunities?

Whatever their reasons, they have failed Wednesday’s child and everyone else who cares for the life that child should inherit.  That is not the end. Fortunately, the week goes beyond  Wednesday and the children’s rhyme promises better days ahead. True, “Thursday’s child has far to go” but the hope that builds as the week moves to conclusion and where these timeless words lead us . . .

“But the child who is born on the Sabbath Day is bonny and blithe and good and gay”

will indeed be the sustaining force that leads, eventually, to a safer, more tolerant time and to leaders who hear the voice of the people they have pledged to serve and all children will have a chance to be like Friday’s child, “loving and giving.”

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Searching in the Wrong Place for the Fountain of Youth

Rally for Health Justice, Charlotte, NC, February 13th

Rally for Health Justice, Charlotte, NC, February 13th

For thousands of years, legends have existed about a magical spring that restores the youth of anyone who drinks from it. Such has been the power of the legend that it is recorded in the ancient writings of Herodotus and Priester John. Belief in such a possibility was apparently a driving force behind Ponce de Leon’s trek in the early 1500’s into what is now the state of Florida. And, not unlike that intrepid Spaniard, millions of people all over the world have longed for a drink of those same waters, searching for the vitality and health of a robust youth.

Interestingly enough, a bit of that health desire has occurred as life expectancy has increased and science has added to the understanding of disease and the treatment of injuries and illness. And, with the United States spending roughly 2.6 trillion dollars annually on health care, more than any other country, it would be reasonable to assume that America is the healthiest nation in the world and that some semblance of the”fountain of youth” may not be all that unreal.

Not so.

We die younger and we are in poorer health compared to other developed nations that spend far less than we do for health care. Our infant mortality is higher and fully two out of three of us are obese. Heart disease, HIV infections, teen pregnancy, lung disease, diabetes and disabilities, coupled with drug addiction and violence paint a picture far different from those other countries where people live longer and enjoy better health. In spite of all the money being spent, something is badly wrong with America’s approach to keeping itself healthy.

It would appear that we are searching in the wrong places for solutions that would lead to our own spring water of health and we are paying far too much to do so. We rely on technology and pharmacology to get us out of the hole of fragile health we have dug with our spoons and forks. We demand for ourselves  the most sophisticated care available and reject the reforms in our systems that would allow a more level field of access to medical care for everyone. We have abandoned the time honored tradition of first seeking the advice of our primary care healers while they have substituted “hang up and dial 911″ for the responsive voice of someone who can offer immediate help (and often prevent an expensive trip to the hospital emergency department.)

The way we seek and obtain medical care and health advice has undergone dramatic changes in the past two or three decades. Much of the change, however, does not seem to have made the differences in the quality of our lives we anticipated. Certainly not what we expected from the price we pay!

Why?

There are no simple answers. Poverty, social and ethnic disparities, lack of continuity of care, deficits in health and medical literacy, violence, substance abuse, a pharmaceutical product for every occasion and of course the prevalence of unhealthy ways of living are just a few of the reasons the health of Americans is behind other developed nations.

One thing is apparent however. Individuals who have no means to pay for medical care are likely to be the least healthy. All other factors aside, uninsured or inadequately covered persons receive less preventive care, tend to seek medical help as a last resort and are not part of a continuous and supportive medical home. Given the millions of our citizens who are without health coverage, it is very easy to understand why they are less healthy and in the end cost the health care system more because they lack early, affordable, continuous and less expensive ways of obtaining routine care and medical treatment when they are ill or injured. Thus they are added to the reasons why America as a country lags behind other developed nations.

It seems reasonable to assume then that if health insurance were made available to that segment of the population, the so called “working poor” they would enjoy better health, be more productive in the places they work and ultimately reduce the cost of medical care for everyone. That is exactly what one portion of the health reform legislation, Medicaid expansion, was designed to do.

By raising Medicaid eligibility for all persons up to 138% of the federal poverty level     ($31,809 for a family of four) millions of low income citizens are now able to obtain health care. A good deal for America’s working poor and not a bad deal for states as the federal government will pay all of the cost of newly eligible individuals enrolled for the first three years and 90% thereafter.

Too good to pass up, right?

Not so, according to the ideological bent of conservative legislators who still claim that “Obamacare” opens the floodgates to “socialized medicine” and who reject any expansion of Medicaid that would entitle more people to have good health care. Somehow, if we are to search in better places for health care for everyone, and thus have a healthier America, we must get over the notion that those who can’t pay for it don’t deserve it. Ultimately then, it would  appear that the  search for that elusive and mystical fountain of health must come from a different direction. A direction that challenges our moral integrity and just how much value we place on caring for each other.

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Two Words: Countless Children

In his second encounter with the ghosts of Christmas, Scrooge is forced to look at two children, a boy and a girl, hidden by the cloak of the spirit who warns him of what is yet to come. They are, the ghost informs him, “Ignorance and Want.” Scrooge is told however, that it is the boy, Ignorance, from whom he has the most to fear.

In the past few weeks, much of the world has celebrated a season dedicated to more hopeful ways of living. In spite of the merry greetings, colorful displays, outpouring of generosity to those in need and the many messages that extol peace, the warning to Scrooge to beware of ignorance creeps into and around all attempts to find joy in the midst of the carnage visited on our children. Children are massacred everywhere by those with twisted minds, whether by the mentally ill or the despotic ruler, who have easy access to all kinds of incredibly destructive weapons. Around the world, the cries of children who are cold, hungry and displaced give evidence of the ignorance of their plight and the shameless ideological and religious fervor that denies them a future.

In America, the rush to buy more guns speaks to the ignorance that claims the notion that being armed means, somehow, in defiance of all evidence to the contrary, being safer. Sadly too, the ignorance that places blame on those who are mentally ill, rather than providing an explosion of intervention and care for them, buys more guns and the potential for more harm. And, of course, the constant dialogue about needing more mental health services simply creates more frustration when nothing concrete results from all the talk.

But ignorance also means to ignore. It is easy to ignore those children hidden beneath the cloak of  what is yet to come. It is easy to deny them health care, adequate food, decent shelter, early childhood help, clean communities and support for their families when they are not seen. It is easy to ignore the implications of the new generation’s impact on the future when narrow, self serving, power hungry and fearful ideologues define the rules that govern and control the purse strings of opportunity.

But that should not be the case. The children are not all that difficult to see, if  there is a desire to do so.  They are in schools, day care centers, doctor’s offices, homes, neighborhoods, places of faith, playgrounds, parades, swimming pools – most any place that can be named. It is the ignorance that shuts out compassion and the failure to recognize that caring for all benefits all that puts blinders on those whose vision is most needed.

Which then brings the little girl under the spirit’s cloak to our attention. She is the child named Want. Her frail body, listless eyes and lack of hope are a fair representation of the millions of children in America who live in poverty, and who, also are unseen. They too are labeled with want. Theirs is the want that is obvious: the need for the basic elements that sustain life: healthy food, schools for learning care when they are sick and homes in places that are safe to live. But the want she represents lies in other places as well. Scrooge, like all of us, is challenged to see that she, like all children wants to be. She wants to flourish, to live in the sunshine of laughter and the recognition that she is loved.

Simple things really. Yet, countless children everywhere are denied the richness of life’s simple delights by two words, two words that need not exist. It is time for the spirit of our own future hopes to bring ignorance and want to an end. We have it within our power to do so. For the sake of all generations of children yet to come, the time to do so is now.  Now is the time to put self serving political agendas aside and call on all our leaders to face the real concerns that prevent progress, shatter hope, create fear and add damage to the only real and sustainable resource we have: a future designed by the children we care for today.

Then, and only then, countless numbers of children will no longer face a future haunted by the specter of Ignorance and Want.

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The Christmas Blanket

Olson Huff, MD

Following Visit to Edinburgh, 2009

For all, a very Happy Holiday! May this little story remind us of the generosity that lifts all our spirits and defines the best of our lives!

 

Jefferson was a dozen steps beyond the girl who was huddled under a thin gray blanket as a shield against the chill of the Edinburgh wind, when, impulsively, he turned back and without daring to look into her eyes, thrust his steaming cup of Starbucks coffee and untouched Danish into her cold hands.  Turning quickly away, he rejoined the early morning rush of feet, buses, cars and bicycles, all of whom were oblivious to each other and the tiny heap shivering beside them.

“So, Jeff, got your reservations?” Carlton leaned from his cubicle, next to Jefferson’s own workspace, his face wreathed in a happy, carefree smile. “For sure, I’m ready to party! Can’t wait for the warm sun and wild beaches!”

Jefferson tried to laugh, to acknowledge his friend’s greeting and eager anticipation of their long awaited holiday break. He managed only a quick nod in response, distracted by thoughts he could not quite grasp and a gnawing feeling of loneliness that he could neither describe nor locate.

She was there the next day, sitting a bit straighter, eyes still downcast, this time clutching a blanket that had more substance against the cold air and a definite hint of color that seemed somehow to match that of her hair. She seemed not quite so cold even though the temperature had fallen during the night and the wind whipped along Leith Street with its usual bone chilling force. This time, Jefferson was prepared. Holding two cups of coffee and two bags of Danish, part for her and part for his own solitary breakfast, he deposited her share quickly into her outstretched hands. Again he rushed on, a bit embarrassed by his attention to the girl and confused by why he had ever noticed her in the first place.

“Jeff, you OK?” Carlton’s smile was replaced by a frown. “You not backing out on me are you, pal?”

Jefferson shook his head, not attempting to verbalize, yet, something growing in his mind. He had seen the sign, propped in the window of the shop, close to where the girl sat, each morning begging for help, crying for attention.

“Volunteers needed to help prepare Christmas dinner for the homeless,” the sign had read, “details inside.”

Next morning, coffee and Danish ready and several coins in hand, he moved a bit more quickly and eagerly along the wind swept street. He had no trouble spotting her today. The blanket, wrapped around her shoulders was thick and warm and elegant in style with rich deep colors. This time their eyes met and as he gazed at the amazing warmth in them, the feeling of peace around him and the sudden rush of excitement he felt, astounded him. He started to speak to her but was jostled aside by the crowd and distracted by the jingle of her can, seeking more coins and the attention of others.

“Sorry, Carl, old friend, but I have suddenly found another topic for my holiday break, so I won’t be joining you after all.” Jefferson spoke brightly to his friend who responded with a knowing wink and tilt of his head.

“Another sweetie, eh! Well enjoy yourself because I sure plan to!”

Jefferson was up earlier than usual the next day, eager to bring his gifts of money, food and attention to the waif who had commanded so much of his time and thoughts the past few days. Hurrying along, he rounded the corner by the shop, this time prepared to talk to her, to find out who she was and, in doing so, try to understand his uplift of mood that seemed somehow associated with her.

The spot where she had sat, huddled against the wall was empty. Confused, he cast about to see where she might have gone. Nothing. Thinking the shopkeeper may have seen her leave; he opened the door, noticing again the sign asking for volunteers to help feed the homeless.

“Girl?” A puzzled look came over the shopkeepers face. “They ‘ha not been any slip of a lass any where about my shop or this street in many a day.” The man did not speak unkindly but he did look more closely at Jefferson just to make sure the young man was not a bit inebriated, even this early in the morning.

Dazed, Jefferson turned back to the door, unsure of what was happening or what to do next. As he turned the knob to leave, his eye suddenly caught a hint of color in the window next to the sign. It was the blanket, resplendent, warm and inviting. He threw his head back and laughed, a deep explosion of joyful mirth as he understood and as he saw again the eyes of the girl, filled with hope, invitation and promise.

“Count me in,” he said to the shopkeeper, as he pointed to the sign. “And whatever you do, don’t sell that blanket!”

“Couldn’t if I wanted to,” came the reply. “’twas left there ages ago by the prettiest little angel I ever did see. Seems to bring me good luck. Know what I mean?”

And of course, Jefferson knew exactly what he meant.

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