Tired Legs

Tired Legs

Some time ago I worked, along side a Presbyterian Medical Missionary, in one of the more impoverished areas of Sub-Sahara Africa. Malawi is a very poor country with limited resources and only the slightest hint of a supportive social network or government infra-structure. While there, I had the opportunity to go into several villages, collections of huts really, with no suggestion of sanitation, knowledge or application of health care and a very high incidence of neonatal deaths.

My missionary friend told me that when she had first arrived to work in Malawi, she had asked why so few of the women from these village groupings came to the hospital where she could deliver their babies safely and with a markedly lowered mortality.

The answer she was told was “Tired Legs.”

At first she wondered if this was a statement of some cultural or religious norm that prevented the people from using the hospital as a source of care. Upon further inquiry, she told me, the answer was far more simple and at the same time, heartbreaking.

The women, who were in labor, ran out of energy on their long trek to the hospital to give birth and their legs were too tired for them to walk any further. Their babies were born and often died at the place where their tired legs just gave up.

Sometime this month, the Supreme Court of the United States will decide whether or not the Health Care Reform Act,passed by Congress in 2010, and referred to by many as “Obamacare” fits into the legality of circumstances as defined by our Constitution. At stake in the debates over this law are such things as  whether all people should be required to have health coverage and whether Medicaid, the “safety net” government funded plan to provide access to health care for the poor, especially women and children, should be expanded to more of those in need.

It is hard, at times,  for me to balance these two extremes. In our country, we exhaust ourselves, arguing ideological views on who deserves what, set against a background of the  most advanced health care system in the world. Rather than embrace the excitement and good fortune of what exists that could forever prevent any “tired legs” from accessing quality, supportive, preventive and equitable health care, we wear ourselves out, trying to limit how such care is obtained.

In the villages of Malawi, and in millions like them around the world, the people exhaust themselves in the sheer effort to get to someplace, where someone who cares, will give them the barest minimum of help.

We have come to a time, I think, when we must re-think what it means to have good health and the ability to obtain health care. There is a saying  “that a rising tide raises all boats,” meaning that what is good and of equitable distribution in one area will likely lift the prospects of  those in other areas as well. I believe when we come to a time where we stop arguing about who should have health care and start applying our incredible minds and resources to assuring that everyone does have access then we can see the tide rise. I believe also that this is the only way we will see the cost of care decline rather than steadily increase. I do not hold to an allusion however, that this is a one way system. All of us must engage in ways of maintaining good health in order to be able to have access to the health care we desire. That is part of the obligation to ourselves and to each other.

But in the end, I come back to the images I forever will carry in my mind of desperate women, tying to reach a place of safety for themselves and their babies, whose legs are too tired to carry them any longer. We must never forget the lessons to be learned from them. It is time to move the health care reform debate out of the courtroom and use that energy to move aside the ideologies of restraint so that we reach a point where we all access, achieve and hold onto the best health possible.

Perhaps then, our own tired legs will be at rest.

About Olson Huff, MD

Olson Huff is a pediatrician, author, husband, father of three sons and grandfather of four dynamic and growing grandchildren. Often described as a visionary leader and eclectic thinker, his efforts have always been to acknowledge the power, value and delight to be found in ALL children. As a pediatrician he has used his skills as a clinician to provide healing, as an author his words to reveal the spirit of children and as an advocate to plead their case from the state house of politics to the White House of policy changes. His vision is that ALL children will have the very best start in life from their earliest years of development to the brightness of the future they aspire to shape. He believes ALL children have a right to affordable, quality health care, clean and safe environments and homes that cherish their presence.
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2 Responses to Tired Legs

  1. Hi, Olson. “Tired legs” hits the problem perfectly………a problem of access on BOTH continents, though differing in details. In Congo, we had a “lazaret” where pregnant women (and their children) could come a couple of weeks before they were due and be on the spot when
    they went into labor. In many cases, they had already had some prenatal care in our clinic.
    We rewarded (not to say, bribed) them with newborn layettes when they were fairly
    conscientious about visits!

    In Washington, where I worked with Latin American immigrant women, through a
    Church of the Savior clinic, we had a contract with Holy Cross, a Catholic hospital,
    to handle all our deliveries at $250. Residents from Georgetown did the C-sections.
    I’m sure you are aware that, in Asheville, all immigrant women seen through MAHEC receive
    Medicaid, an enlightened practice which covers perinatal care and delivery.

    These are effective programs, but they represent a spotty response to the problem.
    Having just returned from a visit with our daughter, Ruthie and her family in Sweden,
    I wonder when we Americans are going to give up our rigid pride and learn from
    other countries? You must despair at times.

    Thanks for plugging away. Ellen
    What position do you think the Supreme Court will take on Obamacare?

    • Hi Ellen and thanks for your kind words and update; when were you at the Church of the Savior?

      I think the Supreme Court will uphold the Health Reform law. Will be interesting to see if I am correct!

      Best, Olson

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