Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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In December, I Wore My Best Clothes

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column,  Monday, January 27 / 20

Zack Gross

It is ancient wisdom (at least, I hope it’s not just me) that when you are heading out on a trip or planning to meet with people of an official nature, it is best to dress nicely (including underwear and socks), so they will think highly of you.  This may be particularly true if you find yourself caught up in an accident or an incident, where you would have to be rescued, and even “cut out of” your clothing.  You wouldn’t want to be discovered in your frayed undies or limp socks, stained shirt or torn pants.

Thus, this is how I found myself from mid-November through mid-December just past as I was diagnosed with heart problems, ended up with a couple of hospital visits/stays, ambulance rides and other situations where you want to look your best, while your health care provider is assuring you that you are actually at your worst!  It is to this absurd backdrop that I want to describe the very positive experience I had with our health care system to end 2019.

As the columnist who writes about global issues, you know that I have had the opportunity to visit people and countries far way and much poorer than we are.  These are not necessarily entirely unhappy places, and are places with beautiful scenery, lovely inhabitants and vibrant cultures, but certainly poorer in material terms.  A few years ago, my wife and I visited a clinic in Tanzania, East Africa which was essentially devoid of the medications and equipment needed to treat sick or injured patients.  The answer to the question “What do you need?” was “Everything!”

On a trip to Uganda years ago, we saw people carrying mattresses to a local rural hospital so that their family members wouldn’t have to lie on the floor.  On a trip two of my children took to East Africa, during which one caught malaria, in order to get needed water and food meant the other had to go out and purchase them.  The hospital had none available.

I think that these past experiences helped me through my month of health scares and then major surgery, as I could compare the privileges I was afforded to the challenges faces by others.  Friends and colleagues of mine in Africa have had to fund raise to be able to afford medical treatment and then travel outside their home country to seek treatment.  While I realize that this can happen here too, I am referring to pretty basic care as opposed to more sophisticated situations.  That doesn’t mean being sick or injured here is a “piece of cake”, but it does mean there is an extra layer of support and hope.

Ambulance attendants, at least the few I met on my journeys to hospitals, understand this.  While lying on my stretcher, I had a conversation with one attendant about the disparity between rich and poor (and that pertains internally to our country too), and was impressed by his knowledge of health as a global challenge.  Meanwhile, on another trip, between questions about my medical history, an attendant talked to me about his hope that drones could be harnessed to deliver needed medical support to rural and remote locations, thus helping those far from our mega-hospitals.

Many people around the world don’t have the access to technology and to expertise to make their medical procedures safe and successful.  And many face the “double burden” in health –  traditional diseases that have always plagued the poor, such as malaria and malnutrition – while in the modern world acquiring new health problems due to pollution, fast food and road accidents.  The migration of many health care professionals from poorer countries to rich ones also affects the population health of “Third World” nations.

I was impressed by the dedication of nurses who, in our current health care system, were putting in shift-and-a-halfs or double shifts.  As my surgery was just before Christmas, I learned that they had had no time to prepare for the holidays and would have to scramble to fulfill their children’s dreams of food, decorations and gifts.  And I was impressed by the skills of doctors and enthusiasm of all medical professionals to meet our health needs.  Being able to come home on Christmas Eve was likely a sign…!

Anyway, I managed to survive it all, thanks to our health-care system and am now “good to go”- my warranty has been extended. I’ve set aside a good set of clothing for future emergencies and I understand the privilege we may be afforded to get and stay healthy.  Now, if we can only extend that to everyone . . .

Zack Gross is President of
The Marquis Project, a Brandon / Westman-based international development organization.

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