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Compassion, Poetry, and DACA

By Joy Jacobson

September 6, 2017

Rio Grande/Rio Bravo, J. Stephen Conn, flickr

“There is nothing compassionate about the failure to enforce immigration laws,” attorney general Jeff Sessions said yesterday, in a surreal usurpation of the word compassion. In announcing the end of the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, he made 800,000 young adults brought to this country illegally as children vulnerable for deportation as soon as March of next year.

 

Compassion literally means “to suffer with.” But like me you may be blocked from this suffering by a bout of compassion fatigue, brought on from the relentless assault of terrible news. Others have called it outrage fatigue or resistance fatigue. But because Sessions bastardized compassion, I think it’s important to reclaim that concept.

 

To suffer with: I am not vulnerable for deportation, yet I want to cultivate the ability to understand what this policy change means for people who are. I’m also overwhelmed; I’m afraid of the responsibility I bear in our culture; I want to hide from it.

 

And so I turn to poetry.

 

Sherman Alexie’s new poem, “Hymn,” is an incantatory series of rhyming couplets through which we can, along with the poet, declaim: “I will sing for people who might not sing for me. / I will sing for people who are not my family.”

 

Claudia D. Hernandez crossed the Rio Grande/ Rio Bravo with her family when she was 10 years old. “The River Never Happened to Us (ii.)” ends with this startling image: “Yet   we   continued   to trickle / shards   of   mud,   as   if   the river   had never happen to us.” Hernandez’s poem is part of an online collection featuring nine undocumented poets, curated by Christopher Soto and published by Southern Humanities Review.

 

Li-Young Lee describes his writing of his poem “Immigrant Blues,” which begins with a line his father told him as a boy: “People have been trying to kill me since I was born…” Click the audio link to hear him read the poem, and then listen again.

 

Eduardo C. Corral provides the poetic perspective of a child of an undocumented immigrant. “In Colorado My Father Scoured and Stacked Dishespresents a series of heartbreaking images, told in a heartbroken voice: “Once, borracho, at breakfast, / he said: The heart can only be broken // once, like a window.”

 

Guatemala-born poet Alex Alpharaoh performed “WET: A DACAmented Journey” in Los Angeles in August. “Soon the witch-hunt will begin,” he chants. “Which one of you brought the matches?” In an interview posted yesterday, he said of people who deny the importance of immigrants to America’s culture: “They’re not paying attention, and they’re not really looking at their history.”

 

Let’s pay attention. Let’s look at our history. Tell me what you’re reading.

Joy Jacobson
Joy Jacobson is the CHMP’s poet-in-residence and cofounder of our Writing Reflective Narratives for Clinicians program.

When Beautiful Turns Ugly

By Joy Jacobson

August 18, 2017

Pedro Reis, flickr

Beautiful. I overuse the word too. It’s a superlative that has denigrated from its Proto-Indo-European roots meaning “reverence” to the ubiquity of emoji. Almost half a billion Instagram posts bear the hashtag #beautiful.

 

Though it still resides in the eye of the beholder, this week we saw beauty twisted into a poisonous usage. “Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments,” President Trump tweeted in reference to confederate statues, followed by this, in his typically passive locution: “…the beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced!”

 

This Orwellian twist in meaning enacts a kind of linguistic violence. It may be that all wars begin as wars of words, internecine splittings and divisions within a shared tongue: civil wars, where your beautiful is my ugly. . . But when our political leaders engage in this sort of carjacking of meaning, the consequences resound throughout the culture.

 

Today, members of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, some of our standard-bearers of beauty, resigned in a letter of protest of Trump’s “support of the hate groups and terrorists who killed and injured fellow Americans in Charlottesville.” Of the many reasons cited for their resignations is this indispensible statement addressed to the president:

 

Art is about inclusion. The Humanities include a vibrant free press. You have attacked both.

 

Each of us has to find our own no, that universal utterance in the face of oppression. The monuments in question are indefensible, themselves expressions of racist terrorism, and must be resisted. That is, white supremacy isn’t a beautiful part of our national heritage to be celebrated. The Charlottesville violence made that very plain.

 

A couple of friends and I are slowly making our way through The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge, a 1966 book by Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann. The authors brilliantly demonstrate how language, a human construct, has its role in constructing humans, as well. They write that language has the ability to “crystallize and stabilize for me my own subjectivity” and that people “must talk about themselves until they know themselves.”

 

But, they write, we also inherit our language, and therefore our self-knowing. They posit that this semantic heritage, both personal and historical, results in a “social stock of knowledge” that is passed down from generation to generation. And it makes me wonder: can we become more aware of how language shapes us? Can we somehow make visible the unseen roots of our implicit biases?

 

And so for today’s resistance, I say, let’s reclaim beauty. It can begin with a poem, with a video of newborn’s first smile, or it can begin with no.

Joy Jacobson
Joy Jacobson is the CHMP’s poet-in-residence and cofounder of our Writing Reflective Narratives for Clinicians program.

NP Delivery of Primary Care for Homebound Elderly Threatened by Proposed Medicaid Cuts

By Liz Seegert

July 18, 2017

As our population lives longer with more chronic conditions, an an estimated two to three million end up homebound, unable to leave their homes to receive primary care in a physician’s office.  It means they often go without care or end up in crisis in the emergency department, driving up costs and further affecting their quality of life.

 

There are programs and services that deliver quality home-based care, but they face looming cuts in reimbursement, or even outright elimination, thanks to the Senate’s health care bill. It would slash Medicaid by $700 to 800 million. A shortage of primary care physicians further strains efforts to deliver high-quality home-based care.

 

Nurse practitioners can help meet these challenges, said Denis Tarrant, NP, who runs a primary care house calls practice in New York City. He thinks the proposed health legislation will only make it harder and harder to serve his patients, and others like them around the U.S.

 

“We don’t have the ability to meet the primary care demand without nurse practitioners,” Tarrant said in a phone interview. He’s right — nurse practitioners are becoming an increasingly a more viable option around the country to make up for the shortfall of primary care MDs. Research from Kaiser Family Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and elsewhere confirm that independently practicing NPs play a key role in solving the primary care shortage.

 

The Senate’s proposed cuts to Medicaid threaten not just primary care delivery but also home and community based care for our nation’s most vulnerable, and medically-needy older adults. The only place left to pick up the slack is the emergency department, Tarrant said.

 

The Senate is still scrambling for the necessary votes to pass legislation that will adversely affect tens of millions of people. Meanwhile, patients and families, along with those who care for them, remain in limbo.

 

You can listen to the full interview with Denis Tarrant below or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.

 

Liz Seegert
Liz Seegert is a health care journalist and directs the media fellows program at the Center. She serves as topic editor on aging for the Association of Healthcare Journalists, writes for a variety of print and online publications and coproduces HealthCetera Radio on WBAI-FM. She tweets @lseegert.