War On Children Part II: Forget the facts

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I landed in Detroit to a blizzard. It was a parking lot on the freeway from the airport to downtown, which me a lot more time to get to know my thespian turned server turned Lyft driver. Later on that evening, my phone informed me that it would cost me 25$ to take a Lyft just over a mile to the interview dinner due to the high demand. So I hiked through downtown Detroit in thickly falling snow on my way to a delicious bacon wrapped meatloaf.

Most of the streets had been cleared by the following evening so I  ran along the river of this proud flawed city while looking across its banks toward Canada. The massive GM building seemed to be an almost comically poignant reminder of the inequalities in this country and the unjust way that the rich float during tough times while everything around them crumbles. When I found myself in a beer garden after dinner, drinking a stiff hot toddy with my favorite bourbon, I couldn’t help but be painfully aware of the fact that I was in downtown Detroit yet everyone around me was white.

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The night before I landed in Detroit, I was sitting in a bar in downtown Chicago watching the election results come in. There was a cheer when CNN called that Doug Jones would become the first Democratic senator from Alabama in over two decades. However, it’s also important to acknowledge that it’s a sad day when it takes someone being a pedophile to lose a Republican senate seat in Alabama, even sadder when the racial breakup of the vote showed that both white men (72%) and women (63%) overwhelmingly voted for that worthless garbage person.

That being said, there was something in the air that day that wouldn’t let me give up hope. I spent the whole morning and afternoon taking a twelve hundred dollar medical school exam so I figured I’d treat myself to an Uber pool to get home. Between the Puerto Rican musician turned driver, an older woman from Puebla, a girl from Venezuela, and myself, there wasn’t a moment without laughter during the forty minute ride. Tamales, Lebron, the Bolivar, Prince, mole, and Jordan were all hotly debated. As he was dropping me off, the driver turned around to say that he had never had such a good Uber trip and that he couldn’t wait to tell his wife about it when he got home.

After I found the spare key to my friend’s apartment, I immediately set down my stethoscope, cough drops, and white coat and changed into running clothes to slip out into the cold Chicago night. Stretching my legs over the sidewalk felt exquisite as my breath blew a smokey cloud in front of me. It’s almost Christmas, which means it’s a time to reflect, be grateful, and come together while forgetting politics for a minute.

I can’t even type that with a straight face.

Every aspect of the world we live in is inherently political. Take the coffee shop I’ve been going to by my new climbing gym (aka young bourgeoise white people club). It’s less than a mile from north Minneapolis, yet there’s not a single person of color drinking coffee with me. Our spaces are politicized and white people like myself can conveniently choose when and where to engage with that reality because we live in an insane world in which the pigment of your skin invades every aspect of your life.

I’ve spent the past month basking in this insane white male privilege while flying around the country interviewing for residency. I try to catch myself anytime I start to whine about it because there’s nothing more annoying than a white boy who tries to be woke while complaining about plane rides and hotels. I’d imagine that it’s annoying enough when white boys try to be woke… That being said, I’d rather lean into looking ridiculous and occasionally sounding like an ass in order to be a part of the resistance and fight for those who are marginalized by the racist, sexist, and xenophobic country we live in.

That’s the thing though, sentences like the previous one are the shit that get my Trump supporting extended family members all riled up. Is using that kind of discourse an attempt to be sensitive and engaged or is just a pretentious way to let someone know that you’re better than them? Probably a little bit of both. That’s why as I’ve been drinking craft beer and eating bourgeois foods in different cities I’ve tried to understand the populist rage against the liberal elite… But seriously

This isn’t a bullshit attempt to equate your truth to mine and try to understand how racism, sexism, and other hatreds come from a place of reason. They don’t. So what is it that drives a certain percentage of our population to vote for politicians (and the general Republican Party) who behave in a way that we wouldn’t find acceptable in a kindergarten classroom? Besides the remarkable leveraging of abortion as a single issue voting choice (which warrants a different and deeper discussion), there seems to a cynical group of men and women who have tapped into the worst aspects of our humanity and specifically targeted a population of white-identifying people who are vulnerable to it.

The way I see it is that we humans, let alone we americans, are 99.999% the same. We all share mostly the same genes, have the same wants and needs, and find happiness and sadness in similar pursuits. On a fundamental level we are all human animals and with that humanity comes both beautiful and terribly destructive human traits. So again, what can it possibly be that drives some of us to support such objectively terrible people and politics? I know it can’t feel good to live in a world driven by hate and greed.

Like I’ve said before, I believe this regressive backlash is in part due to greedy politicians giving people a narrative that allows them to forget reality for a while. This is a privilege that many people don’t have, especially people of color. Being a white Trump supporter in America now is akin to living in a reality TV show or being biblical literalists. You know somewhere deep that all this stuff is probably fantasy, but it’s easier to live in that world than to deal with the harsh reality outside where children starve, all men seem to have sexual violence in them, and people are slaughtered for their beliefs. Heresy? No, it’s looking at the world like a grown up with eyes wide open.

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It’s been a rough year for everyone, even Frankie

Since it’s almost Christmas, I want to end this with hope. As I was waiting at the Jefferson Transit Station in Chicago for the bus driver to come back, one of the passengers already on the bus pushed the doors open in order to wait outside in the cold with the rest of us. This absurd action set off the alarm on the bus which pushed all the other passengers out until the driver arrived.

My man was wearing different shades of garish purple with multiple silver chains and a ring on every finger. He completed the ensemble with wrap-a-round sunglasses even though it was a dark and dreary December afternoon. Dude seemed unhinged at best so I wasn’t too excited to have him sit down across from me.

Less than a minute into the ride my fears were realized when I heard him say “Hey! Hey man, what’s on your t-shirt?” I’d forgotten that I was wearing the hippy t-shirt I bought to provoke other bros at the gym. “Black lives matter…women’s rights are human rights…pro-choice pro-science…love is love.” He was slowly reading my shirt out loud for the rest of the bus to hear. This was a much more effective advertisement than I expected when I woke up that morning. “Truth. That’s a lot of truth there man.” I smiled my thanks while inwardly hating myself for being such an asshole. To top it off, he gave me a bejeweled fist bump before he got off the bus.

A few stops later we pulled up in front of a school and were instantly swarmed by high schoolers of seemingly every ethnic background.  Their laughter and smiles were infectious. I know it’s easy for me to say as a non-teacher, but there was something so essential and human about being surrounded by teenagers. They had an energy and life force that I already can tell I’m losing quickly if I don’t work to sustain it. More than that though, I had almost a half hour to just lean back in my seat and drink up the conversation.

Listening to these boys and girls talk about dating, religion, school and everything in between gave me a little bit of hope. The ubiquitous and addicting technology, disenfranchisement, and structural/cultural inequalities of religion/sexuality/race/gender all push my hopefulness away from complacency. But listening to a Southeast Asian girl talk about dating and being “sort of” Buddhist to a black girl whose parents were Muslim and Christian made me want to scream You already lost M***** F****rs! at the hateful people whose narrow minded idea of America doesn’t include these two.

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If Rick Cousins can turn this mushy, there is most definitely hope. Merry Christmas!

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Cochabamba

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Saturday morning marked the end of my first week in Bolivia. I woke up earlier than I wanted to  because I wanted to get a run in before helping some guys finish up the brick sidewalk they were laying down at the compound. The fresh mountain air slowly cut away my mental fog. The cobwebs were due to a long night of exploring Cochabamba’s bomb night life. To my surprise I wasn’t attacked by any dogs while running and found my way curving up the mountains on a cobblestone road flanked by eucalyptus trees. Eucalyptus always reminds me of living in Ecuador. I finished my run, had a cup of Nescafe, and walked down to the job site to wheel sand and lay brick. It didn’t seem to matter to Juan Carlos when I told him I had no experience doing anything that required actual skill in masonry, so I did my best to lay them straight and level. Anything was better than the three hours of tamping that I did the day before. Tamping with this crew means crushing blood red sand with a 70 lb block of cement.

 

I’m in Bolivia working with an organization called Una Brisa De Esperanza. Ali and I are the first med students to come down here, so we’ve spent the past week getting adjusted and beginning to define our roles. It looks like we’ll be giving presentations on health, sexual health, consent, and anatomy as well as conducting very basic medical screenings and referring to licensed doctors if needed. I’m not sure how much more construction I’ll be doing, but they needed help and I needed to use my body after finding out that my cousin died suddenly of a heart attack. He was 46 years old. That my godmother now survives both of her two sons seems to fly in the face of this world having any rhyme or reason. There are no words to describe my rage when I think about the preventative health care that my cousin could not afford because our national legislators have continued to pander to the lobbying whims of health insurance companies. There is a special place in hell for men like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell to name a few.

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Having a break from the constant stream of news media has been a welcome reprieve. Posting up Friday evening in the Plaza Principal and watching people stroll by was almost enough to forget the fact that our country is run by a mentally feeble white supremacist. This statement of fact evidently rang so true for the nouveau-autocracy that they called for the firing of ESPN anchor Jemele Hill when she tweeted it last year. I almost feel guilty for this mini vacation from our politics, because I believe more than anything in the world that everything in life in inherently political. Hill eloquently articulated this when she was asked on the podcast Code Switch about the interaction between sports and politics. “People pick and choose when they feel like politics should be in sports depending on how they feel about said politics,” Hill said after laying out the intense nationalism that permeates American sports, specifically football.

 

So here I am, momentarily free of the head ringing base that permeates my apartment when the chicaria down the street decides it’s appropriate to play club music for the three guys drinking by themselves. It’s an enormous privilege to be able to use international travel as a reset button to re-energize so you can come back to your country and fight for fairness and justice. It’s a privilege that I’m going to try\ hard to take advantage of.

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War on children

I believe that it’s time for us to look at the GOP for what it is, a political party that is cynically waging a war on children. They are fighting to keep undocumented children out of this country and treating them like criminals once they’re here. They are systematically undermining public education. Their economic policies exacerbate economic and social inequality, setting many children up for failure before they’re even born. This ideology is clearly sinister through and through, but I want to start with immigration.

Immigration is good for our economy. There is consensus among economists that immigration, especially with the second generation of immigrants, has a net positive effect on the US economy in terms of innovation, workforce education, and overall economic productivity. Federal, state, and local budgets all benefit from immigrants. The UPenn Wharton School of economics has a nice summary about how immigration affects the economy for anyone interested. Furthermore, studies by the National Bureau of Economic Statistics, The Sentencing Project, and the Cato Institute among others have consistently demonstrated that immigrants have decreased criminality when compared to native born Americans.

In regards to the validity of the scientific method and the quality of academic studies, it’s absolutely true that they’re imperfect. However, they’re also the backbone of the medicine that will save your life if you ever find yourself in the emergency room, need any kind of medication, want to operate a vehicle, or require any kind of surgical procedure, etc etc. In the gendered words of Daniel Patrick Moynihan: “Everyone’s entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

We are spending millions of dollars deporting men, women, and children who have risked everything to come to America to work hard and make a better life. I’ll spell out this insanity: We are spending money we don’t have in order to keep people out who would help generate more money. How the hell did losing money to appease fearful racists become conservative?

We native born Americans did nothing to be born in this country. Let me repeat that, we did nothing in order to be born in this country. By any kind of moral and philosophical ideology, especially libertarian and personal freedom systems of thought, we are not born into the right to own land that supersedes our fellow world citizens right to that same land. Of the many reasons that the United States was founded, an escape from a class based monarchical system was paramount. As was the commitment to immigration that is etched on our Statue of Liberty:

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore,” she wrote. “Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” From The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus

Even if immigration weren’t supported by economics and the very philosophy that our nation was founded on, the morality of the issue would be enough. We are spending millions of dollars to deport and turn away children who arrive at our doorstep fleeing violence, poverty, and destitution. Since so much of this hatred finds twisted justification in Christianity, I thought that I’d see what the bible says about this issue. It’s not subtle.

I, the Lord, command you to do what is just and right… Do not ill-treat or oppress foreigners, orphans, or widows(Jeremiah 22:3)

Rich people who see a brother or sister in need, yet close their hearts against them, cannot claim that they love God. (1 John 3:17)

Suppose there are brothers or sisters who need clothes and don’t have enough to eat. What good is there in your saying to them, “God bless you! Keep warm and eat well!” – if you don’t give them the necessities of life? (James 2:15-16)

What kind of a sick joke is it that we don’t open our arms and care for children who have  suffered hell to make their way here instead of locking them in a detention facility called “The Icebox,” forcing them to find their own legal representation, and then deporting many of them back to countries from which they have just fled for their lives. These. Are. Children.

We must be better. We must all fight to push our nation to do what’s right. What we’re doing now is clearly wrong and the people behind these policies as well as those who are enforcing them are miserable excuses for human beings acting from the grimiest part of whatever is left of their moldy souls:

https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/mb3gva/ice-followed-a-child-to-the-hospital-to-detain-her-after-surgery

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/immigration/a-girl-with-cerebral-palsy-is-being-held-in-immigration-detention-the-aclu-just-sued-for-her-release/2017/10/31/8453eb50-be53-11e7-959c-fe2b598d8c00_story.html?utm_term=.659a7217bd29

 

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Narratives

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This is dedicated to the memory of Mahnaz Kousha, one of the greatest teachers I’ve ever had, a kind, beautiful and fiercely intelligent woman who taught me about narratives among other things.

It’s been hard to know whether or not to keep writing with about what’s going on in the world. Words seem a paltry defense against the hatred and fear that’s spreading like a malignancy. However, working for the past month at the Minneapolis VA has reminded me that fighting for our country, in any way possible, is a never ending duty as an American. Just the other night I admitted a veteran in his eighties. When I walked back to the wards to check on him, he asked the nurse to step out of the room and give us a minute. He said he had something he wanted to say about one of his responses to my neurological assessment. You know the funny look I gave you when you asked me who the president was, he asked. I just want you to know that even though I don’t like what he’s doing, especially towards those Hispanics, I respect the office. It was tender to watch this sick old man working hard to stand in his integrity as both an American and a veteran in the face of mindless stupidity. I’m sure there are many veterans who support Trump, but I haven’t met any yet at the VA.

The veterans I’ve met, many of whom have served their country at the expense of their physical and mental health, seem baffled by the lack of basic integrity of a draft dodger who they now find as their commander and chief. Whether one agrees with even the basic idea of the military or not, it is undeniable that these men and women have suffered to pursue the ideal of a greater good. My resident and I joked about how almost every vet that we admitted assumed I served and asked me what branch of the military I was in. What surprised me though was the universal reply of That’s serving your country just the same, when I responded that I served in the Peace Corps. My service was not the same and didn’t come with the same kind of sacrifices, but working at the VA reminds me of the feeling of greater purpose and community with my fellow Americans that I had while serving abroad. It’s this feeling that compels me to keep fighting in any way that I can. For me, part of this means trying to deconstruct the current political narrative and replace it with a better one.

It’s always dangerous for an imperfect man to attack an ideology because I know I fall prey to the same mental pitfalls as anyone else. Therefore I’ll state at the outset that I’m deeply flawed and know it. I’m a glutton, I’m often unaware of my privilege, I can be careless regarding the consequences of my decisions, and I’m not a vegetarian, to name a few. I want to simply acknowledge that I know I’m no better than anyone else when I advocate for a better world. However, although I often fail to live up to my own values, I still believe it’s my obligation as a human being to fight for justice when it’s being circumvented.

The current state of politics is not and cannot be about partisanship. I say that because there’s no equivalency. The Democratic Party holds a multitude of dissenting opinions. There are advocates for change, advocates for restraint, spenders, fiscal conservatives, war hawks, and pacifists. They are made up of inspirational leaders like Bernie Sanders and monsters like Harvey Weinstein. They aren’t liberal or conservative, they are simply an amalgamation of a multitude of political parties that find themselves joined together in an unlikely alliance. The Republican Party on the other hand, led with their own complicity by Donald Trump, is a party which has centralized its values around anti-science, xenophobic, chauvinist, anti-intellectual, and racist policies that reinforce the status quo and further exacerbate inequalities in race, gender, and socioeconomics. These policies leverage the fear, faith, and anger of mostly white people by dangling a narrative of white Christian superiority as a carrot to consolidate power in the hands of those who already have it.

Draconian immigration policies, a complete and utter disregard for the environment, an assault on education and reproductive rights, and tax policies that benefit the super rich have been the bread and butter of Republican policies since I could vote. There is an important role for dissent and differing political opinions in a democracy, but that role shouldn’t be based in a morality that is rooted in fear, ignorance, and hate. Like I’ve said before, I think this country has the potential to be a force for good in building a better world. What I’m going to write about isn’t a matter of partisan politics, it’s a matter of morality and common sense. We cannot get to that better world as long as the Republican narrative is given any kind of legitimacy. I will therefore try to deconstruct that narrative in spare moments where I’m not rotting my brain on Netflix or navel gazing with a tumbler of whiskey. I want to do this in order to better understand how to fight for justice, but I also want to uncover and create a common sense narrative for what’s going on.

 

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Important Voices

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Community Politics

“If we extend the metaphor of the garden to our social body, we might imagine ourselves as a garden within a garden…The garden is unbounded and unkempt, bearing both fruit and thorns. Perhaps we should call it all wilderness. Or perhaps community is sufficient. However we choose to think of the social body, we are each other’s environment.”
Eula Biss On Immunity

We are not alone. If there’s anything I know to be true, it’s that we live in relationship with the world around us and the people in it. Whether the discussion is about vaccination as in On Immunity by Eula Biss, or about social welfare, we need to start from the objective fact that we are in constant relation to one another while we take breaths on this earth. This isn’t a liberal stance, it is an objective reality. In an era where truth is purportedly up for interpretation, this idea can be difficult for some people to understand. I thought about this concept a few months ago while sitting in my backyard with my family. My mom’s cousin and I were talking politics and it quickly became evident that he viewed his success as his own alone, which meant that the failure of others were theirs alone. He’s an extremely successful lawyer here in Minneapolis and our conversation began with the familiar lament of the aged that there is a new lack of respect among young people today. He argued that the millennial generation doesn’t know how to work, and that the tax dollars from his highest earner tax bracket go to pay for healthcare and welfare for people who don’t deserve it. This garbage came from a kind man who demonstrated with his words an unbelievable lack of understanding regarding how the social and economic forces around him shape his privileged world.

Our conversation reminded me of a two-part Freakonomics episode I listened to that consisted entirely of an interview with Charles Koch. In that interview, Stephen Dubner prostrated himself in front of who we were led to believe was an affable, all-knowing, and good intentioned Charles Koch whose only goal was to make the world a better place now that he’s made more money than he knows what to do with. Why should we care about these two separate conversations between reasonable seeming successful men when our country is spiraling out of control due to the politics of liars, racists, and narcissists? We should care because the fallacy behind the ideology of these reasonable seeming men is what underlies and provides structure to today’s Republican Party. I say Republican Party intentionally because I don’t care about being politically correct. I care about being kind, decent, and thoughtful, but I’m not going to pretend that what’s happening today is happening on both sides of the political aisle.

Along with his brother David, Charles inherited Koch industries from his father Fred Koch. I won’t detail the hypocrisy of how Fred Koch made millions in Soviet Russia while becoming one of the staunchest anti-communists in America, but I do want to illustrate the kind of hypocrisy that it takes for a libertarian political donor to be politically active in advocating a pull yourself up by your bootstraps philosophy when his baby booties were lined with hundred dollar bills. Moving on to my mom’s cousin. When discussing the merits of hard work and success, he discussed how his parents raised him with the expectation that he’d study hard and go to college. He then mentioned how surprised he was to see their other cousin Margo when he went to his brother’s suma cum laude ceremony. The obvious chauvinism of this comment escaped him, as well as the fact that he was born into a wealthy family headed by his successful father who practiced law. He forgot that his education was in-part funded by his sisters, including my grandmother and margo’s mother, who dropped out of high school to help pay for their brother’s educations.

Conversations about privilege don’t always fit as nicely as this, but no matter who we are or where we’re from, our successes and failures are heavily influenced, if not completely determined, by the social structures surrounding us. The ideology and policies put forth by today’s Republican Party are inconsistent, morally repugnant, and misleading. That the structures in society affect our behavior as individuals is a fact, not an opinion. That race is a social construct that has little if any basis in physical biology is also a fact, not an opinion. So when I hear pundits and lawmakers describe groups of people as if they were individuals making collective decisions with a shared free will, I cannot help but wonder if the speakers are stupid or lying. We must be better. We have the economic and social resources in the country to create a society where all children could be fed, educated, housed, and grow up with the opportunity to do whatever they wish.

So no, it’s not the time to be politically correct, it’s time to be morally strong. We need to confront racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia and false narratives as we see them. Ta Nehisi Coates did so in The First White President as he carefully demolished the narrative that Donald Trump was elected due to economic fears. Jimmy Kimmel has continued to dismember the arguments of Republican legislators trying to repeal the ACA. And Lebron James was brutal and effective yesterday as he simply and correctly called out the POTUS for being a bum.

As the world is seemingly falling in around us, I believe that it’s important to remember that there is no enemy. Trump voters are not the enemy of progress, nor is Trump himself. They are just human beings whose decisions and belief systems are based in fear and ignorance instead of compassion and facts. By no means do I think that these belief systems excuse the hateful and piglike behavior predominantly perpetrated by white men like myself, but I want to remain consistent with my understanding of the difference between individual actions and the structures that underlie them. Therefore, I want to keep on fighting for change by supporting the structures and institutions in our democracy that work to save us from ourselves while propelling us toward progress. I’m thinking of public schools, the scientific method, universities, county hospitals, environmental groups, libraries, park systems, and the many arts organizations to name a few. The past year has demonstrated that the forward march of progress toward a better world is not inevitable, and I see that revelation as an excuse to get off the couch and start working towards that world today.

 

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Ely

Ely. We have to write an end of the year essay about our RPAP experience and I’m stumped. What’s Ely? I’ve got no fucking idea. Ely is a picturesque town on surrounded by iron black waters and pristine wilderness. Ely is Dees Bar and The Steakhouse, sad drunk dirty fun backwards wild and untamed. Ely is normal life and an escape from normal life. Ely is pride and desperation. Ely is winter, cold, gray, and dark. Ely is winter, quiet, magical, and endless. It’s a small town where you make friends at the laundromat. In Ely you go to high school sports games and church fundraisers no matter how old you are or what you believe in. It’s a waxing and waning town where pride, boredom, resentment, dependency, and excitement all blend into each other. Ely is a jacked up coal rolling pickup with NRA bumper stickers rumbling down Sheridan Street. Ely is a silent lake pierced by the haunting cry of a Minnesota loon.

 

To work as a doctor in Ely means personal medicine. Ely is medicine at its finest and medicine at its dirtiest. Being a doctor in Ely means really knowing everyone in the grocery store and figuring how much brain to turn on and off. Working in Ely has meant balancing personal and professional life in a way I’ve never had to think about before. Living in a place, spending time in patient’s homes, drinking with them at the bars, coaching their children, and eating soup and cornbread next to them at church fundraisers all changes the practice of medicine. In Ely patients become people.

 

In Ely I watched as a 92 year old woman was allowed to die. She came into the clinic in severe respiratory failure brought on by yet another bout of pneumonia. The on call doctor knew her well. We stabilized her in the ED and talked to her family as she continued to deteriorate. She’d known her doctor for years and had made her wishes known. She wanted no lifesaving treatment. She wanted to die peacefully when her time came. It took less than an hour to find a Catholic priest, start treating her pain, and bring in the rest of her family. The intimate relationship between the physician, the patient, and her family alleviated the guilt associated with deciding not to institute lifesaving treatment.

As I brought in lozenges so that this woman’s family could keep her lips moist as she struggled through her final breaths, I thought about the first patient I ever saw die. Ten months ago I met a sharp 92 year old woman who was admitted to Abbot Northwestern in respiratory failure. We became friends and yet I stood by as she spent over a week in the ICU being poked, prodded, and breathed into. Ely is a place that can teach you how medicine is human, about humans for humans and practiced by humans.

 

Ely means walking out to your car after work to see a red pickup drive slowly past your bumper stickers. It means balling up your fist as the pickup swings around the parking lot to pull up next to you. I recognized the man who got out of the truck as a patient I saw in clinic two months before. He was a taciturn woodsman in his fifties with no medical history, no medications and a stomach ache that wouldn’t go away. His history didn’t add up so I moved on to the physical exam where I heard crackles in all lung fields on pulmonary ascultation and a musical holosystolic cardiac murmur that increased at the apex with no radiation to the carotids. He had open heart surgery the next week and I hadn’t seen him until just then as he pulled up his shirt to show me the scar running down his chest. I felt like a jackass.

 

Ely is driving to work past the “Make Ely Great Again” sign again and again and again until you can’t take it anymore so you rip it down and stuff it in the trash. Ely is white. Poor white liberal white rich white conservative white canoeing white ATV white mining white BWCA white and the lines that cross and entangle these blurry distinctions. Ely is non-white. Ely is Vermillion Community College that specializes in forest service, land management, and law enforcement jobs but recruits young black athletes from the south to come up and play sports knowing full well how hard it is to integrate into this cold white town.

 

Ely is drinking fresh coffee listening to the birds wake up in the woods and wondering what it is that drives some of us to fight against the welfare of others. Ely is listening to MPR as you make your morning bowl of Crappola and plain whole milk yogurt and feeling a dark wave of sadness wash over me. It only takes five minutes to hear about how GOP senators are fighting to slash Medicaid funding which provides healthcare for the poor, the disabled, and children. That’s a fucking joke right? It’s gotta be a fucking joke.

 

Ely is rage. There’s a rage brewing in our world right now, a rage that I’ve never before had to engage with on the level that I do in Ely. I may not have been born with a silver spoon, but no doubt I was born with a locally sourced and functionally generic spoon purchased so that my parents could spend their money taking my brother and I traveling around the world. I’m beyond privileged. I know that there are people of every skin color and gender that suffer and lack opportunities, but that’s no excuse for bigotry. We live in a time of skyrocketing wealth, massive income inequalities, and technology that encourages us to want everything. Couple that with the fact that this same technology is changing how we see and communicate about racial and gendered oppression that is cemented in hundreds of years of history and we have a powder keg of discontent on the verge of exploding.

 

Ely sits firmly on the center of that powder keg. Don’t get political why do you have to talk politics everything isn’t about race why can’t everyone just not see color why can’t women just be women and men be men why does everyone have to be so politically correct? That’s what usually happens when the conversation veers anywhere other than the basic. On my final drive from Ely down to the “Cities,” I savored the experience of listening to bad country music while watching the sun slowly fall between storm clouds. I needed to turn my brain off for a few hours and drain Ely from my mind.

 

I began the trip however with a podcast that addressed the questions of what is fact and fiction, and how after so many years of scientific and technological process, there appears to be a strong pushback against the ideal of the scientific method. I love the scientific method. Besides having the opportunity to engage with people on such an intimate level, a renewed appreciation for critical thought and science is what I’m most grateful for in medical school. So this podcast struck a cord with me because whether or not I’m discussing global warming, mining, abortion, or vaccines, I find myself increasingly frustrated by people’s pervasive desire to ignore basic truths and content themselves with the simple statements: “It’s just my opinion,” and “It’s a matter of faith.” The speaker separated opinions into “intrinsic truths” which are facts about which the holder doesn’t care about evidence, and “extrinsic truths” which are facts about which the holder is willing to discuss, debate, and defend. She didn’t offer any grand solution, just the simple strategy of recognizing these differences. I wish I had this framework for some of my discussions in Ely.

 

 

At the risk of sounding banal, Ely is what you make it. It’s beautiful and terrible, it’s inspiring and depressing, you can roll with it or try to change it and you can do neither or both. No matter what experience I finish up, I always struggle with the question of whether or not I did it right, this past year being no different. Should I have held my tongue more when race and mining came up? Was I too distracted and unfocused? Should I have carved out more time in the woods? I could answer yes to each question and a thousand more, which quickly renders them all useless. I spent my year in the north woods doing what I did and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity.

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