The Fourth of July. This is the most fundamental of American holidays, representing a celebration of our independence and our way of governing ourselves, giving us a moment to be grateful for what we have as a nation. And so, it seems an appropriate day to set aside the usual focus on what is wrong with our country, for me specifically, what is wrong with our system of healthcare, and instead to celebrate and be grateful for what we have.
First, let me share a quick story. My wife, Marcela, and I were heading out for a walk with our two dogs on a pretty spring Saturday earlier this year. Both our dogs are “rescue” dogs, coming from circumstances they didn’t choose and now living their lives with the enthusiasm that comes from knowing hard times and knowing they’re behind you. As Marcela bent down to pull a weed, as she likes to do, our younger dog, Arno, came happily barreling over and managed to head-butt her right on the nose. Off we went to the ER to confirm what we knew — a broken nose. In the course of triaging the break, the ER doctor ordered a CT scan and we learned something we didn’t know — that Marcela had a tumor the size of a golf ball in the right frontal area of her brain.
Many families, too many families, have been in similar circumstances, confronted with a sudden, unexpected, daunting, terrifying health challenge. For too many families — those without health insurance, without good health insurance, without the means to afford the care they need, with conditions that innovation has not yet figured out how to treat — the situation is all the more frightening and, for some, there is not a happy ending. I recognize that and through my work with pharmacy benefit managers, I spend my days trying to tackle one part of the affordability and access challenge. For our family, it was a happy ending. And that is what I want to celebrate today. The tumor was discovered before it grew further, the surgery to remove it was successful, the pathology showed it was benign, and Marcela is in the final weeks of a recovery that seems to be on track.
This is where the gratitude comes in. I am grateful for the ER that acted quickly to treat a broken nose and acted with incredible compassion and calm when the scan came back showing something unexpected. I am grateful for the neurosurgeons who spent time examining and diagnosing Marcela, recommending courses of action. I am grateful for the doctor who performed the surgery with skill and who treated us with kindness at every step, as if Marcela were the only patient he had. I am grateful for the team of ICU nurses who took care of Marcela those first few days after her surgery. I am grateful for the hospital where this all took place. I am grateful for the pharmacist at the grocery store down the street who took the time to explain the various medications to me when Marcela first came home. I am grateful for the medtech companies that created the technology that discovered the tumor and the tools for removing it. I am grateful for the pharmaceutical companies that innovated the medications that helped Marcela before, during, and after the surgery. I am grateful for our employer-sponsored health insurance that covered the costs of the procedure and the PBM that made the medications affordable and accessible. I am grateful that the system worked the way it is supposed to and that the love of my life is sitting next to me while I write down these thoughts.
Yes, it is easy for me, after the fact, to look back in celebration and gratitude. I recognize that the system doesn’t always work, and we should understand when it doesn’t and continue every effort to make it better until it works this well for everyone. But we should also take the time to say thank you for what we have and to be grateful for the millions of people who have been helped by the American healthcare system, like Marcela.
Above all, beyond the technology, the hospital, the medicine, the ways of paying for it, I want to say that I am grateful for the amazing medical professionals that we encountered every step along the way. Every nurse, physician’s assistant, doctor, pharmacist, and hospital staff member renewed our faith in this system that ultimately relies on good people who are doing their jobs simply because they want to help others. Thank you, thank you, thank you for doing what you do.
Tomorrow, we can return to our mission of improving our unique American way of delivering and paying for healthcare. Today, I say thank you to everyone who makes it work and is trying to make it better. And, of course, I even say thank you to Arno the dog, for starting us on this journey with a quick knock on the nose. Accidental? Only Arno knows.