Saturday, August 27, 2011

From Tommy to Jack: A (Hallucinatory) Dream of Universal Health Care

By Julie Devaney
The Huffington Post
August 26, 2011

Tommy Douglas appeared to me once in a drug and trauma-induced hallucination. It was 2002 and I was bearing the brunt of British Columbian Premier Gordon Campbell's vile cuts to healthcare. My immobile body on a stretcher was literally being stored in a closet in an over-crowded Vancouver emergency ward. Unfortunately, the drugs were all medically-administered and more disorienting than pleasurable. As the Archangel of Canadian health care, Tommy had come to fly me and my leaking, numb and closeted body away to the well-funded public facility of all of our dreams.

It didn't really surprise me that Tommy showed up. I'd always counted him among my closest comrades (and also, I was very ill and medicated). I cut my political teeth in Mike Harris' Ontario. As a teenager on the lawn of Queen's Park as hundreds of thousands of people shut down the city of Toronto, I got the impression that this is what always happened when health care and other social program cuts are unjustly meted out on a population -- we rise up, fight back. And Tommy knows a lot about fighting back.

Last night I dreamt of Jack Layton. We were drinking beer. We talked about the messy, unpredictable vulnerability of all these human bodies we walk around in (this part made me cry, even in my sleep). And that surely, fair and equitable access to care for these bodies is essential to a just, humane and democratic society. How can we even pretend to be a democracy while we slowly eke out privatization that will limit access for poor people and increase it for the wealthy? In that beautiful sleep-state where amazingly contradictory things seem to just make sense, I simultaneously accepted both that he passed away this week and that he'd continue to take a principled stand for universal, public health care.

As we finished our beers, Tommy showed up just in time, with another round. The three of us sat and drank and talked the night away. They smiled at Jack's amazing election victory this spring -- how millions more people are engaging visibly and audibly to defend public health care. Then we talked about how Stephen Harper can't be trusted to negotiate a new healthcare agreement with the provinces in 2014, and I got a bit panicked.

"What are we going to doooo?!" I demanded as they peaceably sipped their beers. "And ohmygod what if Hudak gets elected in Ontario? What will happen to rural hospitals and home care and nurse practitioners and family doctors and health teams? We're already in a perfect storm of under-funded hospitals, under-resourced communities and unsupported healthcare professionals! Tommy! Jack! Ahh!"

They spoke together, in one voice (which seemed so normal and plausible while I was asleep), "You are all going to defend, public accessible medicare -- free to everyone, well-funded, high quality -- and we are going to have your backs."

I looked at them both, my beer goggles in full-effect by this point. I could see so clearly how Jack flew into the position of the leader of the largest Official Opposition on Tommy's wings, sharing his vision of a fair and equitable society. That every time the doomsday messengers of privatization show up with their axes at our public hospital doors, Canadians in our masses rise up and push them back. And awake now, with the soft light of day pouring onto my computer keys, I can see how this is all more than a hallucinatory dream of beer and solidarity -- it's what's going to happen. Because Tommy and Jack have our backs.

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