SEE NO EVIL

I’ve ranted in the past that we, as a society, seem to be playing ostrich-in-the-sand when it comes to the dire state of our economic duress. Here are some more clues that we’re clueless:

A ninety-year-old patient came to the office for routine a routine follow up visit (whether nonagenarians are good candidates for specialist evaluation in this financial climate is a discussion beyond the scope of this rant). She had recently been seen in the emergency room for abdominal discomfort and constipation. The physician on duty dutifully ordered an abdominal CT which was negative. I asked the patient if an old-fashioned digital exam had been done (forgive me for those of you who are squeamish) and the answer was no. She reportedly received no effective treatment for the complaint, and the daughter cured her with an enema after they returned home. I can only imagine the hospital charges for this unproductive visit.

I recently used one of those handy “double deal” coupons to buy dinner from a barbecue place I hadn’t patronized in a long time (please don’t tell my patients). I was shocked by the rise in prices over the past few years—about 85%. The meal was barely worth the discounted price, in my estimation. Yet, they seemed busy enough, mostly with young folks. Perhaps these youthful patrons were availing themselves of the same deal, although, based on the cost of one young couple’s order relative to the coupon value, I doubt it. I wondered how all of these customers, almost certainly in a much lower tax bracket, could afford these prices.

Two seemingly unrelated events, each illuminating the same principle: We’ve moved further and further away from the common sense frugality that characterized the mindset of our Founding Fathers. In any case, I’ve seen this pattern over an over: Movie theater popcorn, a large McDonald’s Coke, pricey designer jeans with strategically placed holes. I read about the large percentage of people that haven’t put aside anything for their retirement, much less their future health care needs, and can’t help but wonder if they’re the ones standing on the daily Starbuck’s line. It often seems to me the concept of value has vanished from the American consciousness, replaced by the notion that lifestyle comes before sacrifice, and that the government safety net will always be there. Perhaps our rulers are nothing more than a reflection of this mindset.

I think it’s time we all look down and realize we’re walking a tightrope, not a path, and the safety net below is frayed and riddled with holes. And the repair crew is miles away, sipping Starbucks.

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