Monday, July 8, 2013

Anniversary Edition: What We Talk About When We Talk Public Health II

(Just how many face masks do I have?)
My big brother and I were coloring in our playroom, back when we were young enough to have one, when he read the crayon box and exclaimed, “These are non-toxic!”  “Non-toxic!?” I asked. “That means you won’t die when you eat it,” he explained with a laugh. I laughed with him.

Soon after, I declared to my father my intentions to eat a crayon, thus sparking one of the first and most frustrating arguments I ever had with him.

“But they’re non-toxic,” I whined.

“You can’t eat everything that’s non-toxic.”

“But I won’t die.”

Exasperated, my father pointed to our round, mahogany dining table. 

“This is non-toxic, too, but that doesn’t mean you can eat it.”

My eyes widened as my little brain processed this new possibility.  I imagined clamping my jaw onto the side of the big table. Whoa- you can eat tables?

When I talk about public health with other people, I often think I know what my father must have felt like talking in circles with me.  Like my father, I often find my perfect logic and apt examples coming up short as I try to argue helmets, nutrition labels, and ObamaCare with people not in this field.  I love thinking, talking, and doing public health, but it frustrates me when people don’t see the world the same way I do.  It makes me want to walk away from tough conversations. 

Recently, I was at the annual conference for health services research folks like (and much smarter than) me.  It was there last year that I got the idea for this blog.  I attended a presentation there called “Minimizing Churning and Coverage Gaps Between Medicaid and Subsidized Qualified Health Plans,” given by one of my role models from Harvard.  As you can tell by the title, it was very specific and a bit technical.  But even in that context, Professor Kathy Swartz broke through the wonkiness.  The details of the talk don’t matter for us, except that rather than talking about insurance enrollment periods in the hypothetical, Kathy explained the end of the year as a time when “low income people are thinking about the expenses of the upcoming holidays, of paying for heating and  buying Christmas presents for their children.” 

That little vignette helped me understand that issue.  I’ve thought a lot about it in the last two weeks.  I hope to do the same for you here.  This blog is where I come to make constructive use of my frustrations, to have the conversations I want to walk away from., and to highlight good examples.  This is where I convince you that eating crayons is so not public health.

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