The fight to rescue American healthcare

CNN’s decision to air “Escape Fire” is an important step towards repairing a healthcare system in desperate need of repair. Photo: © iStockphoto.com/johan6

LOS ALTOS, CA, March 14, 2013 – When Wag Dodge and his fellow fire-fighting smokejumpers descended on Montana’s Helena National Forest on that hot summer day in 1949, they had no idea how intense the inferno had become. Moments after landing, the situation turned from bad to worse as the fire was suddenly within a couple hundred yards – and moving fast.

It was then that Dodge did something that his fellow firefighters must have thought completely crazy. He took a match out of his pocket and set fire to the tall, dry grass surrounding him. Within seconds he had created a buffer zone where he was able to wait safely while the primary fire burned around him.

Unfortunately, despite Dodge’s encouragement, nobody followed his lead.

Whether it was because they couldn’t hear him or simply refused to take advantage of an obvious if irrational way out of a terrifying situation, all but two of the fifteen smokejumpers were soon engulfed by fire and died.

Wag Dodge’s ability to come up with an innovative solution to a dire problem – now referred to as an “escape fire” – provides the metaphor for the critically acclaimed documentary, Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare, airing this weekend as part of the CNN Films series.

Produced and directed by award-winning directors/producers, Matthew Heineman and Susan Froemke, the film shines an unforgiving spotlight on what most everyone agrees is a broken system – one that consumes close to 20% of the country’s gross domestic product. Ultimately, however, Heineman and Froemke see the film as being less about pointing fingers than “saving the health of a nation.”

One of the most compelling aspects of the film’s web site is an invitation to share personal escape fire proposals – that is, “unconventional or counterintuitive solution[s] to [the] difficult problem[s]” confronting our nation’s healthcare system.

Some of the responses posted so far:

“Eat healthy, drink water, do yoga, meditate.”

“Provide wellness education and lifestyle counseling.”

“Eat less processed foods and get more exercise.”

“Seek out alternative approaches to health.”

“Think for yourself and consider all options.”

Although I have yet to weigh in on the conversation, the invite reminded me of a good friend who once found herself in a situation not unlike that faced by Wag Dodge and his fellow smokejumpers.

After fifteen years of living with an abusive husband and entering into a second troubled marriage, she was diagnosed with untreatable stomach cancer. For seven months she continued to struggle, unable to eat most foods or sleep more than an hour a night. In a moment of despair, she tried to commit suicide by downing a bottle of sleeping pills.

She was found in a coma and taken to a hospital where she was put on life support with little hope of survival. When she regained consciousness five days later, she realized that her original escape plan had failed; death was not an option.

It was then that my friend did something that, to those around her, probably seemed just as crazy as Wag Dodge setting fire to a swath of tall, dry grass: She decided to give up on drugs and rely entirely on prayer for her healing.

Within a few days she recovered from the overdose and was released from the hospital. She then contacted a spiritual healer who assured her that cancer could indeed be healed – not by pleading with an unknown deity to do something miraculous but, as she describes it, through a growing understanding of God’s unyielding love for what He created.

After about five months, she knew she was cured.

Since that time over twenty years ago she hasn’t experienced a single symptom of stomach cancer and – as a bonus – is very happily married.

Whether it was because of her willingness to “think for [herself] and consider all options” or, like Wag Dodge, to simply do what seemed logical, the fire ignited by my friend’s decision provided a clear and immediate way out of a life-threatening situation.

Although “the fight to rescue American healthcare” may have just begun, thanks to the innovative approaches presented in this documentary as well as the remarkable examples of people like my friend, I have every reason to believe that it’s a fight that can and will be won.

Eric Nelson is a Christian Science practitioner, whose articles on the link between consciousness and health appear regularly in a number of local, regional, and national online publications. He also serves as the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California.


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Eric Nelson

Eric Nelson has been published and featured in numerous newspapers, online publications, and radio talk programs. He speaks from years of experience in the mind-body field, especially as it relates to health. In addition, he is the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California and is a self-employed Christian Science practitioner. He’s also a huge baseball fan and loves riding his bike in the nearby Santa Cruz Mountains. You can find him at www.norcalcs.org.

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