History repeats itself
Thursday, December 16, 1773
at the Bloody Fingertip Pub
Bill Woods, my improbable psychic ancestor, has had one too many steins of grog. He is venting about British taxation of tea and says, his voice slurring...
“Ya know what we oughta do? Do ya? Do ya? What we oughta do is… What we ougthta do is just go down there to the harbor and just throw all that tea into the bay! Thas what we ougthta do…” He drains the stein in one long gulp, looks around smugly at his drinking buddies, and then passes out, his head making a resounding thunk on the table.
His friends, also drunk, but not as drunk as Bill, look at each other. “Thas not a bad idea at’ll,” says one of them. The others all nod in agreement.
The next day:
“Honestly, honey, I didn’t think they’d take me seriously,” Bill tries to explain to his wife Debbie, who is not at all amused.
Two-hundred and thirty five years later…..
You just never know what will start a revolution. I’m willing to bet that most of the greatest revolts in human history were the result of some poor sod saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Sometimes drunk, sometimes innocently opening their mouths at the wrong time, at the wrong place, to the right people; and setting events into motion far beyond anything that they expected.
In my defense, I wasn’t drunk. I just said the wrong thing, in front of the wrong people, at the right time, and found myself in the middle of a diabetes tea party.
So this is a great story I have to tell, but I’m trying to figure out how to tell it without making any more enemies than I already have in the last couple of weeks.
So being intentionally vague here, I’m a new member of the board of a diabetes organization that used to be part of a State Agency; but is now its very own non-profit. I hope I covered my ass enough here….
Every year for the past who-knows-how-many years, this Agency has sponsored a diabetes awareness event at a public place. A very public place.
Two years ago I got an email about three months before the event from the Agency stating that 10 booths would be available to clinics on a first-come-first serve basis. I was in Superman Mode the day I got the email and responded at once and scored one of the booths. Then I put it out of my mind. I got a reminder a week before the event.
By then I was in my December-Blues Mode and was trying to find the container of rat poison that I keep in my desk drawer so that I could just put myself out of my various miseries. I had no idea what to do with the booth. In desperation I went to my boss for ideas.
“Why don’t you take some patients with you,” she suggested, “not in chains and cages, of course,” she joked. Then she suggested we use any leftover tests trips from our school screening to offer a public blood sugar screening.
And so we did. And we screened, I don’t remember, something like 300 people. The next year we did it again and screened over 400.
Now background: the American Diabetes Association does not believe in screening for diabetes out in the world. I find that kind of like not believing in gravity. But it wouldn’t be the first time the ADA and I didn’t see eye-to-eye.
Now for those of you who think like I do, you are probably wondering: why would anyone NOT support screening? The argument against goes something like this: well, if you found a diabetic (or two, or three, or four-dozen) they might get away. They might just walk away and never get cared for. Therefore, you should only screen inside a clinic where you can lock the door and keep the new diabetic from leaving.
To which I say: yeah. True. They might just walk away. So what? These are not people who would have come to a clinic to get screened anyway. At least now they know. And some, I believe even many, will follow up with a doc. And on top of all of that, public screening raises awareness, which is always a good thing.
So at this board meeting the Very Important head of this state Agency that spawned the little organization whose board I just joined was plugging the upcoming event. After draining my stein of grog I innocently say, “Oh yeah, it is a great event. We had a booth there the last two years and did screenings.”
Then the shit hit the fan.
Reader’s digest version: the Very Important person went on a virtual rant. Not being a complete idiot, and not knowing where anyone else in the room stood on this issue, I kept my mouth mostly shut and only offered the weakest defense of the value of screening. It was quite clear to me I would be deleted from the email list this year. If by some miracle we got a booth I would not be so foolhardy as to try and screen anyone. I might, however, make a huge sign that said: Ask me why the State won’t let me screen you for diabetes.
I figured that was the end of it.
The next week, myself and all the board members get a lengthy email from said Very Important person detailing the evils of screening, the State’s official dim-view of such activity, and many links to various obscure places on the ADA’s web site. I deleted it without responding and went back to things that matter. Like taking care of my patients.
Then the next week after that, I get an email from my new organization asking us to vote on whether the organization should, in defiance of the State Agency, support screening. I put my vote where my beliefs are.
David threw the first stone, but Goliath was not done yet. What followed was a blizzard of emails from various parts of this State Agency to all the board members. They grew increasingly belligerent to the point of first threatening funding and eventually threatening to cancel said very public event.
As a side note, I find it interesting that the head of this Agency who sponsors this diabetes event was unaware we had been happily screening the last two years. Clearly this person had not attended the event themself.
I was alarmed at the tone of the email. I was alarmed that on my first day on the board that I had triggered a firestorm. I had no idea how the other members felt or how they would react to the barley masked aggression of the State. I had no idea if the assorted threats would make them dig in their heels or if it would scare them off.
If my fellow board members vote the way I did we will pay for non-State funded booths at the event and screen. If the event is cancelled, we’ll host an alternate one. If the others vote to support the State view of the evils of public screening then that will be the law of the land, as it were.
I just got an email. The vote is in; 10-to-2 the board voted to support public screenings.
In the face of power we will do the right thing.
The tea is in the harbor.