I Have a Dream: 45 Years to American Health Care

by in American Sickcare System, Kitchen Sink, Motivation, Preventative Medicine August 28, 2008

It was 45 years ago today that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his stirring “I Have a Dream” speech.

You can watch the full video here.

What I ultimately find so inspiring about this historic speech, is how one single speech continues to resonate with so many of us.

“Let Freedom Ring” continues to ring and ripple changes through America still 45 years later.

Dr. King changed how Americans think and act.

He not only changed how human beings treat each other, but more importantly, in my opinion, he changed how human beings allow themselves to be treated by others.

Dr. King most importantly empowered Americans to stick to the constitutional rights that this country was founded on; that all human beings should be treated equally.

“I have a dream that one day this nation

will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed:

‘We hold these truths to be self-evident,

that all men are created equal.'”

Forty five years later, on this very same day, an African American accepted the very first presidential nomination in America. As highlighted in an article at the Sun, “King was the first black man who was able to rally a large number of people together, just like Obama is, and the message is still the same. Change.”

Change is the take home message from the “Progress not Perfection” mantra I spout off about at Kitchen Table Medicine.

Remember: You don’t have to be perfect. You just have to be making progress.

Progress according to Dr. King would be having a black man elected as president, and progress now according to Barack Obama is, “no longer being dependent on the Middle East for oil within the next ten years.” A goal that sounds lofty and near impossible, but we also know that just about anything is possible. Are all the promises that our presidential candidates make going to come to light? Not likely, but many of them are still possible. They are still important goals to work towards nevertheless.

Maybe the world today isn’t exactly as Dr. King envisioned in his dream just yet. But, we still have seen improvement. Maybe in another 45 years racism will be completely “out of style” once and for all. But, again a lofty goal as we fight the inevitable limitations placed by the evil enemy known as human ignorance. Nevertheless, today we can all celebrate that America finally has a presidential candidate nominated for the person that they are, and not the color of their skin.

“I have a dream that my four little children

will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged

by the color of their skin,

but by the content of their character.”

We are reminded by the combination of this historical speech, and today’s election of Obama as the Democratic candidate; that the most important changes, the most lasting changes, happen gradually over time. These changes also require some sort of initial upheaval to get the ball rolling.

I spend a great deal of time worrying about how the ball is rolling for American health care, and I wonder when, if ever there will be some sort of organized upheaval in light of everyone’s complaints.

What will your health be like in 45 years? Does anyone worry about their long term health but me? If so, tell me what does the big picture of your health look like 45 years from now?

I bet my friend Joe, “The Crotchety Old Man” will probably say, “Doc, I’ll be quite thankfully dead in 45 years.”

To which I would sarcastically retort, “Well that is selfish Joe, I still have old age and social security to worry about, I am left to worry about what is happening to the future of Medicare, and prescription drug costs. I have about 45 years left to worry if I will be able to afford nursing homes, walkers, home blood pressure monitors, support hose, copays, hospital visits, and surgeries someday.” All the things that every senior citizen is gravely concerned about today.

Am I the only one in my generation concerned about these things now?

*Looks around terrified*

The health care system will only continue to down spiral if American youth don’t get concerned about it now. The system is already bad enough, and in my opinion gravely disrespectful to our elderly population. Doctors are put in a precarious predicament as they are no longer reimbursed for doing annual physical exams by Medicare, a prime example of disrespect and disservice to our seniors.

Does that make sense to anybody out there, that our health care system would not want to pay for a wellness “check up” for senior citizens?

Family doctors are left to bill these visits creatively now, while simultaneously juggling all the complaints of the average eighty year old person in an average of twenty minutes or less. Your family doc is then reimbursed about $17 bucks for their time on this visit. When I first started working in the system an entire hour was alloted to these visits, now they are scheduled for twenty minutes. Forty if the patient has special needs or needs extra time.

Most senior citizens need more time not less to discuss their health concerns. Trying to accomplish an annual physical and manage multiple complaints in a matter of minutes sounds like a crazy feat that would be dangerous to perform even at a circus, let alone with someone’s life.

But, a circus our American health care system has consequently become. Pure disorganization and dissatisfaction on all ends–pure chaos. But, please do pay your $20 co-pay before entering the center ring.

Trust me, doctors aren’t happy, nurses are miserable, and patients are dissatisfied with an average of seven minutes spent having their health concerns addressed.

What will American health care look like now if we don’t have some sort of independent movement? I plan to be sticking around here still in 45 more years, and unless I go socialist and return to my Swedish roots, I also unfortunately plan to observe the unraveling of the “American Sick Care System” (as former surgeon general, Dr. Jocelyn Elders notoriously refers to it).

Health care will only get worse if doctors don’t insist on more health care dollars spent on PREVENTION and EDUCATION. Doctors need to spend more time with their patients not less. Patients need to be both educated and motivated to PREVENT disease, and should be rewarded for their efforts accordingly.

Until we find the answer to the American health care crisis, the best thing we can do is strive every single day to prevent disease by living more healthfully. Change begins in the mind of the individual. Politicians and everyone else will in time catch up, just like the Civil Rights Movement.

Just make a few healthy decisions each day, and if we all collectively work together, we can make a change in health care. Each of us should work together to do our part and PREVENT disease.

“I have a dream…

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair

a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform

the jangling discords of our nation into a

beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith,

we will be able to work together, to pray together,

to struggle together, to go to jail together,

to stand up for freedom together,

knowing that we will be free one day.”

How can we achieve freedom from any faulty system if we all don’t work together? Health is the ultimate freedom. Freedom from disease. Anyone chronically ill can tell you what an enslaving system illness is. Disease is a most miserable governor. The good news for those of us that are fortunate enough to be healthy, is that in order to prevent disease you really don’t have to do a whole lot. You just have to have a good “batting average”.

In order to be a “key player” in the all American health care game, you simply have to hit at an average of .333 or 33% or once every three times or so consistently.

“So what if you didn’t have a healthy snack, make it a healthy dinner. Well yesterday didn’t go well, tomorrow is a new day. Maybe you can just work out for 10 minutes today instead of the 30 you think you need…” Some of the most common negotiations I frequently make with people to help them see that they don’t have to do everything. They just need to do something.

All the medical system asks, is that you just be a baseball player when it comes to fulfilling your obligations to our health care system. You don’t have to be a fitness trainer, or an Ironman athlete, you don’t even have to exercise or eat right every day to prevent disease. You should, but you don’t really have to when we are analyzing your individual health as part of a collective system. No one expects you to hit a home run every time you go up to bat. Just get on base with your health every so often. Every third time. We collectively need to agree to do our best to prevent disease each and every day, and that commitment starts with the individual, and together, we all just need to “Always march ahead” as Dr. King so wisely suggests.

“And they have come to realize that their freedom

is inextricably bound to our freedom.

We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that

we shall always march ahead.

We cannot turn back.”

Collectively, our preventative efforts reduce the amount of medicine that must be dispensed by pharmaceutical companies and paid for by insurance companies. Our collective efforts will combine to decrease doctor visits and hospital stays, prevent diseases that we already know how to prevent, and likely prevent newer diseases that we don’t know an awful lot about. The more disease prevented, the less burden upon our health care system.

Perhaps I am completely out of line here, and perhaps it is ridiculous to examine the parallel struggles of freeing a nation from slavery in comparison to how our unhealthy decisions and habits enslave each and every one of us each and every day as a nation of unhealthy people in a dysfunctional health care system. But, my hopes are just that with enough effort, in time we can reduce the total number of dollars spent annually by health care. We can be freed of the dysfunctional thinking that “some system by our government is going to take care of us”, when we as individuals should be responsible ultimately for our own care. Preventative medicine is the BEST “individualized health care plan” that works pretty well for everyone. It is simply up to you to get the ball rolling.

Currently, we are trapped in a dysfunctional system, a system that is enslaving all of us as a collectively sick, prescription drug over-abusing, over-using system. Instead, let’s just imagine a world full of preventative medicine, a world where America is not the second most unhealthy nation only to Finland. A world where Americans do not spend the most money on treating disease in order to be the second most obese and unhealthy country in the world.

Let’s instead imagine a world that makes more sense. A world where we collectively, and daily stay dedicated to preventing disease as we know it. A world where we all continuously strive to eat whole foods, exercise, meditate, and sleep properly, a world free of needless heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes. A world where America sets the example for how everyone else should be. Where America is a world leader, not a disgrace.

The more we work to prevent disease in ourselves, the more health care dollars will be freed towards the incurable, and the more money that will go towards those that truly need it.

After eight years working in health care, my personal prognosis of the system is dismal, and I pessimistically anticipate it to only worsen with time. In my opinion, the only way to improve it is to inspire individuals to make changes within themselves. Stop expecting the government to take care of you and take your health in to your OWN hands.

We all tend to have an easy time wanting to do these little things for the environment. Everywhere you look these days it seems like yet another company is jumping on the “green bandwagon” for whatever reason. We all wash cans, religiously separate our bottles from our paper, drive slower, buy green, think green, take shorter showers, and turn the water off when we brush our teeth. And we do it all for the environment. We do it for the greater good. We do lots of little things every single day that will likely not have much of a significant impact during our lifetime. We similarly need to make these collective preventative medicine efforts for the greater good of our health care system.

These efforts will also more likely provide us with more immediate rewards. When we free one person from sickness and disease, we free the entire health care system of their disease. When we prevent disease in one person, we prevent disease in the entire health care system.

With one last favorite “I Have a Dream Speech” quote we are reminded,

“In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check.

When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words

of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence,

they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.

This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men,

would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of

life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Personally, I am not relying on being able to cash a Medicare check in the next 45 years. My fear is that America, at this rate, will yet again show up as bankrupt to its promises.

Taking your health in to your own hands is the ultimate force driving all “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. The pursuit of all three of those things is quite eerily dependent on good health.


A world full of preventative medicine is my health care dream.

Don’t rely on cashing that check.

Ok, I will get down from my soap box now. I am no preacher. Just a doctor.

Thanks for stopping by my kitchen table.

Today’s discussion question is: What healthy things can you do to alleviate the burden from our sick care system?

~ Dr. Nicole Sundene

Naturopathic Physician

  1. Hey, you are back!

    That’s quite a piece, BTW. Preventive medicine and healthy lifestyle. Yah, one could dream 😛



  2. Hi Dr. Nicole, A BEAUTIFUL and important post. I believe we all need to become more aware and conscious of our minds and bodies. We need to educate children on the importance of taking care of our bodies not JUST by eating right and exercising (which are of course important). But also by taking care of our minds, our emotions and listening to what our intuition tells us. My body was giving me a “wake up” call for 6 years (before I answered) with pain and illness becoming more debilitating every day. Drugs are NOT the only answer — many just mask symptoms. We need to change the focus from “masking symptoms” to true healing and I am a firm believer that it usually comes from within. I was very happy to see in my son’s 3rd grade class last year that one of the first things they covered in biology was how emotions can affect the body and cause stress and illness. This is a HUGE step in the right direction. I have a dream similar to yours and I thank you for sharing it with your readers! Gratefully, Jenny

  3. Dr Nicole – Health care is an important issue and this post is timely at the time of our national election. You’ve hit nail in the head with this, “Health care will only get worse if doctors don’t insist on more health care dollars spent on PREVENTION and EDUCATION.” — I agree that prevention and education are two vital aspects of overall change that we need in our country. Well said.

  4. Hi Rain Gem- I’m back, it has been a very hectic summer. Yes…I guess preventative medicine is a dream. *sigh*

  5. Hi Jenny- I think the next generation should turn out much more emotionally developed than we are. Many teachers today are thankfully talking to kids about how to express their feelings, so hopefully we won’t raise yet another generation of emotionally suppressed individuals that are unable to speak their minds about their feelings. Thanks for stopping by to leave me a comment!

  6. Hi Shilpan- I feel like this is one of the most important presidential elections for my generation. We need to get America back on track. Most people don’t care a whole lot about health care when they are looking at the issues because they are healthy. There will come a day though, when they will no longer have their health, and I want people to imagine what that day will be like. What kind of plan should be in place for that day? Some of the little tips that I blog about are complete silly little common sense to me, but for the unknowing reader, can be life changing. That is why I set up this blog, so that I can make my educational contribution to the health care system by trying to make discussions about health and wellness and healthy eating fun. Thanks for stopping by 😀

  7. Hi Dr. Nicole! It’s so good to hear from you!!

    It sounds like you think people should take responsibility for their own health? What a concept! (I know you have been saying that forever…)

    Hopefully we won’t have to wait 45 years for change. Most people will have to understand that if they want an alternative to traditional health care, they will have to be ready to pay for it out of their own pocket.

    Take care Nicole!!

    Best wishes for your next 45 years!
    Dr. Moon

  8. BEAUTIFUL!!!!

    I have a dream….

    that YOU’RE making progress!


  9. WarningHighlyOffensive August 30, 2008 at 12:07 pm Reply

    Great post Nicole.

    I’ve got to tell you, that these blogs do help people. I, for example, am not ignorant that I am what I eat. But sometimes we get lazy and form bad habits without realizing it, even.

    Since I found you again, my health is on my mind more, and I’ve already been searching for more ways to make steamed vegetables more delicious than they already are.

    The problem is, that when I read the bottles of even herbs and spices, manufacturers have even destroyed THOSE through processing. It’s almost as if you have to grow all of your own food.

    I’ve been going to Trader Joe’s sometimes, but it’s so damn expensive.

    Without everyone on the same page, the task seems so daunting. But anyway, you do make a difference, and I thank you.

  10. Beautiful post, Doc.

    BTW, I’m rewriting my will right now. I’ll leave you my walker and cane. 🙂

    45 years from now, Willard Scott will be announcing my name. No, don’t think me or Willard will hang around that long.

  11. Quite the rant…I enjoy a good one myself now and then.

    You are certainly not alone in your concerns for your own future health or the health of our “health” care system. Our personal commitment to caring for our own bodies and our health care system’s commitment to supporting us in our efforts both need considerable revamping. Other countries have been able to adequately educate their citizens and to provide them with affordable, accessible health care. There is no reason why we cannot do the same. Maybe the next administration will make some progress? Here’s hoping!

  12. Hi Dr. Nicole,

    It’s great to have you back. This has been a beautifully written, heartfelt article in which you hit the nail on the head many times.

    I agree each of us needs to take responsibility for our health by eating better, exercising more, and looking at all methods of healing, instead of just asking for a prescription for “that magic pill”.

  13. Hi Dr. Moon-

    Is it asking too much for people to take care of themselves? *sigh* well I guess this is America. lol

  14. Hi Erin- Thanks for the support!

  15. Hi WHO- I am glad you enjoy this free nagging service. I need the reminders too. That is why most of my blog posts could be labeled “note to self”.

    I usually shop at Trader Joes as much as possible for their cheap stuff and things on sale, and then do the rest of my shopping at the grocery store. I like shopping there because most of the guesswork is done for you. Most TJ’s products are whole foods recipes without all the horrible additives that make us fat and bloated.

  16. Joe- that is too funny. I will make sure that Willard doesn’t mess up your name, or I will accept your award proudly for you….

    Hmm…now I am thinking that if I get a bunch of folks to will me their medical devices that I could be completely set by the time I’m a senior.

  17. Oh gosh Lori- I hope so, but after reading and reviewing both candidates health care plans, I just crawled back in to bed with the covers over my head. Their was not a thing said about prevention, or health care education. I will be posting an article on this soon when I am all done researching it to see what you all think.

  18. Hi Barbara- You are my STAR pupil here on this blog! Good answer. You got them all and avoided the magic bullet. I am so proud. *tears* 😀

  19. How fast time flies, but at least we can see that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. dream was not just an speech but the solid foundation of modern American Health Care Services.

  20. I really like your style and you echo my own convictions about being pro-active about our health. After a drunk driver crushed one foot, I had to get past my sadness about not being able to run every day and just get back in there and find another fitness routine. I’m back to walking briskly, even running ,but it took awhile.

  21. Dr. Nicole–what a great piece. It was so inspiring to read. Thanks for that.


  22. Hi guys- thanks for your great positive feedback. Glad you enjoyed 😀

  23. […] “that the average person can be president” (well George W. already demonstrated that) and that MLKJ’s dream that “people are not judged by the color of their skin, but the content of their character,” […]

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