Shivering and afraid, I allowed my husband to drive me to an urgent care clinic when my illness cast a shadow over our vacation on the Outer Banks. It was nearly ten years ago, a year or so after I’d had cancer, when I spiked a high temperature and felt terrible. My initial reaction was the same one I’d had every time I’d felt bad since the cancer diagnosis: I imagined that the cancer was back again.
When the doctor barraged me with questions, I could only tell him that I had a terrible pain down the back of my leg that felt like sciatica and that my stomach hurt. I’d learned in the past year or so that I had a very high tolerance for pain, and I tended to minimize my estimations to the doctors and nurses.
The doctor looked puzzled and ordered some tests. Though I had none of the classic symptoms on the lower right side, when the scan came back, he informed me, “You have appendicitis.”
“Oh, thank God!” my husband and I said in unison.
The doctor raised his eyebrows in surprise. “I don’t usually get this reaction from a patient who’s going to need surgery,” he smiled, “but given what you’ve been through in the past year, I get it.”
He sent us to the hospital, and I had my appendix out the same day. After a stay with a hospital staff that could not have been more attentive and caring, I recuperated at the condo while my family enjoyed the beach in what was left of the week.
When I told the story to one of my neighbors, a year-round beach resident, he laughed and said, “Well, you’re lucky it wasn’t a heart attack. With in-season traffic, you’d have been dead before you could get to the hospital.”
I thought about that yesterday when I read a story in the paper about a woman who died of a heart attack in a small North Carolina town as she lay in a parking lot waiting for a Medevac helicopter to take her to the nearest hospital more than 80 miles away. The local hospital had been forced to close six days earlier because the state rejected federal Medicaid money connected with the Affordable Care Act.
Residents of the town were outraged, including the conservative Republican mayor, who said of his fellow Republicans in the state legislature. “…they’re allowing people to die to prove a point. That is wrong, and I’m not going to be a party to that.” He organized a 15-day, 273 mile walk to protest in Washington, DC, but, amazingly, was not able to get an audience with anyone in the Obama administration.
But when a southern, conservative, Republican mayor has had enough of his own party placing politics above the common good, it’s time for all of us to take a look at how we’re voting.
According to a recent Pew Research survey, 63% of consistent conservatives and 14% of consistent liberals eschew compromise. They prefer government gridlock to compromising for the good of the American people. The base of the two parties elect candidates whose views align with their own. Because of this, conservatives in the Republican Party and, to a lesser degree, liberals in the Democratic Party nominate candidates who are unwilling to compromise.
And because we voters are generally happy with the candidates we send to Washington from our own districts, little is likely to change in this fall’s midterm elections.
Unless…we decide to vote, regardless of party, for the candidate who is most willing to compromise. Perhaps our only hope is if, in this and future elections, we decide that the first characteristic we will look for in a candidate is a willingness to think, to consider the opposition’s view, and, when it is in the best interest of the people, to compromise.
Based on the Pew statistics, this would require more conservatives than liberals to give up their strongly held views for the candidate who has a better track record of being willing to compromise and work with others. We may not have much hope for the 2014 midterms, since many of the candidates for the general election are on the two extremes. But as we look toward the next presidential and congressional primaries, we should commit to listening more carefully to principled people who are willing to compromise with principled people on the other side.
This is, perhaps, our only way out of the morass.
So tell me a story. When has your own side cost the American people by being rigid? And when has compromise improved the lives of the people you know and love?