Pinky Pie

June, healthcare & Me

Posted on: January 20, 2010

I have a lingering sadness about the Massachusetts Senate seat yesterday. The taking over of Teddy Kennedy’s seat by Republican newcomer Scott brown made me realize once again just how frightened people are about the health care bill.

Brown called himself “a different kind of Republican,” but the crowd shouted “41! 41! 41!” as he gave his victory speech.

In this nation, we are still like the bridge score pad: “We” and “They.”

Many people still fear “death panels,” which is absolute nonsense unless we are talking about insurance companies making life and death decisions about treatments for their patients. I will take the government between me and my doctor any day over insurance companies who measure their success by NOT paying for needed services.

As I wait – still – for approval for radiation in La Crosse, I wonder if those who are so frightened by the idea of government involvement in healthcare realize how difficult the situation is for those of us even if we have insurance. We are at the mercy of insurance companies whose primary goal is profit.

I also wonder how we can rush to aid other countries – something that I strongly support – and then ignore so many at home. The obvious country in tremendous need is Haiti and I sent money for its relief. And encourage us to do so.

But there are many people hurting in this country, too, a reason that 60 Minutes did a story about Remote Area Medical, which sets up in different places in the world to provide free medical and dental treatment. It was created for Third World countries, but increasingly is going to places in the United States, including Knoxville, Tennessee.

In that location, Remote Area Medical saw 920 patients, made 500 pairs of glasses, did 94 mammograms, extracted 1,066 teeth and did 567 fillings. Four hundred people were turned away. (

As I’ve said before, it’s not just about me. It’s about all of us. They + We = All of Us. And, we are all one diagnosis away from disaster.

The disparity in our compassion is astounding.

It reminds me of an experience of my friend, June Kjome, who remains a strong advocate for social justice well into her 80s. June, a retired nurse, is anything but retired from issues that make a difference in the lives of ordinary people.

She has been such an important voice in our community that my friend, Gayda Hollnagel, and I decided to write a book about her life that came out last year: Justice … Not Just Us June Kjome: the making of an old lady activist.

June spent 19 years as a nurse missionary in Zululand in Africa. On her first visit home after several years there, she spoke to anyone who would listen about the needs in that country. What she found was a willingness to help poor people who were thousands of miles away, but not so much within our borders.

Here’s what we wrote about one such experience that occurred decades ago.

She [June] spoke to a group of congregations in North Dakota that

were strong supporters of global missions. During a visit of several

weeks in the region, she stayed on a large beautiful farm. During a

tour of the outbuildings and fields led by the proud farmer, June

noticed some low buildings past the fields. When she asked about

them, the farmer told her that was where their laborers stayed.

These migrant Mexican laborers helped with the planting and

harvesting of a variety of crops, including potatoes, sugar beets and


When June started asking questions about the workers, the

farmer was clearly uncomfortable. “Oh no,” he told her when she

asked to visit them.

“Do they have their families with them?”

“Yes, they have their wives and children.”

“Do they go to school?”


The conversation had clearly turned uncomfortable for both

of them, so she dropped further questions. But it made June

realize that as generous as the Lutheran congregation was to help

the poor of Africa, many didn’t see the poverty around them. “I

thought, isn’t it easy to cluck your tongue and be concerned about

discrimination in Africa or Guatemala or the Eskimos, or

whatever, but they don’t see it in their own backyard and don’t

want to be involved in it.”

Suggesting there were parallels between apartheid and racism

in the United States “made me as popular as a pole cat,” she said.

June, who is obviously on Medicare at her age, still is working for healthcare for the rest of us. She and I stood near each other at a prayer vigil months ago. Actually, she was not standing; but was in a wheelchair.

The compassion runs very deep in June, as it did for Teddy Kennedy even with his flaws. Here’s what he said about healthcare at the Democratic Convention in 2008:

For me, this is a season of hope, new hope for a justice and fair prosperity for the many and not just for the few, new hope. And this is the cause of my life, new hope that we will break the old gridlock and guarantee that every American — north, south, east, west, young, old — will have decent, quality health care as a fundamental right and not a privilege.

As Kennedy said about the cause of his life, healthcare reform, “That dream will never die.”


1 Response to "June, healthcare & Me"

The dream won’t die; it will just take a long time to come true.

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