Eugene Weekly : Natural Resistance : 10.1.09

Rapid Response
How we take care of each other
by Mary O’Brien

Two incidents in the last two weeks reminded me of who we are as communities and how that relates to health care.

On the last day of a month of camping in Australia, my digital camera lens wouldn’t open to take a photo. I knew I would need to be recording field work the day after I arrived home in the states, and it’s my only camera. I had a day and a half in Perth before leaving, so I inquired rather hopelessly at two camera stores, knowing they usually have to send cameras out for repair. A salesperson in the second store mentioned a fellow who repairs cameras in Perth, and gave me the address. Ambrose’s Camera Repair was up three narrow flights of stairs, in a pair of tiny rooms, as if he were a 19th century violin maker. Ambrose said he could look at the camera, putting off other repairs he was scheduled to make. (At least a dozen cameras were in the waiting room.) I could come back the next afternoon, a few hours before I was to fly home. He wasn’t hopeful he could fix it.

When I returned the next day he was elated. “Your camera was loaded with dirt and I cleaned it. But if you had come last week, I couldn’t have fixed it without a new lens. Last week another camera repair person told me of a little trick of folding a tiny piece of paper and jamming it behind the lens, and it’s working. It’s the first time I’ve tried that!” Ambrose has been repairing cameras for 30 years.

Incident number 2. At 8:30 am I sat on my glasses in Richfield, Utah, breaking the thin cord, like fishing line, that holds the lens in. (I’m dead in the water without glasses.) I needed to head out at 9 a.m. to meet Forest Service staff an hour away to go in the field with them on some concerns I had. One optometrist office in Richfield. Opens at 9 am. I phoned at 8:45 am, hoping maybe someone would be there. They said to bring the glasses right over. I was out of the office at 9:06 am, off to the field meeting, with repaired (and cleaned) glasses.

Coming back to back, these two rather wondrous instances of rapid-response repairs reminded me that we really are communities of people who depend on each other. For identifying a clunk in the engine; for building a shoe insert for aging feet; for building a recycling center; for directing us to a repair person up three narrow flights of stairs on a small street in an unfamiliar city; for explaining which bus we should take to a particular part of our town.

And with that perspective, universal health care seems to affirm such a view of community. Recognizing that we depend on each other every day for a thousand details of daily living, we need to be there for each other for health. The very act of becoming a universal health care nation would reinforce that concept among us. We depend on each other and, in recognition of this, we will take care of each other. 

Mary O’Brien has worked as a public interest scientist since 1981. She is currently dividing her time between Eugene and Castle Valley, Utah.