One of the main characters in August Wilson’s play, “Two Trains Running,” is a person called “Hambone.” He repeats the same line for two acts: “I want my ham!” Hambone has been wronged 9 years earlier by a shopkeeper. Hambone was promised a ham if he painted a fence to the satisfaction of the owner. He didn’t. All Hambone wants is justice and that is all he is focused on, day after day. Hambone also represents the many people in Pittsburgh in the ‘60s that were poor, unemployed or marginally working in a declining neighborhood. Wilson gives voice in a simple and straightforward way to those in the neighborhood, largely African American, who keep finding the “rules” changing and with little chance for justice at any level.
This character reminds me of too many of the people we see at the senior centers, Over the Rhine, Booth, and St. Paul’s Village, and at the dinners for people who are poor at CAIN’’s North Church, Christ Church, and St. Vincent de Paul. Rarely, are their voices heard above a murmur and even more scarce is their complaints about the lack of justice in the health care system. What we do as Navigators in seek to change the relationship by being present for discussions even if there is a fear of talking. Being present means offering a guidebook to going into the system even though there are scary stories of what happens when a person who is poor and sick crosses over into the hospitals. Providing resources, including accompaniment, seems critical if the past obstacles and present barriers are to be overcome. Grudgingly, we find a few people who, in one way of another, say: “I want real healthcare!” Together, we walk to the transportation that is provided by Cincinnati Area Senior Services(CASS) and we enter a world with more rules that are puzzling than can even be imagined.
This week we met with many people wanting to change the system and join our Commission on Cincinnati’s Health Inequities. So many people has stories about people being lost on the way to health care, or rules that prohibited people being able to buy their drugs or see a dentist. We also met with people, Kate Bennett, who are veterans of the systems, who understand the subtlest of meanings in the “rules.” Slowly, thanks to more understanding we are seeing the paths to healthcare for our “neighborhood” more clearly. Hambone never gets his ham from his former employer. Instead, a new friend, named “Sterling,” places a ham in his coffin. This is not justice. But it is an act of compassion. We are doing better and not enough. Let us all chant: “I want my healthcare justice.”
Read about the latest progress we are making as a Cancer Justice Network.