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DIY Healthcare: Why Socialized Medicine Is For Grown Ups

On Thursday I posted about how I’m learning to master differences in vocabulary across the Atlantic divide. After living in the U.K. for two and a half years, I’m also slowly but surely coming to terms with what it’s like to live in a country with universal health care.

For starters, doctors tend to medicate way less over here unless you’re really ill. They also do fewer preventive screenings for things like breast and prostate cancer.

But one of the most surprising aspects of the British National Health System (NHS) is that it actually encourages patients to take more responsibility for monitoring their own health. I say “surprising” because one of the negative stereotypes of socialized medicine is that when you place health care in the hands of the government, you effectively create a nanny state, wherein the government – not the individual – makes decisions about personal health.

But that’s actually not quite right. Precisely because the system is designed to worry – first and foremost – about the population, patients are actually encouraged to do a lot of basic health care on their own.

So, for example, I’m rather fair and freckly by nature – and have a history of skin cancer in my immediate family. Back when I still lived in the United States, those two risk factors meant that I saw a dermatologist once a year to look for irregular moles and such. When I first moved to the U.K., I dutifully made an appointment to do the same thing over here. But the dermatologist I saw here actually discouraged me from coming in annually. Instead, she took some photos, gave me a diskette and told me to go home and continue to monitor my skin carefully. When, as, and if I found something suspicious, I should compare it to the photos and call them if things had changed. DIY skin care, if you will.

“But…but…!” I sputtered. “What if something goes wrong?”

The doctor looked puzzled. “If something ‘goes wrong’ you call us,” she said, matter-of-factly. “After all, you’re going to know there’s a problem long before we do. Just coming here once a year doesn’t prevent skin cancer.”

At first I resisted, insisting on re-booking my annual skin cancer check-up the following year. But the doctor I saw 12 months later said exactly the same thing. “It’s more efficient this way,” he explained. “Because then we see you only when it’s really necessary. But it’s also about teaching you how to look after yourself so that you take more responsibility for your own health care.”

Wow…what a radical idea. And I must admit that it felt a little strange. But you know what? By the third year, I canceled the appointment and took a look at those photos instead. And you know what?  In an age of responsibility, I felt more grown up.

*****

Was anyone else as troubled as I was that the piano is on its way out as a staple of the American living room? I don’t even play the piano and I still felt nostalgic when I learned this!

Image: Second Life: National Health Service (UK): by rosefirerising’s photo stream via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Kaleidoscope Careers: Uncovering Your Inner Cezanne

Soon after I started this blog, I got an email from a former colleague who was quite taken with the RealDelia concept. “Think about it,” he said. “You have so much material. I mean how many shows are there featuring ex-pat American PhD freelance essayist ex-radio producer moms?”

He was teasing me, of course (he also said that I should have called the blog “Lloyds of London,” but then advised me to save that for the reality TV show). But he does touch on a serious point. Like many people out there in today’s work force, I’ve done a lot of different things in my professional life which, combined, give me a diverse set of experiences to write about and talk about.

Lisa Belkin had a terrific article about this phenomenon in the New York Times Magazine earlier this year, in which she discussed Caroline Kennedy’s failed bid for the New York senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton. However you felt about Kennedy as a candidate, Belkin’s basic point was that Kennedy may have lacked experience for the job in a linear-I’ve-been-preparing-for-this-job-all-my-life sort of way (unlike, say, Kristen Gillebrand, who eventually got the nod). But the sort of “kaleidoscope” resume that Kennedy brought to the table (e.g., lawyer, writer, fundraiser, parent) is increasingly the norm in today’s economy, a by-product both of the dot-com economy which threw traditional career trajectories out the window, as well as the reality of women returning to the workforce after having children.

Belkin’s article also reminded me of some of the arguments raised in Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book, Outliers. In a New Yorker article last Fall entitled “Late Bloomers: Why do we Equate Genius with Precocity?,” Gladwell – drawing on extensive research by David Galenson at the University of Chicago – points out that many of the world’s most celebrated “geniuses” – people like Paul Cezanne, to name but one – didn’t start out as geniuses right off the bat, but rather took years to culivate their talents. So it wasn’t that Cezanne was discovered late (as is sometimes erroneously thought to be the case); it’s that he simply wasn’t very good at what he did until quite late in his career. In the meantime, he was experimenting.

Taken together, I found the messages in these articles to be quite reassuring. Belkin’s article suggests that the economy may be changing in ways that rewards diversity over continuity where careers are concerned. And Gladwell’s article suggests that if you haven’t been labeled a genius by the time you’re twenty five, you’ve still got plenty of time ahead of you. In either case, the message seems to be:  experiment away…

*****

While we’re on the topic of experimentation, I took my kids to see Dan Zane and Friends today in London. Some of you may remember Zanes from his earlier career in the pop band The Del Fuegos. But he has since reinvented himself as a creator of  “homemade family music.” Haven’t seen him perform live? It’s a must…

Image: Kaleidoscope FR 5340 1907 by Lucy Nieto via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Nostalgia: Or How I Justified a Night In Watching Barry Manilow

Nostalgia is a huge part of growing up. I talked about it vis a vis my re-reading of Peter Pan the other day, and I’ll have more to say about it on this blog another day.

Today, however, let me address one tiny sliver of the nostalgia theme that’s been on my mind lately: the nostalgia inspired by music.

It all began when my husband suggested that we watch a Barry Manilow concert on television the other night.

Before you click away from this blog in disgust, allow me to defend myself. Yes, I admit that he can be horribly cheesy. And I wouldn’t ever call myself a “fan,” despite an abiding fondness for Copacabana…(have a look at this video and tell me you’re not already singing along. I’m a sucker for the part where Lola loses her mind). In all seriousness, though, the man knows how to tell a story.

But this isn’t about Barry Manilow. It’s about that special feeling of nostalgia that’s engendered by hearing a song from your past that means something to you, or calls to mind a particular moment when you were growing up.

Yesterday, the London website Alpha Mummy was up in arms over an outrageous Mother’s Day marketing ploy by British supermarket giant Sainsbury’s – the store is marketing a CD called 101 “Housework Songs” (Mother’s Day is celebrated this Sunday in the U.K.). In response, Alpha Mummy posted a hilariously clever “Top 10 Songs to Listen to While you File a Letter of Complaint to Sainsbury’s.” While I thoroughly enjoyed the post, I was also amazed at how many of the song lyrics they referenced I could recite by heart. Because they take me right back to…ya know…the old days.

And then I stumbled across this website, aptly named Songs You Used to Listen To, where each day brings you a new song from the past.

The point is: it doesn’t really matter how you define your musical “moment.” Mine is somewhere around the early 1980s. If I’m in a supermarket and hear something like Come On, Eileen or Land Down Under or Don’t You Forget About Me, I actually stop whatever I’m doing and allow myself to be transported back to that era and all it symbolized for me personally (my first boyfriend, leaving high school, getting into college, etc.)

And that’s the beautiful thing about music. So, hey, don’t you forget about me…

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