In His Own Right (The Boston Interview) – Part 2

sinh (2)

Continued from page 14

uh, medication . . .

Speaking of that, can you tell us a little bit about HvW, Health vs. Wealth, the organization you started in the early 90’s?
There’s not anything terribly original about it. It’s basically a patient advocacy group like many others; we do some lobbying, but with very little money which is very much like going to the prom without a date—you’d do well to ask yourself what you expect to get out of it. I got into it because of all the run-ins Ross and I had with . . . with the medical industrial complex, as my friend Jean likes to call it. But basically, the bottom line is patients need an organized voice because of managed care. HMOs are set up primarily to make money, therefore they think they should just get it and no one should raise any objections. Incredible. Staying alive, staying pain-free, staying sane—that’s your own problem.

The Jean you mention is . . .?
My old friend, Jean Ronnell. We’re listed as co-founders of HvW, but she really was the one who ran the whole shebang. As a nurse, she had the background.

But she’s no longer with HvW, is she?
No. She’s back with the International Refugee Council, with the Medicine Nonsectarian group. She’s spent the better part of the last five years in the Balkans. We worry about her a lot, but we think she is okay. We got a letter from her about a year ago. I’m afraid one day we’re gonna . . . get another.

HvW’s now headed up by Barry Goodwin. You should do a story on him. He was instrumental in getting the law passed here in Massachusetts banning HMOs from kicking people out of the hospital less than 24 hours after surgery. We’re hoping to put a similar law in place in all 50 states over the next two years. [The reporter is getting bored with this.]

And now you’re involved in this new endeavor: counseling young women.
Well, counseling is perhaps too strong a word; we’re just trying to give girls some space, some friendly shelter in which to develop at their own pace, to bolster their self-esteem.

You call them ‘girls.’ Isn’t that politically incorrect nowadays?
Maybe I’m getting old—they’re in middle school; I think of them as girls. But I also call them girls deliberately. Before, grown women were not allowed to mature from girls into adults, but now I think we make thirteen, fourteen-year-olds be women. (More animatedly) And they’re not ready. I feel bad for girls, young women, boys, anyone, these days—they are clueless in the sense that they have not been given many clues by us, precious little guidance.

Incredibly, you know, a lot of kids appear to do okay, but others can’t; they don’t have the . . . they don’t have the luxury of picking their own experiences gradually; they can’t grow at their own pace. We try to give our girls the time and space to grow into themselves, to find their place, their special qualities, to develop some self-esteem, as I said.

When I think back on my own youth and the strange, wonderful space I was given to prowl around in, as torturous as that was, to find want I wanted, I have to wonder, what do kids have to hold onto today? Music? I don’t know. Music was my salvation, my absolute salvation. But beyond that, what do they construe as the truth? Do they believe in that power of love? We’re just trying to provide a little help . . . a little support to give young people the courage to find out what they’re capable of. It’s hard to dream if you don’t feel there are any possibilities. It’s hard even to look up. But do you really think we’re lesser humans than those that came before us?  I don’t. So, I’m cautiously optimistic; optimistic for Sarah. [Turns her gaze toward the kitchen.] Yeah, I am.

Well . . . Thank you. Thanks very much.
Sure. You’re welcome.

Templeton looked a little flushed after this last speech. I didn’t get everything she said; she was a bit of a prater. I’d have to listen to it again on the tape. I flipped open my manila folder of notes. On top was the file photo of both of them I’d looked at before coming here—when both she and her husband were in New Haven, a shot taken on the street outside the HRI office there before Yale tore the building down. They were younger then, obviously; suppler and almost feral-looking with Templeton’s wild mane of hair and Fowler’s dark-lashed eyes, less wary and less battered, but ten years later, they still retained the bittersweet quixotic quality so apparent back then, and though much had been broken or lost along the way, they were more compelling now exactly because of that. Staring at that photo, I was seized with a feeling I couldn’t identify or begin to analyze; although it made me want to fly, or cry, or both. I shook hands with Amy, and we walked out into the kitchen where Ross was sitting with Sarah at a table strewn with paint and paper and tiny pans of colored water.

“Got some good quotes?” Ross joked.

“Let me, let me open the door,” Sarah chimed in, scrambling down from her chair.

“Show the lady out, but don’t go outside yourself. Stay inside,” Amy instructed gently.

Charmed, I let the child put her damp hand in mine and lead me to the backdoor. I opened it and stepped outside. The girl instantly released her grip, standing on the threshold, waving a baby goodbye, and as I gently closed the screen door against her, she wheeled round and ran back to her parents. Turning to go, I glanced back once, quickly, and saw Amy take Ross’ offered hand and smile—girlishly holding it up to her heart.  And though it was an ordinary gesture, an ordinary scene, one witnessed in various permutations many times before, for an instant it seemed to me extraordinary.


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