This is my Uncle Ted. When I was a kid, he gave me a box of his favorite fantasy novels – the first I’d ever read – and can therefore be blamed for my lingering desire to write some of my own. He found me a copy of Peter Dickinson’s The Flight of Dragons when Canadian used bookstores had no idea what I was talking about. And when I moved from Alberta to Halifax, Nova Scotia, he told me raunchy stories about the time he was on shore leave here (like all the best uncles, he’s a good and a bad influence at the same time).
Uncle Ted was in the US Navy during Vietnam, which is why, when he went into congestive heart failure in January, he was taken to the Audie L. Murphy VA Hospital in San Antonio. He’s been there ever since.
This post isn’t about the cost or quality of health care in the USA (although the staff at Audie must be amazing, considering how many of Uncle Ted’s organs seem determined to act out). It’s about something else.
In Canada, you have to pay for it. At Audie Murphy, they have free valet.
In the context of Uncle Ted’s ongoing health crisis, ranting about parking might seem like I’m being flippant. I am absolutely not. I am genuinely, completely, and morally outraged over the fact that many hospitals charge for parking.
With the possible exception of the maternity ward, visiting hospitals is a gut-wrenching, emotionally-fraught experience. The only thing worse than requiring medical care yourself is watching someone you love at its mercy, all the while knowing there’s absolutely nothing you can do to help. Add to these psychic and physical injuries the insult of a parking tab, and the rational behind the rant becomes clear.
When my mom was being treated for cancer, she had to pay for parking before they’d give her chemotherapy.
The Audie Murphy hospital gets that charging for parking is wrong. By offering free parking, they are saying, “We understand your pain. Please accept this small expression of our sympathy.” By making that parking valet, they’re saying, “The last thing you should be worrying about right now is remembering where you left your car. Let us make things a little easier for you.”
In my opinion, this is the height of class. It’s a small recognition of the fact that illness and death are universal human experiences that demand empathy and kindness. They are not, and should never be, an opportunity for petty profit.
Do you think hospitals should charge for parking? Do you see the parking issue as a symbol of bigger problems in our approach to health care? Have you ever experienced a moment of grace and empathy that made dealing with a medical situation a little easier to bear? Tell me – I’d love to know. And if you have a moment, please think some good thoughts for Uncle Ted, too.