Mystery Object #11: Lung Money

"Doing what we can locally for a national problem."

“Doing what we can locally for a national problem.”

The other day, as I was paying for a cup of coffee in Greenville, Ohio, I looked down to see a most unbelievable thing—a massage raffle for a lung transplant. Let me write that again just in case you missed it the first time:

A massage raffle for a lung transplant.

Had I been in a bit more of a hurry to pay for my coffee I might not have looked down and read the details of the request: The photocopied sheet was selling $5.00 tickets to win a massage a month for a year from We Kneed U Massage. All proceeds from the raffle were for a Ms. Deb Davidson-Smith who is in need of a lung transplant.

On one level it was a genuine gesture of support for a person in need, by friends and people in her community. That people would make this effort is moving. As social creatures, human beings often help people in their kinship groups and social networks. After all, if you can’t count on your friends when you are very ill, when can you.

Of course, mobilizing friends and neighbors for a potluck or a barn raising is different from soliciting contributions for a lung transplant. The scale of Ms. Davidson-Smith’s need was so disproportionate to the manner of the messaging. If she doesn’t have any insurance then she will need more than $5 and $10 dollar donations for a raffle. More likely she has some kind of insurance that is only covering part of the bill, leaving her to worry about how she will pay for the difference. So, not only is she ill, but she is “working”—or others are working on her behalf—to generate surplus value from the community to hand over to the insurance company at exactly the time Ms. Davidson-Smith really needs to be focusing on swapping out that lung.

I just don’t get it. How can a healthcare system be so dysfunctional and broken that people who need it most have to subject their futures to the outcome of a raffle? I suppose it should be no surprise, of course, when much of our current economy works on the principle of gambling both at the top—on Wall Street—and at the bottom where a lottery ticket or a trip to a casino might instantly deliver financial security.

Regardless, a useful side effect of everyone being so distracted dealing with a looming healthcare debt is that they have no time or energy left to organize or agitate to make changes. Deb’s friends spent their valuable time making, photocopying and distributing the raffle advertisement instead of organizing address the issues of a broken healthcare system. The surplus value—the cash for raffle tickets—collected because of an emotional tie to someone in the community, moves out of the community rather than being collected as assets to invest in a change. Everything is spent in support of addressing the problem locally when the real difference can only be made politically, at the state or national level, or through addressing the insurer—a tall order when their head offices are probably in New York somewhere.

After paying for my coffee I snapped a photo of the sign taped to the counter and went on with my day.  I have been thinking about Ms. Davidson-Smith and her lung transplant and I hope everything works out for her. The sign, however, definitely qualifies as a mystery object.

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