When my blood was drawn for the first time at the Immunity Therapy Center in Tijuana, it returned a PSA reading of 295. Ask an older man in your life what that means; no layman I’ve spoken to has ever heard of a score so far in the clouds, though one doctor claimed that he’d seen higher ones. I had metastasized prostate cancer, and U.S. medical professionals (including the one who “consoled” me with his awareness of higher PSA’s) all gave me up for dead, offering no more than palliative treatments to help me go gentle into that good night. The Harbin Clinic in Rome, Georgia, persistently refused to return my calls. I have to assume, in this stone-cold absence of response, that the clinic’s physicians didn’t want their batting average of successes compromised by a guy with one foot already deeply in the grave.
After two weeks of “non-traditional” (i.e., non-invasive, largely non-pharmaceutical) therapy in Tijuana, my PSA score was 65. After four and a half weeks, just before my departure, it was 4.3: well within the normal range for a man of my years.
Something’s wrong with this picture. In fact, not very much is right. I have vowed to my creator that I will make several changes during whatever additional years my new lease on life may give me. The foremost of these will be to alert cancer sufferers that they don’t have to die: not like lab rats in a cage that failed to make the cut in an experiment—not shivering and shedding their hair after procedures to “cleanse” them have reduced them to little more than shiny white skeletons. I was actually the healthiest person in ITC’s treatment room on any given day. The fact that I had received no treatment whatever back in the States left my body much better prepared to fight its battle against the invader.
(Full disclosure: in the esoterica of medi-speak, I’m still classified as Stage Four because, I believe, supplements and injections continue to be part of my daily regimen. You have to be off the program for a certain period and remaining cancer-free, I’m assuming, to be considered in remission. But call me any stage you like—I’m in the game again, and I have the strength and the attitude I need to win. Nobody in my native country ever gave me that gift. No doctor among the lot would even write me a letter on medical letterhead so that I might obtain an emergency passport—none would dirty his sterilized fingers by implicitly condoning “voodoo medicine”.)
In this first of what I suppose may be many articles, I want to accomplish a couple of ends. Right out of the gate, I offer my sincerest thanks to those who wished me well in my struggle and urged me to be of good cheer. Most of these are Internet friends. I’ve never met them personally, but their concern was the more obvious and credible for being expressed in thoughtful messages rather than squeezed into one of those awkward corridor-encounters. (“You have what? Wow… I’m so sorry. Well, good luck, dude. Oh, shoot—that’s my phone. I gotta take this call.”) Not included in the radius of my gratitude are the comments of a pair who exhorted me to get religion—*their* religion—in my hour of need. It seemed as though they had been waiting, like the proverbial snake in the grass, throughout our “friendship” for a mortal crisis in my life to tell me that my spiritual convictions were forged of hellfire and brimstone. What a way to encourage a friend—or to encourage anyone—confronting a deadly disease!
The broader theme I’d like to dispose of in relatively few (far too few) words is the almost knee-jerk supposition that capitalism is responsible for our dysfunctional medical system. Over and over from fellow American patients at ITC, and again and again from family members after my return home, I had to listen to this tired refrain. In my more vigorous moments, I would introduce the word “corporatism” into the discussion. Socialized medicine isn’t the cure for what ails our health care: it’s Stage Four of the degeneration. Why do we cancer patients have so few options in the U.S., and why will Medicare and the federal income tax turn a very cold shoulder to us if we seek assistance elsewhere? “Because of Big Pharma,” pipe the critics. “Doctors get a cut of the take on all the hugely expensive meds they prescribe. They also love to do surgeries and radiation treatments with whopping price tags that typically produce very temporary good results. They trick the patient into thinking that he’s mending while they actually weaken his body, and they bleed his insurance and Medicare for all they’re worth, at the same time.”
Yes to all that… but notice that our government has tidily arranged the scam. Most of us are not paying out of pocket for these Pyrrhic victories scored over specific, localized outbreaks of cancer. The government’s micro-managing allows us to believe that the cost is being absorbed by a benign Uncle Sam, or by insurance megaliths whose unfathomable resources permit everybody to prosper. The truth is that—yes, again—pharmaceutical companies prosper, and so do the doctors who play their game. That’s not capitalism in action. At most, it’s late-stage, failing capitalism: it’s corporatism, the collaboration of private and public sectors in securing a choke-hold over the market. Small insurers go under; or they’re certainly not able to compete broadly with the big names, at any rate, thanks to legislation that tightly squeezes the marketplace’s limits. And while we can all concede that drug companies need mountains of funding to continue their world-class research and development, the entire health care system should not be enthralled to this worthy objective. If an alternative therapy shows promise but does not involve medication, then it should not be branded “voodoo” and its successes denied even so much as access to peer-reviewed medical journals.
Such arrogant neglect, by the way, is seldom a result of behind-the-scenes pay-offs, in my opinion. I think it reflects a root-level philosophical bias in our medical establishment, and in our technological enterprises generally. Our culture regards its progress as adversarial to nature. Rivers must be dammed. Energy must be ripped from the earth’s bowels. Viruses must be slain by super-vaccines. The notion that the body might defeat cancer on its own if only given the right fuel and submitted to the right regimen of training is the equivalent, to our clinicians, of shaking rattles and eagle feathers over the patient.
Meanwhile, the private-sector half of the corporatist arrangement prospers handsomely, because every patient is placed on the same assembly (or disassembly) line involving drugs, surgery, and massive radiation; and the public-sector half, having received its cut of the profit (in campaign donations to statist candidates, etc.), supplies the muscle in the “protection” racket by forcing citizens to pay into a system that only underwrites the drugs-surgery-radiation protocol. The resources beneath it all, far from being unfathomable, soon reach bottom as the system’s tentacles claim more and more of the populace and wrap around more and more treatments. Instead of the best care for the greatest number, we have whatever care is available after strained resources have been divided by a denominator climbing into the hundreds of millions.
As I once pointed out to a fellow patient at ITC, Dr. Bautista would not be running his operation if the Mexican system enjoyed the sort of choke-hold over options that the American one exercises. The Center’s physical therapist explained the situation in her homeland in terms that, I’m afraid, were too “inside baseball” for me. (And we talked a lot about baseball, too!) My garbled version of her brilliant summation would be this: the Mexican government is hopelessly corrupt. Its agents know that they can’t serve the nation’s health needs adequately. They therefore allow maverick start-ups like ITC to operate untouched. The results are positive, demand is high, and profits escalate. A government that can’t do much of anything on its own is very happy to let the private sector—a true private sector, a free-enterprise marketplace—purr along just under the radar. In the U.S., where a Uncle Mao is still securing his power over every aspect of our lives, such benign negligence doesn’t happen. Disobedience is not tolerated. But in Mexico, where the line between patron and peon was drawn deeply and long ago, trickles of officially unnoticed efficiency are allowed to flow.
That may just be our own last best hope, as a nation—or as the shambles of a nation: enclaves of efficiency rising from the rubble of totalitarianism. Or, should I say, that is the first hope awaiting us after the Collapse.