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Opinion

Commentary: End of the world, a brand-new vision

Health insurance
Writer Reg Green ponders another existential threat to humanity: health insurance foul-ups.
(Minerva Studio / Getty Images / iStockphoto)

I’ve heard or read of so many people recently who talk as though the world is coming to an end soon if we don’t do “this” or “that” that I went back to what T.S. Eliot said in his 1925 poem, “The Hollow Men,” which so haunted his generation that the New York Times said it contained what are “probably the most quoted lines of any 20th-century poet writing in English.”

Why not, who can forget them?

“This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper.”

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Eliot was writing in the aftermath of what was then called the Great War, which both sides had embarked on with such dreams of gallantry but which in the 1920s was seen as a slaughterhouse paving the way for what we might call the Even Greater War just a generation later.

In the wake of that second war what friends and neighbors worried about most was a global bust-up in which H-bombs replaced rifles. Today their sons and daughters agonize over an Apocalypse that had scarcely even been thought of then, global warming.

But let me propose an alternative to all these, suggested by a small incident this week.

I was scheduled for a minor medical “procedure” early one morning and woke to a delectable day on which, it was clear, nothing could go wrong. We left home well before the appointed hour, the spacious hospital lobby was almost empty, only one other family was waiting to check in.

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Then things took a slight turn for the worse: The other patient, an elderly man, didn’t have the right papers and the leisurely scene began to tremble.

The lone receptionist was trying one phone number after another to find someone who was already at work who could deal with this. With every call that responded automatically, “Thank you for your patience,” the family’s agitation grew.

This man had already had one heart attack and had been warned to keep calm. The conditions for that were not ideal.

In the end the worst didn’t happen — it rarely does — but the thought occurred to me that on that Great Getting-Up Day we might be thinking not of thermonuclear explosions or being fried under a pitiless sun but instead:

“This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a health insurance foul-up”

Reg Green’s website is nicholasgreen.org.

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