The Economics of Hope

27 06 2011

The Economics of Hope:

Andrew Wu

Economics 2012

Make no mistake, trauma injuries such as the severe burn injuries that I have seen at the Air Force General Hospital are extremely expensive to care for.  Without the necessary money to complete the procedures, they cannot be performed.  The unfortunate truth is that it has to come from somewhere, whether from charities, the hospital, friends of patient’s families, the families themselves, or borrowing from the bank.

I came to the hospital in mid-May right after finals with this in mind for my research.  As I expected, all families earn a yearly income that is a mere fraction of the money that they have paid for the surgeries and rehabilitation conducted on their children and are often bankrupted in the process.

Without money, there would be no surgeries, and these children would not get better. There would be no hope at all for them to recover.  So it can be said that money is an integral part in the gears that drive hope.

However, economics is not only about money and its optimal allocation; we are taught the importance and value of time and opportunity costs.  There are other economic decisions that do not require money being exchanged. Intangible goods, for which money cannot buy, are also important to consider in the synthesis of hope.[1]

I was joined this weekend by the Handreach team, who will be in Beijing for a week.  This team consists of a prosthetician, occupational therapists, surgeons, child life specialists, among other highly distinguished professions who will be attempting to do something tangible for the children, whether making splints, prosthetics, or conducting hand surgery on them.

I am only[2] an undergraduate who served chiefly as an interpreter during these past six weeks.  I did have the opportunity to conduct some physical therapy and assist in surgeries, but in the end, I am not a physical therapist or surgeon.  In a sense, I sometimes feel a sense of powerlessness when seeing all of the patients, in that with my current education, I cannot contribute in a tangible way towards their health.[3]

So what could I bring to the table, other than my language ability, that the others could not? Time.

This team will only be here for a week, due to the occupational and family commitments. I have been here for over six weeks, establishing connections with these patients.  The gift of friendship has no monetary price, and is rooted more in time spent. Establishing this human connection is imperative when conducting any sort of treatment and creating hope.  If the body does not want to heal, it will not.  Having a friendly person at the hospital when you are hospitalized and trying to get better helps with creating and maintaining hope.

This weekend’s conference about trauma injuries was not held in the hospital, but in a nearby city called Huairou, where a congregation of Chinese trauma hospitals and Handreach gathered to discuss the state of trauma treatment in China.  The patients were invited to the conference as evidence of the Air Force General Hospital’s skill and charity in taking such cases.  Perhaps they felt a little out of place or objectified by being here, but they did not seem very comfortable being put on display.  When I took the time to spend time to simply ask how they were doing and eat with them, their discomfort disappeared immediately.  It was as if seeing a familiar, friendly face in this foreign place returned them to a comfort zone.

Being asked for my email and telephone from nearly all of the patients that I’ve spent time with made me realize how much my work here was appreciated by the patients.  With the college mindset of deliverables, studying, and tests, the importance of a good conversation was lost upon me.  I am not a doctor, nurse, or physical therapist, but was still able to make a positive impact on these patients.  It also brought gave me a sense of closure as I wrap up the next two weeks in Beijing.

And if you are further curious, here’s a video of MingHe, a former patient who was present at the conference this weekend.  I apologize for any perceived sappyness in the video; I do not remotely want this entry to be a fundraising attempt for my community partner.

If you watched the video, he wants to design airplanes for the military when he grows up.  After he asked for my contact information, I wrote my email on a piece of paper and folded it into a paper airplane.  I laughed with him as he took the airplane and held it closely to his body.

Maybe the world doesn’t just run on money.


[1] And also in the valuation of companies, where they are attempted to be priced.  LinkedIn?  Oops.  I’ll leave this discussion for my friends doing finance internships right now.

[2] Contrary to popular belief, Duke undergraduates can’t do everything.

[3]  I will patiently wait until I take my chances with medical school.

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