Today my class has to take the bus, or walk, from the clinic to the pharmacy to the grocery store, then plan a grocery list for a family of 3 for a week with $128.00. It’s an assignment designed to allow physicians-in-training to understand a little of what many of their patients have to cope with.
The alarm, dismay, and consternation displayed by some of my classmates when we were given the details of this assignment were a revelation. It’s no secret that I grew up on the wrong side of the tracks—which, not coincidentally, is where I live now (on which more in a moment). Public bus systems just aren’t that scary to me; I walked, or took the bus home from school, on and off from ages 12 to 16.
I came to medical school with a car that might or might not last, so my house is 9 blocks from school, and only 1 block and 6 blocks from St. John’s and Memorial hospitals (hence the high-risk location), with a grocery store 4 blocks away. I don’t expect grocery planning to be terribly challenging, either: Eating nutritiously (if uninterestingly) on the cheap is another ongoing hobby of mine.
All of which is to say that when I got the assignment, I wasn’t anticipating trouble completing it—unless I got really unlucky crossing the road.
But it turns out that there was another component to the assignment: Spent.
And that feeling smug goeth before a fall, and complacency before a kick in the rear.
I thought I understood some of my patients’ challenges. Turns out I don’t. No matter where I grew up, or where I live now, or what my intimacy with public transport, I’m not an adult with a family trying to survive at the federal poverty line.
Play ‘Spent’ in the next week, even if you do nothing else to understand those outside your circle and circumstances. Because no matter what you think you know about what it takes to survive on a low income…you don’t. You really, really don’t.
Go play. Have a good week. And share the game, where and as you can.
We’re all in this together. Pass it on.