March Madness on the High Seas: Hoops and Healthcare as Bedfellows

David S. Pisetsky, MD, PhD

The weekend of March 20 and 21 saw the confluence of two great media events in America: the first two rounds of the NCAA basketball tournament and the final push to pass healthcare reform in Congress. While these events are light years apart in their historical significance, they nevertheless both occupied thousands of hours of television and generated intense passion and debate. Who could have guessed that they would compete so strongly for attention in the public imagination?

Being both a political and sports junkie, I was disappointed to be out of the country during this momentous time. While starved for the relentless 24/7 coverage on the airways, I could not really complain because I attended a wonderful scientific meeting on anti-DNA antibodies. The meeting venue was a 600-passenger cruise ship called Trollfjord that motored up and down the coast of Norway from Tromso to Kirkenes. The science was great, the company congenial, and the scenery spectacular.

Norway at the beginning of spring is like the dead of winter in North America. The locals are nevertheless happy because the sun has emerged from its captivity below the horizon. Once free, the sun revives a world that has been submerged in darkness for months. As I learned on the cruise, the weather in Norway is fickle, and the sun can quickly retreat behind clouds. A frigid wind then comes roaring out of the North as the last supply of snow dumps out from dense gray clouds. In the fjords, the wind is bracing, exhilarating in its bite and able to burnish a face red in a few seconds. Out at sea, the wind whips up the waves, which maliciously rock a ship up and down, to and fro, and side to side, challenging even the heartiest vestibular system.

A cruise ship docked by the quay in Kirkenes.

A cruise ship docked by the quay in Kirkenes.

Hoops and Healthcare

Perhaps to divert themselves from the boat’s fierce bouncing, the American contingent at the conference regaled each other during meals and breaks with talk of the fall of the vaunted tournament seeds, the inspiring exploits of Cornell, and the prospects for a vote in the House of Representatives to enact healthcare reform. Let us be honest. Many, if not most, academic researchers can be considered as politically liberal insofar as they support an active role of government in the healthcare system. This viewpoint should not be a surprise because a large chunk of funding for research and training comes from the government. The National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Veterans Administration (VA), the Department of Defense, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, and the Food and Drug Administration all contribute significantly to the academic enterprise.

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