Once Upon a Time…
But first: Public Health is the science of protecting and improving the health of communities through education, promotion of healthy lifestyles, and research for disease and injury prevention…Overall, public health is concerned with protecting the health of entire populations. These populations can be as small as a local neighborhood, or as big as an entire country.
Public Health workers comprise a silent army. Their presence is marked by the absence of disease and of good health. Things don’t happen when they have done what they are supposed to do. People DON’T die—from car accidents, from diseases like polio and smallpox. They DON’T smoke.
But the enemy-disease—never sleeps. Disease is out in the parking lot doing push ups while public health is working in the clinic, readying it’s next way to make people sick and bring their quality of life back to the bad old days.
Disease is gaining ground in some ways- polio spreading again for instance. And diseases in the US that most people have never seen are making a comeback. Never mind gun violence, obesity, food deserts—the forces of bad health and low quality of life never give up.
Public Health is working as hard as they can to fight back and keep the people they love—everyone!—healthy, safe and happy. But the problem is no one even knows they are there. No one even sees to know what public health is. It’s as if the PH army is made up of ghosts. They need everyone’s help to make the final push. Polio is SO close to being wiped off the earth forever, but now it’s making a comeback. Public health hears the mother’s cries when their child succumbs to a disease that could have been prevented by a simple vaccine or use of mosquito nets. They stand at the back of the funerals for the buddy who died in a motorcycle accident because he wasn’t wearing a helmet; the promising young man gunned down in inner city violence. They stand in the hospital room of the woman dying from cancer—what more could they have done to help her detect her cancer early and thereby increase her chances for survival? They walk behind the children who live in cities with no access to fresh food, whose parents shop at convenience stores and bring home fast food because it costs too much money and time to take a train and two buses to get to a grocery store.
Public Health is fighting as hard as they can with the money, resources and people they have. They have some of the world’s smartest minds at the helm. But then can’t do it alone. They need someone—a hero! Yeah, a hero! to spread the word and help folks understand why these things are important and why it’s important not just for you but for everyone.
Every day, one member of the public health army -Polly Public- is out there with the sick and suffering. She loves science. She cares deeply, deeply about people. When she was in college, she was pre-med. She even passed organic chemistry—but she felt doctors only tried to help people when they were sick–when it was too late! She wanted to help people stay healthy. She wanted to keep people from getting sick and keep them safe.
But one day, at public health headquarters located on a hill in the southeastern US (also known as the Ivory Tower), the public health council met. Members came from far and wide- small towns, big cities, Indian tribes, non-profit groups, scientists. They realized it was time to stop playing nice and bring out the big guns to put these menaces to health and quality of life to rest for good. They had a message for Polly:
Because of this, Polly was scared- could she do this? She wasn’t an expert. She wasn’t the best or the most experienced. She doubted herself for a moment.
But she wouldn’t be alone. She would have her magical Chevy volt (the Nissan Leaf’s range was too short) that never ran out of gas and the spirit of all those who came before her – Florence Nightingale, John Snow, Jonas Salk, etc. the other nameless soldier fighting for the public’s health.
She encounters pitfalls along the way—people don’t care, they slam the door in her face, a coke delivery truck tries to run her down, hippie moms throw stuff at her. The science doesn’t convince some people- they already have an idea in their heads. They are too busy. They question why they should care for their “community” when they are busy enough just keeping their head above water. She wonders if she can ever get through to people. She returns to her mentor at headquarters, who counsels her on courage and persistence. That she cannot do everything but she can do something.
She is resilient. She appeals to people’s hearts and breaks down the icy exteriors of people who say they are too busy to care. Helps them to see that while they can’t do everything, they can do something. A few people begin to follow her and spread the word.
Until finally even more join her! Others join her on the way- the moms, the brothers, the kids, the teachers, the school nurses. Now Polly isn’t just one, she is many. She is millions. Polly is on the city bus, on the bike trails. She is at schools. At work. In the mines below the ground in West Virginia. We have all become Polly.
And ever since then, people begin to practice public health- in their own lives. They try their best toe at healthier. They get vaccinated. They don’t drink and drive. They wear helmets, put their kids in proper car seats. They wear protection when they are getting busy. And slowly, bit by bit the world becomes a better place: