Monday, August 15, 2011

The Hunger Games

Hunger Games, a YA novel by Suzanne Collins, keeps reader's reading like video games keep players playing, according to reviewer Steven King on That doesn't mean there are not provocative complex themes. In fact, according to the jacket back flap, author Suzanne Collins "explores the effects of war and violence on those coming of age."

The uses of medical technology in this novel peaked my interest. In this post-apocalypic world, the purpose of advanced medical technology is not towards the improvement of the health of the citizens of Panem, a nation that rose from "the ashes of a place that was once called North America." Advanced medical technology serves perpetual war and the State of Panem.

In the beginning of the book, it appeared there was no health care at all, that the entire system had been abolished. Katniss, the protagonist, lives in District 12 where "almost no one can afford doctors" and "apothecaries are our healers." Except for the chosen few, citizens live in perpetual starvation, and find food and other bare essentials through a black market economy.

Once we understand what everyday life is like, The Hunger Games, in other words, post-apocalyptic war-entertainment, begins. The fighting and killing is followed closely on television screens, like a sinister NFL game, where young people fight to the death. This is creepy and reminiscent to me of several years ago, in real life, when the faces of bad guys slated to be killed in Iraq, appeared on playing cards: war morphed into a game.

As I followed the Hunger Games War, I was under the impression that what we might call health care had been destroyed. But at the end it turned out there is a sophisticated medical system with gleaming ORs. After Peeta, a survivor like Katniss, is injured, Katniss tells us, "Through the glass, I see the doctors working feverishly on Peeta, their brows creased in concentration. I see the flow of liquids, pumping through the tubes, watch the wall of dials and lights that mean nothing to me. I'm not sure, but I think his heart stops twice."

The appearance of the OR in this novel made me wonder, who or what does this post-apocalyptic health care system serve? It serves to make those like Peeta and Katniss, survivors of terrible violence, just like new, and mask the war injuries, make it entertainment, so The Hunger Games can be perpetuated every year. Katniss and Peeta, in spite of severe injury, are all fixed up, like new, in the end.

The novel made me ponder the tremendous creativity and expense invested in waging war today and healing those unfortunate enough to be severely injured today. Of course it's necessary for the government to try to undo such injury, but, unlike the characters in this novel, the injured are never the same. I've heard that limbs that function even better than real ones have been devised. The most high-tech ones never age because they can be upgraded, though I doubt soldiers would prefer them to their own aging-prone limbs, if they had a choice.

And like this futuristic novel, today there are pockets of Americans with little food or health care, almost like the average citizens of Panem. I would not say we live in a world like Panem. But novels like The Hunger Games, like the novel 1984 by George Orwell, make us think about our future and how we envision the mission of our hospitals and health care professions.

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