Demystifying Medicine One Month at a Time

Tag: culture

Local Flavors

stuff of legends

Moving is never easy–especially leaving behind family, friends, and patients that you care about, and a workplace that provided opportunities to grow.

One of the more interesting aspects, though, is comparing and contrasting the old and new places.

People often stop me on the street and ask, “Hey, Glass–how do you like Oklahoma?”

  • “Don’t you miss Chicago?”
  • “Are there any differences between the two?”
  • “What about the health care?”

Politics aside, three things are starkly different about life in Oklahoma vs. life in Chicago.

For me, the big three are

  1. Oil
  2. Native Americans
  3. Meth

These three cultural/social/economic touchstones are woven through the fabric of everyday life here, “where the Midwest, South, and Southwest collide.”

I knew (and still know, though my learning curve is steep) nothing about oil beyond liberal pieties on fossil fuels, OPEC, and global warming. Oklahoma (and much of the continental U.S.) is felt to be newly awash in petroleum reserves due to the technological advances in drilling and extraction. Horizontal drilling and fracking have changed the game. Fracking is in play as a political issue (I imagine, in large part due to works like Jonathan Franzen’s “Freedom,” and controversy over whether or not it can pollute ground water and/or cause earthquakes…), and until I learn more, I will steer clear of editorial comment. For now.

Oklahoma has only been a state since 1907. Before that, it was known as Oklahoma Territory. The Trail of Tears gave multiple Native American tribes new homelands here, which are still present. Oklahoma is home to more Native Americans than any other state (Alaska has more per capita, 13% of its population). As such, they have important impact on the state’s culture, politics and economy.

Unfortunately, Oklahoma is also a leader in both production and use of methamphetamine. Stories about meth in local media tend to come in spurts, usually related to crimes or busts committed over the stuff. That and becoming addicted to the series “Breaking Bad” have raised this issue into my consciousness as a severe public health problem.

Regarding health care, know that the major reason we moved here was the challenge of working to improve the health of one of the least healthy states in the U.S. This topic is fodder for future posts, but I’ll leave you with one cultural difference:

Whereas in Chicago people in need of chronic pain medication would favor the opioid Vicodin, here people flatly refuse the stuff and instead demand Lortab.

I consider it strange since medicinally speaking, they’re exactly the same thing.

The Outsiders

One of the things that helps adapt to a new environment (read: routinely above 100 this summer) is to immerse one’s self in the culture.

Over the last week, we’ve viewed two Tulsa films; one a classic, the other, well, less so.

Ah, where have they gone?

S.E Hinton’s The Outsiders, published in 1967, is set in Tulsa. The 1983 film version directed by Francis Ford Coppola was filmed in the city and its environs. Neither the film nor the book paint the most flattering portrait of the city.

Having come from Chicago, the usual rich-poor dichotomy is inverted: here, South Tulsa is the moneyed side of things where the “Socs” (pronounced sosh, with a long o sound) live. The “Greasers” come from much grittier (and still hardscrabble) North Tulsa.

The population of North Tulsa is now mostly African-American and Latino. We’ve been told that the average life expectancy of an African-American male in North Tulsa is fourteen years less than that of the average south Tulsan.

Pretty staggering.

North Tulsans have less of everything: educational opportunities, parklands, commercial ventures, grocery stores, safety. The only thing that’s in abundance is poverty. Our medical school is working to improve access and health on the north side.

A quick web search of fan sites reveals that S.E (Susan Eloise) Hinton was born, raised, educated and still lives in Tulsa. All of her books are either set in or have some connection to the city. Her legacy in the pantheon of young adult authors is secure. Seems she’s a very private person; her website gives you just enough information to keep you wanting more.

The other film is called Leaves of Grass, starring Edward Norton and directed by Tulsan Tim Blake Nelson. Norton plays a set of identical twins, one an ivy league classics professor, the other an industrious but underachieving hydroponic marijuana grower with some big debts.

The plot is far fetched, but worth watching for a couple of reasons. Norton is great as divergent twins. It reminded me a little of his breakout performance in Primal Fear (1994), where he showed similar range between a dimwitted ‘victim’ of justice to a psychopathic cold-blooded killer. Director Nelson is great in a sidekick role to Norton’s country twin, and Richard Dreyfuss plays a compelling Jewish drug kingpin named Pug Rothbaum.

***Addendum: True fans of The Outsiders film and Tulsa cinema will remember the Admiral Twin drive-in theater. It burnt down in September 2010, but the owners have pledged to rebuild it. A recent story related that it will reopen in 2012.

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