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Playwright Brings One Man Show On Healthcare To Rockford

Playwright Mike Milligan

Groups advocating for reforms in America's healthcare system are sponsoring a Rockford performance of a play about the impact of the system on doctors.

Playwright Michael Milligan has been performing his one-man drama Side Effects for three years. 

Milligan previously wrote a play called Mercy Killers about medical bankruptcy and the difficulties people encounter accessing care. He toured the show around the country - often collaborating with doctors and nurses.  

As he started to hear their perspectives about the healthcare system, he was hearing the same complaints.

"The stories that I heard were very, very compelling, and so I thought, 'Wow, this is some powerful material for dramatic representation," Milligan said.

He says it's also a topic he rarely hears talked about in public.

"The healthcare debate that we have in the country so often focuses around insurance and people lacking insurance," Milligan said. "But these stories about how our system affects the people who work within the system is a whole other side of the equation that I think people need to hear about."

Milligan says when he was in Texas, he heard a personal experience from a doctor that helped give shape to the entire play.

He says he has learned a lot through researching the play.

"I think that people will recognize a lot of the things that the doctor's describing," Milligan said.

One area that Milligan says can be the most frustrating for doctors is using electronic medical records.

"That's a really big conversation that I think includes listening to nurses and listening to doctors about what their experience is so we can, as a society, try to address the concerns and obstacles that they're experiencing," Milligan said.

Milligan has performed the work at the Mayo Clinic and in theatrical settings in Washington, D.C., New York and Chicago.

Milligan says when he first wrote the play, he was concerned how it would be received by an audience of doctors. For example, at a recent performance in Massachusetts, many in the audience were healthcare providers.

"For better and for worse, the play really seems to resonate with doctors," Milligan said. "There were a number of times at that recent performance where they broke out into spontaneous applause."

Milligan says it can be cathartic for them that someone is speaking about their experience in public.

It's also been an evolving process. Milligan says he continues to tweak his script.

"The performance on Sunday [in Rockford] will be a new creation," Milligan said. "It's going to be a blending of several different iterations, and so I'm excited to present the new piece."

He hopes it will continue to evolve.  

Milligan says, from his perspective, the system has become too complex.

"When you have hundreds of different insurance plans, that's a whole other layer of bureaucracy and paperwork that doctors and doctor's assistants and nurses have to deal with," Milligan said.

Another common problem: patients not being honest about their medications. Milligan says this can be for financial reasons, leading to rationing, or they share their drugs with somebody. He cites insulin as a growing concern. Milligan says when usage -- or lack thereof -- isn't reported to doctors, it can create challenges in determining efficacy.

Americans may have different ideas on the solutions for changing the current systems. Overall, he hopes his play will encourage conversation about the realities of the healthcare system.

"There's a real possibility to create a dialogue for change," Milligan said. "I think that when nurses and doctors recognize a situation that they're in, and come together to address these problems, there's a real potential for transformation."

The performance will take place at The Nordlof Center in Rockford this Sunday at 2 p.m. The play will be followed by a panel discussion. It includes content not suitable for children.

The performance is sponsored by:
Indivisible Freeport
HOPE in the Midwest - Health Over Profit for Everyone
Indivisible Rockford
Illinois Single Payer Coalition
PNHP Illinois (Physicians for a National Health Program)
and the League of Women Voters Rockford