02.28.17 Fall on your knees and be grateful to your corporate overlords. And experimental doctors

Earlier today, I saw a post that reminded us what the U.S. was like before the Environmental Protection Agency existed. Suffice it to say: Just check out pictures of Beijing and get back to me.

Then I saw this awesome post by my fellow writer Lisa Cohen, who knows more than a thing or two about the medical community, in which she outlined exactly why health care is super-complicated (as P45 apparently only recently discovered) and why it is so necessary.

So I decided to combine both ideas.

There are a ton of posts out there written well and informatively about what it’s like without health insurance. Here’s mine.

When I was in 8th grade, my father was diagnosed with leukemia. He was between jobs when he got diagnosed.

To say this had an impact on our family is both a gross over and under-statement. I was barely a teenager; I hardly knew what it meant other than that we went to the hospital a lot and things were very, very tense. But the not having health insurance was something that filtered down even to me.

I knew that finances became extremely precarious, almost as much so as dad’s health. It became robustly clear to me in a short period of time that if you didn’t work, you couldn’t have health insurance. If you didn’t have health insurance at the very second that you got sick, you were basically screwed. And if you were the sort of belligerent employee who bounced between jobs about every year or two, your odds of being both uninsured and sick were pretty high.

Dad hit the roulette wheel on both.

I was too young to know all the details at the time. I do recall that we had to take a second mortgage on the home. I do recall that because he couldn’t be admitted at many hospitals due to his uninsured status, he had to sign on with experimental treatments at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore – and I do remember how we were incredibly fucking grateful that he was taken on there.

Imagine a moment when a member of your family becomes a guinea pig, and imagine in that same moment that you are thankful for it.

So that’s your world without health care. A world in which you rely on the kindness of strangers and a world where you offer up your body to see what science is playing around with.

We journeyed every Sunday up to Baltimore – an hour each way – to sit around at Johns Hopkins Hospital for several hours with him. The rest of the week, he was on his own. So there’s another level of hell for you: You’re sick with a disease that will probably kill you; you’re undergoing experimental treatments; and your family is only able to see you once a week for a few hours at a time due to distance.

Still, let’s give Johns Hopkins their due: Dad went into remission. And let’s give Safeway it’s due: Dad was a pharmacist and they actually hired him on knowing his condition and gave him health insurance anyway. I am still not sure how that works, exactly – but he did get some kind of coverage once he was hired.

Fall on your knees and be grateful to your corporate overlords. And the experimental doctors. For only they will save you, and it’s gonna cost.

The remission did not last, but it gave him about another five years. There is no way we can ever know how things would be different if our last hope had not come along and taken him in. We can’t know what it would have been like after he went back to the workforce if he had not gotten some kind of coverage.

What I do know is this: it left me with a lifelong horror of not having medical insurance.

And yet, there I was, a college graduate. Outside my mom’s plan. On my own and pulling temp jobs in the big city. Working, but not signed on for health insurance. Who could afford it? It took me probably six years post-graduation to land a job in which health insurance was part of the package, and it was affordable to me.

Let me tell you that those six years were nervous fucking years.

I’ve had insurance ever since. I can afford to. Even as a freelancer, I was able to sign up with the Freelancer’s Union plan. But what has remained is the terrifying feeling of always having to cobble together basic coverage for basic health protection which really should be a basic human right.

So you don’t have to like the ACA. You don’t have to like that you’re perfectly healthy and why should you fork over money for the sick. But it’s like a lot of things we share in this society – streets, water, air, schools: they only work because everybody participates. It’s called community. It should be synonymous with being called American.

Anyone who tells you otherwise is a liar. And anyone who thought universal health care was an easy thing to put in place doesn’t deserve to be in charge of a men’s bathroom, much less the entire country.



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  1. J.H. Moncrieff on 3/01/17 at 3:59 pm

    So sorry to hear about your dad. That’s a lovely photo of your parents.

    I’ve always found the American health care system terrifying. No one should receive a bill for hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars just because they got sick. As far as I could see, the ACA was a bright light in what has long been a very dark tunnel. It appears the current administration is fully committed to destroy any progress made in the last 100 years rather than add something progressive of their own.

    Scary times, indeed.

    • Randee on 3/01/17 at 7:41 pm

      Indeed. Thanks for your kind thoughts. My brother has now commented on Facebook and noted the bills came to something like $1M.