Monday, September 28, 2009

One More Real Person

I have one more story about a real person and health care. This one had medical insurance when he needed it. But, because he is my son, I've spent no small amount of time wondering...

What if?

He is 22-years old, 30 hours from a BA in English, healthy... and a working musician. He plays in a band of notable fame in its genre, and he really does receive some noticeable money doing it.

But the pay is not steady. And there are no benefits beyond expense-paid trips to Europe, venues that provide gourmet food and free beers, and rooms full of wildly happy fans.

Yes, he's living the dream.

But, if his parents couldn't afford to fund a private health insurance policy for him, he might be living that dream with one less foot. Or one less leg. Or - if you'll allow me a dramatic mother moment - not living at all.

On a Sunday evening last February, he returned to his apartment after work, kicked his shoes off at the door, greeted friends who were gathered for dinner, and hurried down the carpeted hallway to his bedroom to change clothes. Before he reached the bedroom door, his bare foot found a two-inch long sewing needle. The force of his step drove the needle completely into the arch of his foot. You could see where it was only because the very end of the needle was trying to push through the skin of the bottom of his foot...from the inside.

The group gathered sprang into action. Tweezers, razor blades, and pain pills were pondered. My son's roommate thought she could pull the needle out if she could slice through the skin where the thing was trying to protrude.

Thankfully, before any field surgery was performed, someone asked my son if he had health insurance. When he said yes, everyone breathed a sigh of relief and agreed, "Time to go to the hospital."

An x-ray showed the needle was lodged in one of the peroneal tendons. Ouch.

Oh, and the needle was broken.

ER nurses hooked my son up to IV antibiotic and gave him a tetanus shot before the doctor came in to perform some emergency room surgery: Novocain, incision, tweezers, stitches, bandage - $4,000.

My son could not have paid that bill. Nor could he have paid the bill that might have resulted from his not seeking immediate medical attention. If that relatively minor emergency had gone very far into infection, it is likely that we would not have been able to afford the consequences, either.

According to the American Journal of Medicine, 62-percent of all bankruptcies in this country are the sad result of medical debts. Most of these debtors are well-educated, own homes, and have middle class occupations. They are people accustomed to paying their way and they intend to do all they can to pay their way through a medical crisis.

But, really...who can do that without health insurance?

People you know are neglecting medical problems because they think they cannot afford to pay the bill. I guarantee it. Some of them will get very sick before they see a doctor, which likely means they will have to see a doctor in an emergency room.

Some of them will die.

This is not an Obama issue. It is not a democrats-in-charge issue. It is a national crisis.

We are the only industrialized nation in the world without publicly financed health insurance. The fight against cash-coated insurance lobbies for the right to accessible medical care is as old as I am. Read this article at the Physicians for National Healthcare site.

It was posted FIVE YEARS AGO:

Break the Insurance Lobby Choke-hold on Health Care

Real people. A very real issue. Just so you know. Peace.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

365 Days

By the time Julie Powell of Julie and Julia fame landed on the first anniversary of the start of her blog, she had 403 regular readers and a book deal. She had also cooked through Julia Childs' Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Impressive. I began this blog last year on September 23, motivated by an urge to write and a passion to participate in the campaign to elect Barack Obama. 41 days later, the election was won. Also impressive, America. I kept writing. I am now 168 posts into this blogging thing. Thinking in Peaces has one anonymous "follower" and five regular readers who signed up to receive email copies of each post (up from three when I began!). Google Analytics - added here a couple of months ago just to make me feel better - shows readership is growing ever-so-slightly, with over 200 readers and an average of 500-600 site visits a month. Still...I'm a long way from setting the world ablaze. I am opening my own eyes a little wider to the world every day. I rarely read a piece of news that I let go of without reminding myself there are people just like me affected by the stories, whether it be a war or a water shortage, the death of a baby or the birth of a movement. Every other day or so, I put my thoughts about that here. Thank you for indulging me with your reading. A writer receives no greater compliment than the time given by a reader to share the experience. When I began here, I told friends the blogging was simply an exercise - a writer's warm up. As I review the year I see it was more like a wake up than a warm up - a wake up to the truth that I am one tiny voice in the great wide open....and that I matter. As do you, my friends. Let there be peace on earth. Let it begin with us...thinking together. Hmmmm. Peace.

Monday, September 21, 2009

It Snows...

That's something I know about Afghanistan. And they have kite flying contests. I confess, most of what I actually think I know about real people living in Afghanistan I learned in Khaled Hosseini's book released in 2003 - The Kite Runner. Since most of the book actually takes place in California, I guess I'm about as far from an expert on the subject of Afghanistan's people and culture as a thinking person could be. I've tried to catch up today. In the spirit of peace. Because it is the International Day of Peace. Here's some of what I've learned: 33-million people live in Afghanistan - in a landlocked country of 250,000 square miles, which is divided into 34 provinces. The people are, for the most part, of Iranian descent. 24% of them are urban dwellers. 28% of them can read and write. 66% of them live on less than $2 a day. 99% of them are Muslim. Men spend, on average, 11 years in school. Women spend, on average, 4 years in school. The place is beautiful. And, the people are beautiful. Over the past century, these people have been governed by nearly every system of government imaginable, including: a monarchy, a republic, a theocracy, and a communist state. A democracy, apparently rife with corruption, is now the official system of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. The United States military helped that one come into being when it overthrew the Taliban run system in 2001. This democracy is what the insurgents in Afghanistan are currently fighting. They are understandably unhappy with things because the government has yet to deliver on promises to protect, defend, or provide basic human services to the people of Afghanistan. Our military is still there, trying to help the government (GIRoA) resist the insurgent groups. There are, officially, three distinct and independent insurgent operations on the ground waging a mostly silent war of fear, intimidation, and persuasion among the Afghan people. This makes a Taliban shadow government possible. And this is why US involvement in Afghanistan continues to be of interest... Today, The Washington Post released an unclassified, partially redacted, 66-page pdf copy of General Stanley McChrystal's assessment of our war in Afghanistan. I have read the document this afternoon. I encourage you, in the interest of peace, to do the same. Here are a few of General McChrystal's observations:
Better force protection may be counterintuitive; it might come from less armor and less distance from the population. A foreign army cannot beat an insurgency. The insurgency in Afghanistan requires an Afghan solution. Conventional wisdom is not sacred. Security may not come from the barrel of a gun. International forces must redouble efforts to understand the social and political dynamics of all areas and regions of the country and take action that meets the needs of the people. We must change our operational culture - focus on protecting Afghan people - understand their environment, build relationships with them.
US troops have been in Afghanistan for almost 8 years. 837 Americans have died in the war. An estimated 3,000-12,000 Afghan civilians have been killed. We have not learned the people's language. We have not learned their customs. We have not penetrated their tribal mindset. We have not adequately fed their hungry. We have not given them shelter from their enemies. Instead, it seems, we have protected our own forces. In the process of doing that, we've killed some fathers and brothers and sisters and mothers of Afghanistan.
We must put the Afghan people first. The insurgency can lose fighters and leaders...but, it cannot lose control of the population. - General McChrystal
I hear it began snowing today in Colorado. I wonder when the hard winter begins in Afghanistan? May we be people who seek peace and pursue it.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Another Real Person

Meet Gaby Duffy. She's the smiling face on the left. I met Gaby in the summer of 2004, when she joined our annual week-long family vacation party at Lake LBJ. She came with her best friend (pictured with her above), brought along her ever-present camera, and left a trail of sparkly fun in her path. We introduced her to real barbecue, boat dock fishing, and magnificent sunsets. Gaby saw her last sunset on May 9 of this year. She died in an Ottawa, IL hospital, where she'd taken herself after several days of high fever that she had tried to beat without the doctors she could not afford. Gaby had no health insurance. By the time she got to the Ottawa Regional Hospital and Healthcare Center on May 7, she had already lost the time needed to diagnosis and treat the fever. Tests were run, to no good conclusion...and on Saturday evening, after a good visit with her best friend, Gaby suffered an acute symptomatic seizure, and died. She was 25. Gaby Duffy was a college graduate with a BFA in photography from Columbia College in Chicago. She was scheduled to begin school in September in New York, working toward a PhD in Art History. She was an extraordinary photographer, the oldest of four daughters, a mentor to at-risk teenagers, and the kind of friend who brought life to the party. She just happened to find herself between opportunities for group health insurance. She was one of 45,000 Americans who die every year because they don't have insurance. That's one death every 12 minutes. But Gaby is not a statistic to me. She is a real person. Her death was shocking. It was tragic. It was absolutely unnecessary. Just so you know. Peace.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Real People

For those of us who live in a world of accessible health care, the phrase "30-million uninsured Americans" does not really compute. It's fairly easy to assign that statistic to the same space in the brain that holds the amount of the federal deficit, the number of Iraq war casualties, or the current lotto jackpot award. If we think about it much at all, it's usually to say to ourselves: "Haven't we been lucky?" Unless we actually know an uninsured American. I have known, and do know, several. I run in a particularly well-funded crowd...but, guess what? Even hard-working, money-in-the-bank people sometimes find themselves in an unfunded health care crisis. My father was one of those. He worked hard his entire life - blazing new trails in the banking industry, providing for a family of five women, rising to the top of the pile in his field of expertise. Then, in his 50s, he found himself with a comfortable life, a solid bank account, and a dusted off resume. The company he'd founded was sold and merged and morphed - and he was looking for a job. He also had a pre-existing condition. He'd had his first heart attack at 53. At 58, he died in a Houston hospital after 10 days in cardiac ICU. He had no health insurance. While the tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills left after his early death did not bankrupt my mother, they did make us all grateful for life insurance.'s not really the bill-paying that haunts the memory. It's the knowing that someone I loved did not seek medical attention as early as he should have because he knew the bill would be high and there would be no resource to cover the cost other than his savings account. The savings account was supposed to fund his retirement, not his hospitalization. My father died before he could retire. Today is Dad's birthday. He would have been...perhaps could have been 78. My father was not a number...he was a real person. There are at least 30,000,000 just like him in America today. Just so you know. Peace.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Fighting Weariness

About a year ago, a good friend unintentionally lit a roaring fire beneath my political leanings with this comment: "I like Barack Obama, but I don't believe this country will elect a black president." Before the month was out I was deputized to register new voters, had attended an all-day Saturday volunteer training, and was signing up for door-to-door work in a nearby swing state to spread the good words of "hope" and "change" in America. I also began this blog. There were days along the way - many of them - when I thought I could not bear the words of one more pundit, the numbers from one more poll, or the cheers heard at one more rally featuring the folksy misstatements of Sarah Palin. I am fighting that weariness again. The campaign, this time, is for health care reform. I intend to be tireless on the subject. I plan to remain accurately informed on proposals my elected representatives are considering. I resolve to resist the call of the careless who want me to fear change. I stand by the words "yes we can" - which last year included a bold and well articulated plan for an accessible health care system. Yes we can. Yes we should. Yes we will.
"We provide world-class health care to a certain segment of our population who has insurance and at the same time we make other people go through bankruptcy to get the care they need." - Roy Farrell, MD, past-president of Physicians for Social Responsibility
"We are the only nation on earth that barters human life for money.” - Geri Jenkins, RN, co-president of America’s largest nurses’ union, the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee
"Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." - Apostle Paul in his letter to the people of Galatia

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

For the Love of Strawberries

My husband and I lived in northern California for two years back in the 80s. I have wondered this week, as we've traveled the magnificent coastal highway in this state, how we managed to miss the soul of the place back then. Was it us, or was it California?
Admittedly, life for us in the 80s was urban-focused. We had a weekend "Texas friend tour" down cold that included Ghirardelli Square, Pier 39, the Golden Gate bridge, Napa Valley, and our favorite little Chinese restaurant at the southern edge of the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco. If you had an extra day, we could take you to Pebble Beach and Hearst Castle and deliver a very showy piece of the famous Highway 1 in the process. The culinary slice of the tour included the introduction of artichokes (still 10 for $1 this week), white clam chowder in sourdough bowls, red wine with corks in the bottles, and authentic dim sum.
What we missed back then were the working neighborhoods. We knew our produce was fresh and cheap and grown in the state, but - just like home - we never actually saw the evidence. This week, we caught a glimpse.
I must tell you, the sight of ripe strawberries growing on the ground as far as the eye can see is breathtaking. Strawberries...and strawberry stands...mile after beautiful mile.
Pacific ocean on one side of the road, strawberries ripening on the stem on the other. This surely was heaven, not just California.
But guess what? Strawberries don't jump off the plants and into those nice little green pint boxes. They have to be picked. And if you know a strawberry plant, you know a machine could not possibly do the job without ruining the fruit.
So guess what else we saw? Mile after mile of migrant, women, and children...bent over picking strawberries.
I do not assume to know the nationality or the documentation qualification of any of the workers I saw hunched over strawberry plants this week. But I can tell you I wanted to stop the car and apologize to each one of them.
To each who may have cowered in the back of a truck to find the opportunity to pick a berry in the land of the free...
To each who may have left children or aging parents or spouses to travel the California coast following the harvest season for nearly every "grown in the USA" plant I put on my table...
To each who pulls a family from town to town just to do the work many of us never stop to think even exists...
I wanted to say I'm sorry.
I'm sorry if you have felt unwelcome or "alien" in my country...
I'm sorry for the sacrifices you have made in unseen places so I could eat without thinking...
I'm sorry for a lifetime of strawberry consumption with no thanksgiving for the picker...
I never will do it again.
- From the soul of the country's garden...

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Traveling Together

My dream trip is a surprise ticket to an exotic location - no time to pack luggage - buy what you need when you arrive, stay in luxurious accommodations, eat with locals, watch the sunset, forget what time it is. My husband's dream trip involves trailer hitches, tents, 4 weeks of packing preparation, day after day in the car on winding, scenic routes, and no real concern about what to eat or where to stay. We are currently on my husband's dream trip. We left Austin a week ago, headed west. We won't be home for another week. To be fair - it is his birthday this month. The trip was my idea of a fun way to combine business with pleasure and celebrate him in a way that makes him happy. But you can see the potential for stress, I'm sure. I doubt we could be more ideologically opposed when it comes to traveling...or toothpaste squeezing...or toilet paper hanging...or the defining of a full and meaningful conversation. But we're in this journey together, and so sometimes we go along to get along. Are you listening my Republican friends? Let me show you what I might have missed in the last seven days if I'd decided it would be my trip or no trip...if I'd convinced myself that my husband was a misguided camping fiend who was forcing his will on me...if I'd chosen to believe anything that wasn't my idea was a bad idea.
Never mind the 600 pace, thigh burning hike straight up a mountain to get to the bathroom. Who cares about the string cheese and cold cuts dinner taken straight out of the cooler? How could it matter that I couldn't phone my children, check my email, or post to my blog? I was here...for this.
And I was ever so grateful to be in this place that I would not have come to if I'd made a plan to suit me. And so I am wondering today - is it possible to imagine a political world where we go along in the spirit of getting along? One in which we recognize the truth that there is a time for our turn, and there is a time for someone else's turn? Could we stop complaining about not getting our way long enough to admit, "Hey, this isn't as bad as I thought it would be?" I am tired of hearing the President of the United States called a Nazi. I am sickened by pictures of President Obama that have been altered to a likeness of Hitler. I am oh-so-weary of the cry of "socialism" regardless of the red-blooded, mom-and-apple-pie nature of the comments. I cannot believe I live and work and play and vote alongside people who will not let their children listen to an address the President has dedicated specifically to them. We followed your itinerary for eight years, my GOP friends. Yes, we grumbled. We dragged our feet. We whined. But last November we realized the trip that was not our own got us to scenery we never imagined we'd see.
This particular political trip is miles from finished.
Let's see where the road leads. Years from now, as we comb through the memories of these significant days...realizing the struggle to provide equal access to health care and inspiration to young Americans was a breathtaking experience...there's a chance we'll all decide it was great to have been along for the ride.
From the long and winding road...