Really, Mr Romney? Really? Uninsured Then and Now

by , posted on Sunday, October 7th, 2012 at 3:42 pm

I was eight the day I grew up. I know that’s too young, really. But life is hard, and we all have to buck up and grow up someday. It’s just that some of us have to grow up when we’re younger than others. For me it was eight. I remember the moment. At age eight I found out the world is unfair and that terribly unfair circumstances can take away your life or the life of someone you love.

It was the middle of the night and I was sitting by myself on a folding chair placed along the wall of a long dark empty hallway outside the emergency room of our small community hospital. It was 1956. My mom was inside talking to the two doctors who had been wakened in the middle of the night to come to the ER to tend to me. I could hear voices coming from inside the room, but not words. I thought I could hear my mom crying. They were talking about me.

I had a horrible stomachache from eating (I was sure) a barbecued hamburger at my friend Emily’s ninth birthday party earlier the day before. After several hours of watching me and thumping my tummy, my mom had decided I had appendicitis and needed surgery, immediately. It couldn’t wait until the morning.

By this time, the doctors had already checked me out and declared that yes, indeed it was appendicitis and that, yes, indeed, I needed surgery. Immediately.

So I wondered why did they keep my mom in that room and send me out into this crappy, dark hallway, alone and feeling really sick. Why didn’t they just take me somewhere and cut this thing out of me?

My mom emerged, shoulders slumped and wiping tears from her face. Yeah, it was her that had been crying. The doctors followed her out. Clearly they were unhappy too.

“Let’s go home, Pammie,” my mom said. My heart sank as I nearly passed out. Now I started to cry, just a little mind you. I had been really brave up to this point but I couldn’t bear the idea of this pain any longer. How could they come to this decision when the doctors had been so clear I needed surgery immediately?

Both doctors now turned to me—the youngest and littlest among the four of us standing in that dark, empty, sad, hospital hallway. I believe one of them touched my shoulder—just to help me balance you know—as the two doctors and my mom now looked down at me.

“If anything changes with your pain Pammie, you must let your mom know. Do you understand?” the first doctor said. “Right away. You understand, don’t you Pammie?” asked the doctor who had his hand on my shoulder.

All I could do was nod that I understood. I stopped my tears. The doctors appeared satisfied that I understood their words. My mom took my hand and we slowly inched our way down that long corridor out of the hospital and into our car for what was to be a very difficult drive home.

Mom and I said nothing to each other as she started the drive home. I finally broke the silence, “Why can’t they take out my appendix?”

“Because, Pammie, it takes money we don’t have,” she said with just a hint of sharpness. “And we don’t have insurance either.”

Okay, I thought to myself, now I get it. Hospitals and doctors don’t help people who need help unless they have money to pay. Even if it’s an emergency.

I knew we were short of money. We owned our own house and car, but we didn’t have much else. I had heard talks between my parents about how paying for one thing or the other was going to “drive us to the poorhouse.” I knew my mom was worried about losing our house. My dad worked hard every day, but he wasn’t paid much. That I knew too. I knew my parents were doing the best they could.

My dad was a hard working responsible World War Two Navy veteran. He just didn’t make much money because he wasn’t able to go beyond being a laborer. He was a Norwegian immigrant who came to this country to build a better life. His command of the English language had prevented him from entering college but not from enlisting in the Navy and sailing in the Pacific with Japanese planes flying overhead. And besides, shouldn’t laborers have decent pay and insurance? I didn’t understand any of this. Because really, it doesn’t make any sense.

“What’s insurance?” I finally asked. That’s when I learned that insurance pays for medical bills, but that we didn’t have it. You see, my dad’s company would lay him off when they were low on work. And when they laid him off, he would lose our insurance too. So not only was dad between jobs, we were “between insurance” coverage too.

But this is not what made the drive home difficult. What was difficult was the awareness that my mom had made the decision to take me home and gamble that I would make it through the night without dying of appendicitis. Her tears in the ER with those doctors were from facing that terrible decision. Does she gamble my life? Or does she get the surgery for me and lose the house? With four other children needing a roof over their heads? Surely she had been told she would be expected to pay, by hook or by crook. But probably by foreclosure.

I was silent the rest of the drive home. So was she.

My dad carried me into the house from the car and put me to bed. I could hear my parents talking and I understood more about the issue of no insurance and losing our house to medical bills.

Well, that night, my pain did get worse. I really didn’t think it could. But it did. I began to get delirious with pain and called my mom to tell her I was worse. She came to my side, touching my shoulder, “Pammie, tell me. Is your pain worse?” I could hear the desperation in her voice. I pictured our family living in the village dump. It was a dump just like Red Skelton’s when he played the bum on his television show. I could see the sign above our heads “Johansen’s Poorhouse.”

“No, mom,” I said. “I’m not worse.” And then I closed my eyes, fully expecting to die that night.

I woke up the next morning and my pain had lessened. To my own surprise, I had survived.

One might think this couldn’t happen today. But it can. It has. And it does. Oh, I don’t know if moms actually risk their kids’ lives—but I can believe some of them may. I have heard they have. I do know the biggest reason for filling bankruptcy is a medical crisis. And I do know hospitals are financially stressed trying to cover uninsured patients.

So when Romney says we have medical care at emergency rooms he is beyond out of touch. He is fostering a cruel lie. He and Ryan and the rest of the Republicans have no plan except to put insurance companies in charge of milking us for even more profit for executives and investors. This is not just a Romney/Ryan issue—the entire Republican Party owns this one.

As a country we cannot turn our back on people in medical crisis. We cannot blame them for misfortune. And we cannot turn our backs on the hospitals and medical professionals charged with providing care. Even though this is clearly a moral issue, this is also an economic issue. Physicians are working longer hours while their income is dropping. Hospitals are being financially squeezed. Some are closing. Families are declaring bankruptcy from medical crisis. And yes, people do die from lack of insurance and medical care.

It comes down to Romney’s talk at his fundraiser filmed discretely in Florida. “…forty-seven percent of the people feel they are ENTITLED (his emphasis) to medical care and food….”

Really, Mr. Romney? The greatest country in the world can’t provide a solution to our medical crisis? We can let hospitals struggle with mounting expenses from uninsured patients? We can let people die from lack of medical care? All so insurance companies, their executives, investors, and politicians feeding at the trough can survive with a few more dollars than the rest of us?

Really, Mr. Romney? Really?


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