Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Of Blessings and Health Care

I haven't been around much, I know, but it's not because I've stopped caring about education issues. It worse.

I rarely get personal here, but I wanted to give my readers and the friends I've made on this blog an explanation, and use this opportunity to vent. 

Someone very close to me has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Since he has no one else, I have become his primary caregiver. It's an exhausting job, and doesn't leave me much time to gripe about my own problems or the problems of our union, which seem infinitesimally small by comparison, at least at this time.

If you've ever cared for someone with terminal cancer, you know the deal. The weakness, the excruciating pain, the drugs, the sorrow, the hope, the million could-have-beens and never-will-be's. This person happens to be my brother, and his doctor has chosen, for whatever reason, not to give him the full prognosis. He's the only one who doesn't know he is dying. Just the stress of wearing a cheerful face when I know the ending of this story pains me more than I can say.

While I hope none of you know this from experience, the health care system in this city and country is an absolute mess. My brother had not been able to work for months prior to his diagnosis. He did not know he had cancer--he thought he had a pinched nerve that was causing him shooting pains. He couldn't find out because unemployment had forced him to drop his health care and he couldn't afford to go to a doctor. When the pain finally became too much, he asked me for help, and I brought him to the doctor. While there, an X-ray revealed the awful truth. 

He spent months in pain prior to getting diagnosed because he could not afford health care. Those months might have made the difference as to whether his cancer was terminal or treatable. Our non-existent health care system in this country made sure that he'd have to wait until his tumor became inoperable.

What I have discovered during this short and tumultuous journey is that the government doesn't care about you or me or anyone else. If you are unemployed or have no coverage in this country, the powers that be would just as soon let you die than give you help. I have spent countless thousands of dollars helping my brother simply survive because the government won't.

It took him two months to get on Medicaid. That's two months in addition to the two months he couldn't afford to get to a doctor. Those four months surely made a difference in his prognosis. If I and my wonderful wife had not been there to house him, feed him, and pay for his medications, he would surely be dead already.

It will take him 120 days to get on SSI, even though he will obviously never work again, and possibly not survive to see it. The government will get to keep all the money he contributed to Social Security in his lifetime. 

I shudder to think how many people in this country die a slow and painful death because they can't afford medications. Or how many others die because they become malnourished due to the paltry SNAP allowance--a pittance that the Republicans wish to take from the neediest of sick people. Or how many end up homeless because their disease keeps them from working but the government won't help them pay their rent.

It's a national disgrace.

I can't help but think how different things might have been if we'd had a single payer health system in this country. My brother would have gotten the treatment he needed when he needed it, and be well on his way to recovery rather than on the way to his demise.

All that being said, it had been heartening to see that there are some wonderful people in this world. I can't say enough about the wonderful people at God's Love We Deliver, a charity that helps those without income by bringing them meals. While I am of course helping my brother with food, he doesn't want to be a "burden", and so these amazing people bring him healthy, nutritious meals. Today, they delivered two Christmas meals. If you feel so inclined, please donate to them here. There have also been some awe-inspiring nurses and pharmacists who have helped immensely. I will be forever grateful to them for their care and humanity. 

While I hate to be schmaltsy here, I encourage all of you to think a bit harder about the special people in your life this holiday season. Cancer has smacked some perspective into me, and I am only beginning to appreciate the fragility of life and the importance of clinging to the people you love. Hug everyone just a bit harder, and think of how blessed you are.

My best to you all.