Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life

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Donna Smith

Donna Smith, American SiCKO, is executive director of the Health Care for All Colorado Foundation

July 7th, 2010 4:44 PM

What We Make Our Sisters Do for Healthcare

Sisters, we are allowing great pain and suffering. Sisters, we are doing more than allowing great pain and suffering, we are participating in it. All around us, our moms, our daughters, our cousins, our neighbors, our co-workers, our friends and, yes, our sisters are fighting in quiet desperation against a system so full of greed and corruption that we work to feed the beast stalking us for its next meal.

As I write this, I can almost hear the complaints from those who believe they are not at fault simply because they support a change to the political system or the healthcare system in this nation. We seem to have become a nation of people who confuse concern about an issue with protecting one another – we confuse words with actions. And we teach the lessons to our children over and over again: Actions speak louder than words, as my mom used to say.

A woman I know – an insured woman – was diagnosed with breast cancer about six months ago. She had a double, radical mastectomy on a Tuesday and was back to work the next Monday. Her cancer, they found, had already spread to lymph nodes throughout her body. So, every Thursday for the next year, she will get her dose of chemo, and she’ll wait for the devastating sickness to subside soon enough for her to return to work the following Monday. She commutes a long distance every day so she can keep the insurance through her job that allows her to have the chemo and any chance at beating her cancer. Four days sick, three days to work. Every single week. She never mentions the cancer. We cannot speak of it. It might upset her husband and children. She must simply work to pay the piper.

It is brutal. It is awful. This woman’s husband owns his own small business and does not carry his own insurance; the whole family must rely on the mom with cancer to gut it out – even until she can do no more – to protect everyone. I hear the stories over and over again. Stiff upper lip and lesson to the kids? Work. Buy insurance. Get cancer. Keep working. Keep buying insurance. Get chemo. Feel awful. Snap out of it. Pour yourself in the car. Drive to work. Suck it up. Work. Work. Work.

There is no compassion and no respite for this woman or thousands and thousands of our sisters in similar situations. We work. Especially when people we love rely on us, we work and we keep going even when it is close to impossible. It is a uniquely American sort of abuse and misuse of women. It’s a sort of secret sorority into which we are inducted through the example of the tough women around us and from which we can almost never extricate ourselves. Show one sign of weakness at work or grumble at home, and you will be labeled as a loser.

Yet, did any of the women in our government or any of the women in positions of influence and power who had the chance to fight for women such as these do so during the last round of healthcare debates? No, they did not. And did any of the women loudly supporting the for-profit, private insurance product bailout bill sold as health reform really care to break up the brutal game injuring so many of their sisters around the nation. No, they did not. In fact, some of those who went to work every day for the powerful folks who will benefit from this most recent bail-out bill did so while gutting it through situations similar to the woman I know.

We live with a healthcare system that is largely selfish, greed-driven, money-hungry and brutal to almost every person with an illness – unless that person has care secured a way to survive and afford care while someone else close to them works or unless they have access to care through Medicare, Medicaid, the IHS or the VA. And even in some of those settings, providers are very hard to find and some care little about the wellness of the patient and a lot about the healthy profits.

Check out the status of most insured Americans’ health and you’ll find some shocking, but predictable realities. Teeth get pulled not fixed. People take OTC meds to avoid the healthcare system and its costs. Symptoms needing attention are ignored until the symptoms become insistent. Parents find ways to get kids to care whenever they care, but many still go without basic services.

And nothing we did in the current Congressional cycle changes up the reality for most of us beyond forcing us to purchase the defective product that leaves so many women driving to work through the pain, through the nausea and through the fear of an illness because we’ve offered no other options besides pumping up the profits instead of throwing out the abusers.

People are tired of talking about it right now. They want to move on to the war or the oil spill or the unemployment rate or the green jobs issue or poverty or any other of the many problems we have to face together. But it seems to me that the poor example we just set when it comes to healthcare reform effort would lead one to know our ability to protect and defend much of anything is suspect. If we are not our sister’s keepers, then who are we?

Moms. Wives. Sisters. Friends. Companions. Neighbors. Do we care how awful the struggle? Enough to act on their behalf? Or do we simply care enough to give of a few hours a day to hear ourselves talk about our own brilliance in terms of policy and politics? When will our sister’s pain be enough to motivate us to contact someone in her community to challenge a doctor, a provider or two, a neighborhood and a community to care for her and embrace her family so she does not have to struggle so? When will we advocate for others enough to truly help them through and make the common struggle so commonly owned that the solutions will have to be commonly embraced and won together? Or are we so selfish that isn’t even possible?

Help a sister today. Lift her load today. Make another person accountable today. Make yourself accountable to lift the burdens of someone who is hurting. Maybe a transformation of this sort can also leaven the rising of greater humanity within our society so that the next time we cry, “Everybody in, nobody out,” the response from within our communities will be a resounding, “Of course.”

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