The following is an article that will run in the local paper this week. The first four paragraphs are from the editor, and constitute a political statement. The rest is from me, and is a personal account of the loss of a friend.
During a interview on October 10, 2012, with the Columbus Dispatch, the former Massachusetts governor said he would give people a window of time to make a “choice” to buy insurance — even if they had pre-existing conditions.
And for those who didn’t make the “choice” to pay for coverage and got sick anyway, “Romney minimized the harm,” according to the paper.
“We don’t have a setting across this country where if you don’t have insurance, we just say to you, ‘Tough luck, you’re going to die when you have your heart attack,’” he explained. “No, you go to the hospital, you get treated, you get care, and it’s paid for, either by charity, the government or by the hospital.”
“We don’t have people that become ill, who die in their apartment because they don’t have insurance.”
She was a good daughter. And a good mother. There were those years when things were really tough. When her husband deserted her and her children. When she had to quit school and get a minimum wage job to support her family. When the economy tanked and they had to move in with her dad because she’d been laid off.
It’s hard to find work without a good education. Especially when things are tough even for those with college degrees. But she never gave up.
She wasn’t perfect. There were those times when she needed a break, when she was so depressed she didn’t want to get out of bed. Those times were short lived. Her dad had worked his whole life, feel good or not. Sick or not. He’d taught her and her siblings to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get on with it. She wouldn’t find sympathy just because she’d had to quit school. Raising kids without their dad. Laid off because business was slow.
So after the kids were on the school bus, and the kitchen straightened, off she went. Putting in applications. Smiling. Hoping. Finally, she found work, as a housekeeper at a hospital. Not just any hospital either. The best hospital in Kansas City, one of the best in America. Her smile was so big when she got home with the good news.
A few months later she bought a used car, and shortly after that, rented an apartment. Things had to get back to normal now. The raise she received with her six month review wasn’t much, but she was proud of it. Ten months and she’d never missed a day of work. Two more months and she would qualify for a retirement package, health insurance for her family, vacation. She’d never gone on vacation, never had a job with benefits.
Then one morning she woke up with an upset stomach and a fever. A couple of aspirin and she was off. Had to work. No personal time or sick leave. Not yet. But someday soon. Just keep mopping those floors, scrubbing those toilets. Just keep going. That’s what she’d been taught and that’s what she did.
A week passed with no change. The fever refused to leave and the upset stomach became vomiting. She was achy, weak and fatigued. Just the flu. Everyone goes through it. She asked one of the other housekeepers to change days off for just this one week, so she could get herself well. A couple of days off. Some over-the-counter meds, and she’d be fine.
When she returned to work, she was still sick. She wanted to talk to her boss, to be moved to an area where she wouldn’t be around patients, but she was afraid. Losing the job was not an option. So, she grabbed a surgical mask, and gloves, and tried to fade into the woodwork.
Another week passed. Her stomach was better, but her body ached, especially her back. Then one day her boss was walking down the hall and their gazes met. That look on the woman’s face. She would never forget that.
“Are you okay, Darlene?”
“Yes, ma’am,” she responded.
“You’re looking a little…yellow.”
“No. You’re not. I think you need to go home. You can return when you have a doctor’s note saying you can work.”
“Have you seen a doctor?”
“No, ma’am. I’m just a little tired. I’m fine though.”
“Put your cart away. Go see a doctor.”
And that was that. What could she say? No insurance. No money. No doctor. It was a simple equation. Well, if she wanted to keep her job, she would have to come up with the money, somehow. The auto insurance was due. She could use that money for a doctor’s appointment. Then she could go back to work and pay the auto insurance out of the next check. When she got home, she looked carefully in the mirror. Make-up hid the color of her skin, but the whites of her eyes were no longer white. They were yellow.
It wasn’t easy to find a doctor who didn’t require insurance. And as it turned out, the money for the auto insurance was not enough. Dipping into gas money and food money was scary, but she had to have this job.
“How long have you been sick?” the doctor asked.
“A few weeks.”
“I’m going to order some tests,” he said as if he was talking to a rich person.
“I don’t have insurance,” she said, twisting a tissue in her fingers.
He stopped writing and stared at her as if some disgusting word had escaped from her lips.
“Darlene, you are really sick. Jaundice is a sign of liver problems. This is nothing to play around with.”
Fear had grabbed her heart and pulled it up into her throat. “Can I still go to work? My boss wants me to get a release from you, so I can work. I’ll have insurance soon. I’ve been at this job for almost a year. If I can just keep the job, I’ll be able to get the tests done then. I only came to get the release.”
“I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t order these tests.”
She waited in the lobby. Finally, the nurse came out with the work release and a handful of papers about the tests. Sitting in the driver’s seat, she looked everything over before dropping the papers in the passenger seat and hurrying back to work. The next morning she called the office where the tests were to be done to ask about fees. Payment was expected at the time of service. More than a thousand dollars.
She was a good daughter. And a good mother. Even when the weakness and fatigue became overwhelming. Even when the vomiting started again. And the pain worsened. Three weeks later she passed out in the hallway of the hospital where she’d been mopping. They put her on a gurney and rushed her to emergency. She could feel hands raising her up, could feel the gurney under her body. Her mind screamed that she had to get back to work, but she was too weak and too sick to get the words out.
“You have liver disease,” the doctor said.
“But why? I’m not a drinker.”
“You have a virus that has gone untreated for too long. The virus made your liver weak, too weak to filter properly. See, your liver is the filter for your body. Everything in your blood goes through the liver and, normally, is filtered out. But the untreated virus was too strong. The liver was attacked and damaged. These things happen. We can set you up for dialysis, but that’s only a temporary fix. You need a transplant.”
“What does that cost?”
“I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. You have to have it.”
Two more weeks and she’d qualify for medical insurance. If she could just hold on for two more weeks.
“I don’t have insurance,” she told him.
He thumbed through the chart. “Let me see what I can do.”
A few hours later, the nurse came in with a smile. “Good news. The doctor says you can go home.”
Good. I’ll go back to work, and in a couple of weeks, when I have insurance, I can see the doctor again.
The few days in the hospital had really helped. She felt stronger and more energetic. The boss was in her office when Darlene arrived.
“I’m back,” she said with a smile.
“Come on in, and sit down,” her boss said.
Let go. That’s what they call it. They had ‘let her go.’
Then came the paperwork. Applying for unemployment. Applying for Medicaid. Waiting. More papers. More waiting. Medicaid was finally approved, with a five hundred dollar per month spend down, money she would have to provide for her care before Medicaid kicked in.
Two weeks later, she died.
She was my baby girl. She was a good daughter. And a good mother. Who didn’t have medical insurance. This is a true story. I’m betting it would be accurate to say this story has been true thousands of times over. And for those of you who don’t know, transplants are elective surgeries.