Healthcare? We Do Not Care: Blood from a Turnip

Over the past two weeks, my mother had a stroke and resides now in a rehabilitation facility, and my father died sitting beside her over this weekend, after deteriorating for months because of a failing heart.

My family has been experiencing the nightmare that is the consequence of living in a nation that worships money above all else: being sick and dying in the U.S. remains a financial disaster.

We in the U.S. have purposefully and willfully monetized illness and death.

While my mother was in the hospital, she needed her IV changed, but the floor nurse on duty was having trouble with the new placement. She called in the head nurse, who asked me about the care my mother was receiving at the hospital.

I eagerly praised the nurses, doctors, and staff—all of whom had been wonderful, and it is no hyperbole, they literally saved my mother’s life.

I explained, however, that this recent experience combined with my own accident on Christmas eve had reinforced how senseless the healthcare and insurance systems in the U.S. are.

She was quick to concur, noting how often the insurance representatives dictated what doctors have traditionally decided was best for patients.

My mother’s insurance was not a provider for the hospital where they saved her life; that same insurance made placing her in a rehabilitation facility a week-long waste of time, including rejecting her being in a higher care facility recommended by the doctors.

Today, we head to the mortuary with the blunt awareness that my working class parents have only a small balance in my father’s check book—accounts we may not be able to access due to my mother’s condition—and only their insurance and Social Security to sustain them.

As millions of people have done and are doing, we are navigating how inexpensively we can bury my father while also balancing how to provide my mother the care she needs to recover her life, again as inexpensively as possible,

I am a son of the South, just as I am of my parents, and I cannot push from my mind “You can’t get blood from a turnip.”

How did we allow this? How do we sit idly by and cheer on the soulless political leadership that manufactured this disaster and works now to make it even worse?

Insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, and lawyers are feeding on us; our healthcare system is a real-life reveal like Soylent Green.

The wealthiest and most powerful country in human history could easily provide humanely for the health and death of every person who lives in the U.S. And as a people who rush to wave our flag and shout about being a Christian nation, we have the capacity to put our actions behind our words.

Other countries do because the people expect this basic human dignity.

But we do not care. We are an awful people.

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Timothy 6:10, NIV)

The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender. (Proverbs 22:7, NIV)

“Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:24, NIV)

If you are so inclined to evoke God, claim to know the wishes of God, we must admit there is no act of a god greater than the will of a people to put children, the elderly, the sick, and the dying before all else.

Instead, we have cast them all into the Terrible Churn that is our glorious Free Market.

Damning them, damning ourselves.


For Further Reading

Health Insurance Coverage and Health — What the Recent Evidence Tells Us, Benjamin D. Sommers, M.D., Ph.D.; Atul A. Gawande, M.D., M.P.H.; and Katherine Baicker, Ph.D.

Are the benefits of publicly subsidized coverage worth the cost? An analysis of mortality changes after Medicaid expansion suggests that expanding Medicaid saves lives at a societal cost of $327,000 to $867,000 per life saved.29 By comparison, other public policies that reduce mortality have been found to average $7.6 million per life saved, suggesting that expanding health insurance is a more cost-effective investment than many others we currently make in areas such as workplace safety and environmental protections. Factoring in enhanced well-being, mental health, and other outcomes would only further improve the cost–benefit ratio. But ultimately, policymakers and other stakeholders must decide how much they value these improvements in health, relative to other uses of public resources — from spending them on education and other social services to reducing taxes [emphasis added].

The Hollow Nation

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion…

“The Hollow Men,” T.S. Eliot

My name is Kathy H. I’m thirty-one years old, and I’ve been a carer now for eleven years….Carers aren’t machines.

Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

We are the hollow nation. We are the stuffed nation, “Leaning together/Headpiece filled with straw.”

It has been almost seven months since a motorist struck a pack of cyclists I was riding with on Christmas Eve 2016, injuring four of us—two seriously and permanently.

The motorist was deemed at fault on the scene, but received only a $76 ticket, less than the monthly payments I am making on my remaining medical bills since the insurance claim for the accident has yet to be settled.

My own insurance has paid much of the cost, but I am required to repay those payments once I have a settlement. The orthopedist, as well, overcharged me during my fracture treatment, refunding that amount more than six months later.

Nine or ten insurance companies and multiple lawyers have been wrestling with this accident, and the other injured cyclists and I have received a barrage of bills and notices from the ER, the hospital, the ambulance service, and numerous doctors. One cyclist was airlifted from the scene, and since the motorist had minimum coverage, his portion of that insurance likely was erased immediately in that urgent care.

This recent Monday morning, my mother was found unconscious by my youngest nephew, her grandson. She had a stroke, requiring an ambulance to transport her to our local hospital that then had her airlifted to a larger hospital nearby for emergency surgery on the clot discovered in her brain.

She has been in neurological ICU, and now a regular hospital room since Monday—but soon she will be transferred again to a rehabilitation facility for 2-3 weeks.

My father has been quite unwell recently; therefore, we are guiding him around in a wheelchair, circling our own wagons because my mother’s stroke creates a new and terrifying reality: she was his caretaker, and the family now must seek ways to provide both of my parents care.

Working-class children of the 1940s and 1950s, my parents have only Social Security and Medicare to sustain them.

Our next steps are swamped by if and how well their insurance and social services cover the medical care and rehabilitation my mother needs, if and how well my father can receive the daily care she has been providing.

My accident and my mother’s stroke are not nearly as extreme as the terrors of the healthcare system in the U.S. that countless people suffer daily. But these “terrors” are not really about the healthcare.

The treatment my mother has received, the seemingly miraculous surgery, has been the sort of kind and skilled medicine that leaves you mesmerized by the power of humans to make this world work in ways that are good and right and life-affirming.

But that care, I am afraid, is an isolated outlier in a calloused and awful system of administration, bureaucracy, and dehumanization caused by our lack of political courage as a people, as a country.

The power of universal healthcare and a single-payer system to provide humanity and dignity to the amazing medicine and brilliant healthcare providers already in the U.S. is left in the wake of our hollow nation.

A nation that is the wealthiest and most powerful in human history.

A nation that allows more than 1 in 5 children to live in poverty.

A nation of heartless and vicious partisan politics poised to dump an already inadequate system into the laps of caretakers, family members.

My accident exposes the hollowness of calls for individual responsibility; the system is designed to allow serial carelessness that leaves innocent victims responsible.

My mother’s stroke exposes that we as a nation genuinely do not care about a generation of people who may have bought the American Dream myth most sincerely—people such as my parents who were buoyed by white privilege they denied, who preached and practiced  the rigged rugged individualism scarred by racism with the faith it would pay off as they decline into their new reality of being dependent on the kindness of not only family, but the kindness of strangers.

Wealth and security are hoarded by a few, a vicious tribalism of a country that denies community, the power and dignity of everyone caring about everyone—not just the tunnel vision quest of “me getting mine,” the mean-spirited Social Darwinism that lurks beneath our national platitudes about working hard and fair play.

A hollow nation that denies the humanity of all sorts of “others” because of race and religion, but also culls away many at the edges of white privileged—white poor, white working-poor, white working class.

My parents represent that even the wink-wink-nod-nod promise of the American Dream (the white nationalism of “Make America Great Again”) is a lie, a calloused lie within the larger lie to the tired, the poor, the huddled massed—and especially a bald-faced lie about the so-called melting pot, a metaphor more accurate if named a witch’s cauldron.

With these realities before me, it is tempting to call for the removal of the Statue of Liberty, but at least, we must strip it of the poem inscribed at the base and post instead:

We are the hollow nation. We are the stuffed nation, “Leaning together/Headpiece filled with straw.”