Me and Mike on his wedding day.
Dear Sen. Burr, Sen. Tillis and Rep. Meadows:
You know me.
You know me because for the last nine years I have hounded you and others about the importance of access to health care.
I have hounded you because nine years ago yesterday, I got a call that every parent dreads.
It was about 9:45 a.m., and I was on my way to work.
“Mom,” he said, “the cancer’s back. There’s nothing they can do. I might have a few weeks, maybe a few months.”
It was as though I had been punched in the chest, full force, by a very strong man.
“How do I begin to say goodbye to everyone?” he asked.
The next six weeks are etched on my heart, burned into it like a cattleman’s brand.
I am forced to relive the death of my child because he couldn’t get access to health care.
He was uninsured, not because he was lazy — he was as hard a worker as anyone I’ve ever known. He was a full-time student, working in a restaurant and volunteering with his 12-step group to help other people get and stay sober.
But a birth defect — one that left him vulnerable to colon cancer — was a pre-existing condition, so no insurance company would sell him a policy. Without insurance, he was unable to get the cancer screenings he needed, and of course, he developed cancer.
He went to the Emergency Room when he got sick. He went three times and left with the wrong diagnoses, the wrong medicines and a bill because the ER only has to stabilize patients. I’ll bet you know that when you tell people they have access to care there when they really don’t. My son was given laxatives and pain pills when the problem was a malignant tumor blocking his colon.
By the time anyone did anything for him, he was vomiting fecal matter. Can you imagine that?
No, I guess not. You and your families have access to care whenever you need it.
By the time he got any care, it was too late to save his life. He was forced to leave his wife to get Medicaid. It took 37 months for his disability to be approved — he was dead nine days before his first check came.
Michael was lucky because the many people who loved him did all we could to make sure he had a place to live and food and clothing — and even a few little luxuries like a cell phone.
But all the love and support he had weren’t enough to save his life — all because insurance companies wanted to protect their profits.
My son died on April 1, 2008. I sat beside him, his hand in mine, as he breathed his last.
I had believed I would die when he did. I couldn’t imagine that my heart would continue to beat after his stopped.
But there I was, heart beating, lungs inhaling and exhaling. I was too devastated to cry.
Have you ever had that happen? Something so horrible that you can’t even cry because you’re so paralyzed? It’s not something I would wish on anyone — even you.
So I decided I would work to make sure everyone — not just every citizen, but every human being — gets access to health care.
We managed to make some progress with the Affordable Care Act. Some 32 million Americans have gained access, saving tens of thousands of lives every year, and now you want to repeal that law.
And you still call yourselves “pro-life,” and “Christian.” You are neither, and I pray you will face judgment for your crimes.
Since it’s unlikely you’ll ever lose a child the way I did, let me tell you what it’s like.
I would give my own life to have him back in the world. I so miss those late-night phone calls that began with, “Hi Mom, I knew you’d still be up.”
I miss the calls that started, “When are people going to learn to fucking drive?” when he was stuck in traffic.
I miss having him in the kitchen, eating an entire loaf of fresh-baked bread with the proclamation, “The only thing wrong with this bread is that it’s not at my house!”
I miss watching cooking shows with him, punctuated with, “Oh, you know what?” which was followed by an idea for a recipe. We both wrote a lot of recipes. I had hoped we would write a cookbook together someday.
I miss slapping his hand away from the turkey and stuffing on Thanksgiving, and I miss him emptying the entire gravy boat onto his plate so I had to refill it for the rest of us.
I miss how much he loved his wife and his nieces and nephew, his brother, his many, many friends, and me.
I cry most days because the pain of losing him hasn’t gotten any better. On our shared birthday, I go with a friend to where we scattered his ashes and I sing Happy Birthday to me, while my friend tries to drown me out singing it to him. I miss that Michael and I used to sing it that way.
See, I told him he could have the birthday when I was done with it. It was a joke on each of the 33 birthdays he had before we were robbed of his life by a broken health care policy.
Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that I was advised to have an abortion when I was pregnant with him, but I CHOSE not to. I am much more pro-life than you are because I believe life is sacred even after it exits the birth canal.
Now you’re talking about repealing the ACA, which would condemn tens of thousands of Americans to slow and painful deaths. It would condemn tens of thousands of families to suffer the same loss mine has.
But you don’t care about that because your friends profit so much more when people suffer the way my child did.
I have a fantasy: You know the passage in the Gospel of Matthew, where Jesus sorts the people in to goats on his left and lambs on his right?
I have a fantasy of you walking in and confidently sitting among the lambs, only to have Jesus say, “Excuse me, you’re in the wrong seats. You belong over there on the left. I was sick and you told me I was lazy because I didn’t have a job with insurance. I was hungry and you voted to take away my food stamps and then you voted to keep my wages too low to be able to afford decent food and shelter.”
Then you say, “But we never saw you sick or hungry …”
This is where Jesus cuts you off and points to my son and the tens of thousands of others like him.
“Whatever you did to them, you did also to me.”
Your constituent, Leslie Boyd