‘Was he working?’

I have spent the last nine years telling my son’s story to try and persuade lawmakers to increase access to health care. He called it “playing the Dead Kid Card.”

 

Nine years ago yesterday, Mike told me to tell his story.

It wasn’t in so many words, of course. He told me I was about to be dealt a card that was pretty hard to trump: the Dead Kid Card. He had been playing the Cancer Card for three years. Every time he didn’t want to do something, he pointed to his chemo port and said, “But I have cancer.”

It was meant to amuse more than anything else, and it did amuse him no end. But on this day nine years ago yesterday, he was serious.

“I don’t want that card,” I said.

“Too bad,” he countered. “It’s being dealt and you can’t stop it. You have to do something positive with it. You have to figure out how you can use it for good.”

I have played that card by telling his story, by using his face to tell people what happens when access to care is denied.

Yesterday, I was in Raleigh for an advocacy day sponsored by the NC NAACP. Most of the legislators I spoke to are in favor of expanding Medicaid, but one was not.

“Was he working?” the legislator asked me when I started to tell Mike’s story.

“He was working and he was a full-time student,” I said. “And he was a volunteer, and through all of it he had a 3.75 GPA.”

And then I took it one step more.

“And perhaps you can tell me when not working became a crime worthy of the death penalty. I thought that was reserved for murderers, not people who are lazy,” I said. “Oh, and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want to work and not depend on handouts.”

He was a little taken aback, but he looked at Mike’s picture again.

“Did he try to buy insurance?” he asked.

Of course he tried to get insurance, but no one would sell it to him because a birth defect was a pre-existing condition.

He wanted to know more about this tragedy. That’s when I explained to him that this is not a unique story, that up to 2,000 families in North Carolina face the same thing every year because we haven’t expanded Medicaid.

“I’m a navigator, so I help people enroll in insurance plans through the Marketplace created by the Affordable Care Act. But if someone’s income doesn’t rise above the poverty level, I have to break the news to them that there’s nothing I can do to get them access to health care.

“Do you know what that does to me?” I asked. “Do you have any idea how it feels to tell someone they can’t have the care they need? It’s like sentencing someone to death even though they’ve done nothing to deserve it. It breaks my heart every time because I know the odds are that they or someone in their family will suffer and perhaps die for no reason other than the people in charge in their state don’t care whether they live or die.”

These are real people, dying at the rate of up to five a day, I told him. Every day in North Carolina. They die from cancer that was diagnosed too late, from complications of diabetes that isn’t controlled because the patient can’t afford the glucose testing supplies, from strokes brought on by undiagnosed or uncontrolled high blood pressure, from heart attacks brought on by untreated high cholesterol.

The legislator listened to me. I’ll give him credit for that because most of them won’t talk to me. In fact, two have had me arrested for waiting outside their offices to talk to them, as is my right under the state Constitution.

So, I was pleased that this man would see me and hear me out, that he appeared to listen to what I had to say.

After the legislative visits, I spoke at a press conference. After Rev. William Barber invoked the passage in Isaiah about unjust laws that cause pain to the poor, I invoked the Judgment Day passage from Matthew.

I envision Jesus saying to these politicians who put political ideology before human life, “I was sick and you repealed the Affordable Care Act or you refused to expand Medicaid. I was hungry and you voted to cut food stamps and Meals on Wheels …”

I don’t know if I changed anyone’s mind yesterday, but perhaps I planted a seed. Maybe that one legislator will see Mike’s photo in his mind and he’ll begin to understand that we’re dealing with real people’s lives here.

Nine years ago yesterday, it was Friday. We would have just 11 more days with him.

 

 

The Angel Mike

I was visiting my family in South Georgia a couple weeks ago, playing with my brilliant and beautiful great-granddaughter, Reaghan, when she noticed the pin I wear every day.

“What’s this?” she asked tapping on its face.

“It’s an angel,” I said. “I wear it all the time.”

“Why?”

I knew there would come a day when I would tell her about Uncle Mike. I wasn’t sure where to start. She’s almost 4, so she understands that people die. I wasn’t sure how to tell her why he died, though.

“Well, did you know Pop-Pop had a brother? His name was Mike.”

I told her he got sick and no one would take care of him.

She looked shocked.

“Why not?”

“Because he wasn’t rich enough to pay them,” I said. “To some people, money is more important than anything else. Uncle Mike didn’t have much.”

I wanted to focus more on who he was, though, so I told her he was the silliest person any of us had ever known — a real goofball.

She wasn’t sure she believed that.

“Oh no, Grandma’s right,” my son said. “Uncle Mike was a goofball.”

I brought out my phone, where I have a bunch of photos stored. There was one of him in a flower petal bathing cap, another of him making a goofy face, one of him and me making faces …

“He was a goofball,” she said, giggling.

I told her I’d had another angel pin, but it fell off and I never found it, so a man I know who makes jewelry made this one for me.

Reaghan dubbed the pin, The Angel Mike. He watches over all of us, she said, now that he’s a real angel.

Mike and Meghan

That’s when my granddaughter, Meghan, told me she’ll have a memorial table at her wedding next month, and on it will be her favorite photo of her and Mike. It was taken a few days before his wedding, on the day I gave him the handmade quilt that I had just given her as a wedding gift.

When Mike died, Janet gave the quilt back to me because she wanted it to be handed down to another generation, and they had no children.

When I asked Meghan if she would like to have Mike’s quilt instead of me making her one, she cried.

“You’d give that to me?” she choked.

“You’re the first one to get married,” I said. “This is meant to be handed on.”

If only Mike had lived long enough to meet Reaghan. If only he had been here to see Meghan get married. If only … if only …

Nine years ago today, James and Janet went to Goodwill and bought a wheelchair, which they dubbed the Mike-around.

Mike was too weak to walk very far, so they thought the wheelchair was just the thing to get him out onto the deck and into the fresh spring air.

Nine years ago today it was a Thursday. We had 12 days left with him.

Nine years ago today

This is my son, Mike, a kind and wonderful young man. Nine years ago today, I brought him home to die.

Nine years ago today, I brought my son home to die.

In my heart, I feel as though it could have been yesterday.

I remember everything about the day because it’s etched on my heart as the day his impending death became real.

We had coffee in the living room of his apartment after his roommate and best friend, James, left for work. From across the room, Mike looked up at me and said, “I’m ready for this to be over.”

I was not ready. I would never be ready. I’m still not ready to be without him.

We had an appointment for his third chemo infusion, hoping to give him a few more weeks or months.

But he hadn’t gained any weight at the last appointment, and his doctor had said he needed to put on two pounds. I had gone to the Duke Chapel to pray for those two pounds. It didn’t seem like too much to ask. Two pounds.

But it wasn’t to be. We drove from Cary to Durham to the cancer center at Duke University Medical Center. We passed by Mangum Street and he laughed and asked what I though man gum was.

“I can’t help it,” he said. “I think that every time I pass that street.”

We got to the clinic and he stepped on the scale. He had lost another pound.

“I tried!” he said. “I really tried!”

I’ll never forget the look on his face — frustration, disappointment, disbelief.

Dr. Herb Hurwitz came in and told us there was nothing more he could do. His eyes filled with tears as he said, “You’re a good person, Mike. You don’t deserve what’s happening to you.”

I remember thinking it would have been nice if Dr. Patrick Hammen in Savannah had felt that way. Perhaps if he had, Mike and I wouldn’t he hearing these words from Dr. Hurwitz now.

But Hammen had given up on Mike before he even started treatment for his recurrence — which wouldn’t have happened if Hammen had been willing to take payments instead of demanding cash up front for a colonoscopy three and four years earlier.

Hammen had been very matter-of-fact when he told Mike the cancer was back and a cure was unlikely, and he never came back to check on Mike during his nine more days in the hospital.

And here, Dr. Hurwitz was weeping as he told us there was nothing more left to do and that Mike should come home with me and enjoy what time he had left.

As we were leaving the clinic, I was pushing Mike in a wheelchair and he looked up at me.

“How much time do you think I have left?” he asked. “Two weeks?”

“I hope it’s more than that,” I said.

But it was not.

We called James and Janet and they both met us at the apartment. They had packed up a few things they knew Mike would want, including his gaming computer, his game console and games, a few books and all his plaid flannel pajama bottoms and T-shirts, underwear and ostomy supplies. It all fit in the back of my Honda CRV.

At that point, these few things were about all he owned, except for a massive antique desk, which would go to Janet.

James and Janet would come out to Asheville the following day; Mike and I would do the four-hour trip alone, stopping at an outlet store about halfway home so I could get a memory foam pillow for his bony butt. I think it was as much an excuse for him to have a cigarette as any soreness in his backside, but I was willing to indulge him.

He weighed about 102 pounds at this point, but he would lose more since his body had stopped absorbing any food.

For the next two weeks, I would share him with friends and family from as far away as New York and New England, from Savannah and Cary, and from Asheville. All of us tried to soak up as much of his presence, wisdom, humor and love as we could. We knew it would have to last us a lifetime.

Nine years ago today, he came home to die. I would have given my own life to spare his, but it was not to be, and the pain of losing him has not abated. I was so unwilling to imagine life beyond his death that I convinced myself my heart would stop when his did. It didn’t, of course, and all I know to do now is to fight for access to health care for everyone because no one should have to go through what my family has endured.

On the day he died, some 45,000 Americans were dying every year from lack of access to care. Things are somewhat better now because more than 20 million people have access to care than had it then, thanks to the Affordable Care Act.

But the occupant of the White House, the Speaker of the House and other Republican politicians want to go back to that. Perhaps if they had to watch their own children die the way I had to, perhaps if they had to live with the unspeakable pain I do, they would change their minds.

But I wouldn’t wish that on anyone — even on them.

Nine years ago today, I brought my child home to die.

We would have two more weeks with him.

 

 

A deadly budget

Sorry, GOP, but you can’t call yourself pro-life while letting children go to bed hungry.

If the powers that be in the Republican Party want people to die, then they got it right with this budget.

Cut Meals on Wheels and stop feeding hungry children.

Get rid of the arts, cut funds for medical research, zero-out PBS and slash funds for education.

And while we talk about how Americans have equal opportunities, let’s cut assistance for college students and then we can call them lazy when they can’t go to college and minimum wage is still less than half of what people need to pay their bills.

Oh, and let’s not help poor people in cold climates to heat their homes. So what if they starve? It’s their own fault for living in a cold place. They should move to Florida or Texas or something.

While we’re at it, let’s slash after-school programs so families that are struggling to get by on minimum wage have no safe place for their children while they work. And then when their children get in trouble, we can say their parents are to blame for neglecting them.

Well, maybe they shouldn’t have children if they can’t afford it, right? Then, why are we closing women’s health clinics? That’s the only place many low-income women have to get reliable contraception. But then, these clowns don’t think women should have access to contraception. Or abortion. We are, after all, pro-life, aren’t we?

Oh, and let’s cut programs that offer nutrition to pregnant and nursing mothers. If the kids don’t get good nutrition for brain development, then they won’t need college anyway.

And we can get rid of programs that help people with their rent in emergencies — you know, if the car breaks down or someone gets sick.

And speaking of getting sick, the GOP plan for health non-care is breathtakingly cruel. It seems intended to kill poor people.

But, hey, let’s fund war. Lots and lots of money in this budget for more war, and for a wall we don’t need, since Mexicans aren’t coming here in great numbers anymore.

I have a question for people who call themselves Christian or pro-life: How can you reconcile your support for these lethal policies that target the poor with surgical precision?

Have you read the red print in the Bible? That’s the stuff Jesus says — and in case you’ve forgotten, Jesus Christ is the person Christians are supposed to be following.

I wish the Pope himself would write to Paul Ryan and tell him his policies are deeply, grossly immoral.

I don’t think anyone can make the occupant of the White House a more moral person. I think he believes his only concern should be with the wealthy and powerful. I think he’s just too cruel, willfully ignorant and immoral to change his ways.

But the Republicans are skipping merrily along, allowing him to wreak havoc across the country and around the world.

This is evil on a massive scale. We must resist. We must persist. And we must find a way to enlist Republicans in the cause. This is not about party; this is about morality. This is about fighting the greatest evil the world has seen since Hitler and Stalin. We can’t afford to lose.

 

Sixteen in one day is no coincidence

The Jewish Community Center here in Asheville, NC, received a bomb threat yesterday.

That, in itself, is scary enough, but ours was just one of 16 Jewish centers that received bomb threats yesterday.

Sixteen in one day. That’s not a coincidence.

Ever since the person occupying the White House was elected, hate has been on the rise. Bigots and racists have gotten the message loud and clear: Hate is in vogue again.

The incidents began immediately after the election. A Jewish friend of mine in Florida came out of synagogue and put her grandson into the back seat of her car, and as she drove off, she was followed by a pickup truck with bumper stickers supporting the person who won the electoral college vote and sporting a confederate flag. They pulled up alongside her car and began shouting anti-Semitic remarks.

Muslims began to report being harassed, as did LGBTQ people. Sporadic reports came in of violence, threats and vandalism at mosques, synagogues and cemeteries.

In the month after the election, the Southern Poverty Law Center documented nearly 1,100 incidents of bias-related harassment and intimidation like the one my friend experienced.

Last Wednesday, a white man walked into a restaurant in Olathe, Kan., and shot two Indian men, killing one, while shouting, “Get out of my country!” A third man, a white man who tried to intervene, also was shot and is recovering.

The man in the White House said these incidents have nothing to do with him and his rhetoric, but I disagree. When you rail against immigrants, when you say all of Islam is evil, when you ban Muslims from traveling into our country and detain and search and harass anyone who looks Muslim at the airport, when you fail to mention Jews on Holocaust Remembrance Day, when you appoint a known white supremacist as your chief advisor, you encourage hate.

It used to be unfashionable to be a racist, but now they are emboldened by the election of one of their own.

What’s worse is that no one in Congress is calling for an investigation into this coordinated effort to intimidate Jews — and let’s not pretend that’s not what this is because 16 bomb threats against Jewish centers in a single day isn’t a coincidence.

I sent faxes to both my senators and my representative, calling on them to denounce this hate and to call for a federal investigation, since this went across state lines.

I ask you to do the same.

I stand with my Jewish brothers and sisters. I also stand with my Muslim, LGBTQ and immigrant brothers and sisters from around the world because I take seriously the commandment to love my neighbors — and all of humanity are my neighbors.

 

 

Holding out hope for the party

Kitty Schaller holds my favorite sign from Saturday’s rally.

I was ready to make a very public exit from the Democratic party if Tom Perez won the chairmanship, but other events Saturday raised my hopes for the party.

It started with the precinct cluster meetings in the morning. I’m vice-chair of my precinct (45.1 in Buncombe County, NC), and in previous years, the chair, John Parker, and I had to scramble to get five people out to a meeting so we could have a quorum. We had to make calls and get people to the meetings so our precinct wouldn’t lose our “organized” status.

“Can you just stop by for a half hour while we vote on resolutions and elect officers?” we begged. We were able to keep organized, but barely.

Yesterday, instead of begging for people to show up, we had 16 people, several of whom were young and progressive. The others were from a retirement community, and I was afraid they might be conservative Democrats like the ones who killed several progressive resolutions last year, but they were old-style progressives who decided to become active again so we could take our party back from pro-corporate influences.

Last year a conservative banker convinced people to vote against a resolution calling for re-regulation of the banks and against a resolution calling for a Constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. He wouldn’t stop talking until he had the votes to defeat these two resolutions.

This year, the banker was nowhere to be seen and both resolutions passed unanimously, along with resolutions calling for an immediate raise in the minimum wage to $15, plus one calling for a single-payer health care system. In all, we passed nearly a dozen progressive resolutions, all unanimously.

I wrote two resolutions — the ones calling for the $15 minimum wage and Medicare for all — and most of the precincts passed them without amendments. One precinct leader asked if the minimum wage resolution could be amended to phase in the $15 over three to five years. I told them no. If you’re making $7.25 an hour, five years without a living wage is not an option. The raise is needed now, and in five years, inflation adjustments should have it up to about $20. People need to be able to feed, clothe and shelter their families NOW, not in five years.

“Well, these a pretty conservative people,” the precinct chair said.

“Those are the very people we need to outnumber to take the party back,” I said. “Go ahead and write your own resolution, but mine stays as is.”

These new party activists were Bernie Sanders supporters, determined to move the Democratic Party back to its FDR progressivism, back to the days when LBJ signed the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts. They were inspired by the organization, Our Revolution, which is comprised of progressive fighters.

I left the precinct meeting with renewed faith that we can do this.

From there, I went to speak at an Our Revolution rally downtown. We had 500 people turn out to call for improvements to our health care system, from support of keeping and improving the ACA, to a public option in the marketplace, to single-payer.

I told my son’s story and reminded people that 45,000 Americans died the same way every year before the ACA took effect. We’re still losing 15,000 to 20,000 in states that haven’t expanded Medicaid.

What I saw yesterday was a determination to take the Democratic Party left again.

When it was announced that Tom Perez won the party chair election, we were encouraged by the fact that the election was close and that our candidate, Keith Ellison, is now the vice-chair and that Perez has vowed to work closely with him.

I am encouraged. We have to remember that the Republican right wing has worked since the 1960s to achieve what it has, and that in one election cycle, we progressives have made remarkable progress.

So, let’s follow the Indivisible playbook. Let’s take this nation back in the 2018 elections, despite gerrymandering, despite voter suppression laws. We are the majority. If we work for this, and most importantly, if we vote, we will not fail.

An open letter to my anti-life members of Congress

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.”

Sincerely,
Your constituent, Leslie Boyd

 

 

My pussy hat is purple

In a sea of pink, I’m the one in the purple pussy hat.

I was going to wear pink — I’ve knitted eight pink hats so far — but as I was looking through my yarn stash and I found this skein of lavender wool, I thought of my grandmother.

Lavender was my grandmother’s favorite color. She used to dress one of us four girls for Easter every year, and you can tell by the Easter morning photos which one of us was the lucky one because she was dressed, head to toe, in lavender, with black patent leather shoes and white gloves.

My grandmother was born in 1888, and when she came of age in 1909, she didn’t have the right to vote.

It occurred to me as I held that lavender yarn in my hand that I could reach back and touch a time when women couldn’t even vote.

I said something in a Facebook post and a young woman answered that women’s rights were long established and not going anywhere.

Something snapped. Here’s this young woman with no sense of history, and I felt as though I had to say something.

I told her that women couldn’t sit on a jury until 1961 — within my lifetime and probably within her mother’s lifetime.

When I was in high school a girl who got pregnant had to quit school, but the boy who got her pregnant could stay.

When I was 18 in Massachusetts, it was illegal for a doctor to prescribe — or even discuss — contraception with a single woman. I had to wait until 60 days before my wedding to get a prescription, and the system was so paternalistic that I wasn’t the one who could get in trouble — the doctor was.

When I was married to my first husband (1972 to 1977), it was perfectly legal in many states for him to rape and hit me.

I couldn’t get a credit card in my own name, and my friend, who was a pharmaceutical sales rep with a master’s degree in nursing and an income of more than $50,000 a year (a fortune in 1975 and more than double what my then-husband made), couldn’t get a mortgage on a $35,000 condo.

We could be fired for getting married and often were fired when we got pregnant. If we were single parents, we still couldn’t get a decent job because men believed we should be home with our children and that we should stay with our husbands no matter what.

Women still aren’t guaranteed the same pay for the same work.

In fact, women have no equal protection in the US Constitution — the late US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said as much less than five years ago. What this means is that women have no grounds under the US Constitution to sue for discrimination (Read the 14th Amendment — it specifies men and does not include women).

In this culture, rape is seen as a woman’s fault. Where were you? What were you wearing? Why did you get in a car with him? Why did you invite him in?

Where was I? I was on a date.

What was I wearing? Dress and heels as is appropriate for a nice restaurant.

Why did I get in a car with him? As I said, we were on a date.

Why did I invite him in? I had a nice time at dinner and we were in the middle of an interesting conversation, so I asked if he would like a cup of coffee.

But all this, apparently, gives a man permission to “lose control,” and the blame is on the woman for being such a slut that she went out on a date.

When William Kennedy Smith was accused of rape in 1991, the victim was criticized for taking off her pantyhose. My question was: If you’re going to walk barefoot on the beach, are you going to wear your socks?

But he got off because she was such a slut that she took off her socks to walk barefoot on the beach.

I was just 3 years old the first time I was violated. Go ahead, try to make that my fault. I must have had a hell of a come-hither look, huh?

We have come a ways, true, but we do not have full equality.

We need to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. It’s still out there and it is finding new life. It has been re-introduced in North Carolina, Virginia and Nevada, among other states.

We have demanded that other nations include gender equality in their laws, but we have yet to do it ourselves.

We need to guarantee women the same pay for the same work, and we need to give women equal access to high-paying jobs.

We need to re-examine our attitudes about sexual violence.

We need to ensure than women have access to safe and effective contraception and that your boss’s religion can’t affect your access to it.

Just 25 years ago, I handed a prescription for birth control pills to a pharmacist, who told me I needed a note from my doctor because the insurance company didn’t cover contraception for women, and they needed to know it was for therapeutic purposes (which it was).

I told him the prescription WAS a letter from my doctor, and that he would fill it or he and the insurance company would face a lawsuit. It was none of their business what I was taking the pills for, only that my doctor had prescribed them for me.

I’m not sure my threat would have been effective except for a young man I knew casually was standing nearby. He was using testosterone patches following testicular cancer surgery, and no one was asking why, he said.

“If I can fill a prescription for hormone therapy and she can’t, that’s discrimination and I would be very happy to testify on her behalf,” he said.

The pharmacist called the insurance company and told them he no longer would ask the purpose of birth control pills, but would fill doctors’ prescriptions, and if they wanted to object, he would join my lawsuit.

I got my pills.

But I’m tired of fighting for equal treatment when I am as capable and smart as any man.

And young women need to know that a lot of these rights we enjoy are not guaranteed and can be rolled back.

My Facebook friend was quite taken aback when I told her just how tenuous our rights are. My advice to her was to find and join a chapter of NOW and start fighting.

It’s your turn, Millennials. Come join us. We want your input because the way we’ve always done things has yet to get us full equal rights. We welcome you to the fight with open arms.

 

The modern scourge on our communities

Last week I wrote about the flooding of our communities with opiates, and later that day, I learned a friend had just lost her 25-year-old grandson the epidemic.

Yesterday, another friend almost lost her 30-year-old son to it.

That makes three people I know dead in the last year and countless others struggling to stay alive in spite of it.

And today, the person in the White House announced he would cave in to pressure from the drug companies and decline to regulate or even negotiate with the drug companies.

Let me tell you a little about what kind of pain that decision will cause.

Yesterday, I had lunch with my friend, who brought along the program for her grandson’s funeral service. Just seeing his photo made me cry as I thought about the lost potential. We talked about him, and about his father, who also is battling this same addiction.

This death has planted the seeds of radicalism in my 74-year-old friend, just as my son’s death did to me.

“You’ve been here,” she said. “Where do I start?”

I told her to learn everything she can about opiate addiction and its history. I told her how the British flooded China with opium in the 19th Century and that she should look at the parallels with the modern opiate epidemic here.

Big Pharma can claim innocence, but its executives have to know how many pills are out there, and that they’re not all being consumed legitimately. Of course we can’t prove it — these people have really effective ways of covering their tracks. They’re not leaving any smoking guns for us to find.

But they put immense pressure on legislators and others to turn a blind eye to their abuses and to blame the victims.

They knew when they were promoting these pills in the 1990s just how addictive they are, but they convinced us people don’t become addicted if they just take the pills for pain.

Turns out that’s not true. I had a friend who got addicted while taking them for severe back pain. He stopped after he had surgery, but he had to go through withdrawal, and it was miserable, and he felt their pull on him for the rest of his life.

My son continued to take them after severe burns over 40 percent of his body. He did need them for the pain, but after the pain was gone, the pleasure the pills offered was too strong a pull for him and he abused the pills for years before he was able to get off. I still won’t say it’s for good because addiction is a chronic and progressive illness; it has a way of pulling its victims back in.

We as a society are very good at blaming victims for their circumstances. Yes, my son continued to use the pills. But his insurance company paid for the prescriptions for a long time. Then they tried to worm out of paying for in-patient rehab for him.

I’m certain his case is not unique.

Addiction is an illness that causes you to lie to yourself, as well as to others. You tell yourself that you are in control. See, you’re just taking six pills a day. But then you’re taking eight and you tell yourself that’s OK because you’re still going to work and functioning. In fact, you’re functioning better than ever, thank you.

When my son’s doctor refused to prescribe any more pills, he went to a pain clinic an hour from home, across the Florida state line, and a “doctor” there gave him what he wanted.

The son of my sister’s friend turned to heroin, which is cheaper. That’s what my friend’s grandson did, too. Now they’re both dead.

These lives don’t matter to Big Pharma, because like the tobacco companies, they’ll just recruit more addicts as their victims die or go into recovery.

Policy makers obviously don’t care about the lives lost because they’re not moving to make any changes based on the deaths.

Here are a few facts from the American Society of Addiction Medicine:

  • Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the US, with 52,404 lethal drug overdoses in 2015. Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with 20,101 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers, and 12,990 overdose deaths related to heroin in 2015.
  • From 1999 to 2008, overdose death rates, sales and substance use disorder treatment admissions related to prescription pain relievers increased in parallel. The overdose death rate in 2008 was nearly four times the 1999 rate; sales of prescription pain relievers in 2010 were four times those in 1999; and the substance use disorder treatment admission rate in 2009 was six times the 1999 rate.
  • In 2012, 259 million prescriptions were written for opioids, which is more than enough to give every American adult their own bottle of pills.
  • Four in five new heroin users started out misusing prescription painkillers.
  •  94% of respondents in a 2014 survey of people in treatment for opioid addiction said they chose to use heroin because prescription opioids were far more expensive and harder to obtain.

If that doesn’t convince you there’s a problem, and that it is not the fault of the people who fall prey to Big Pharma, I don’t suppose anything will.

 

 

The new opium war

In the 19th century, the British sent tons and tons of opium into China knowing full well its addictive properties and the health problems and deaths that would follow.

The British wanted to trade with the Chinese, but the insular nation wanted little to do with the outside world. China’s ruler insisted that instead of trading for British goods, it would only sell the porcelain and tea the British people wanted for silver. The British didn’t want to deplete their silver reserves, so they developed a work-around — they sent opium into China illegally, demanding payment in silver, which they then used to buy Chinese goods.

In other words, the British sabotaged an entire nation with opium. People who are addicted are not interested in fighting for their rights; all they care about is getting more opium. And even though the sale of opium to China was illegal, the British could always find a corrupt official who would deal with them.

The mess finally led to two wars, known as the Opium Wars, which the British and their allies (France and the United States) won.

So, what does this have to do with today?

In the 1990s, drug companies, particularly Purdue Pharmaceuticals, came out with a new pain killer called Ocycontin, and almost immediately, it began to be abused.

But Purdue and the others kept insisting it wasn’t addictive if taken properly, and doctors continued to prescribe it, even where it wasn’t necessary, when something else could control the patient’s pain. The experts, after all, insisted it was safe.

Over the last 20 years, millions of people have become addicted. I know a number of them, and in the last year or so, three have died of overdoses. One died of a pain pill overdose and the other two died from heroin overdoses. People who are addicted to pain pills often turn to heroin because it’s less expensive.

Pain clinics began to spring up, especially in Florida. These weren’t legitimate pain clinics, but places where people who were addicted could go get an easy prescription.

Patients go in by the droves and are called back to see the doctor a dozen at a time. The doctor asks whether they’re still in pain and they say they are. The doctor writes each of them a prescription.

Now, are these addicts paying attention to their rights being taken away by the 1 percent, bit by bit?

Not so much.

Are they watching while our so-called leaders march us toward a police state?

Nope, they’re looking for more pain pills.

And, if they’re caught, they’re thrown into a justice system that makes them pay their own costs, which for many means there is no escape. People tend not to hire ex-convicts, so paying the tens of thousands of dollars is impossible.

So the question becomes, was this mass addiction deliberate, or are the 1 percent just happy with the coincidence?

That’s not a question I can answer, but I suspect it’s deliberate now. It’s the perfect distraction because not only does addiction take the user’s mind off what the 1 percent is doing to rob us blind, it also distracts the family and friends of the addict, who tend to concentrate on trying to get help for the person.

I refuse to take opiates. I don’t care how much I hurt. If I’ve had surgery or an injury, it will heal and I can manage pain with ibuprofen, naproxen or Tylenol until it does.

If I had cancer or another painful and terminal condition, I probably would agree, but as it is now, I don’t fill prescriptions for opiates. I’m not going to chance it.

I’ve seen what opiate addiction can do. It disables, then kills.

We know this, but we continue to addict more and more people, then we conveniently blame those people for their illness and tell them we don’t have enough beds in rehab to help them kick the addiction.

It seems to me this is deliberate now. Perhaps it wasn’t in the beginning, but it is now.

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