Eleven years ago today, I talked to Mike about what he’d been able to eat. At last Tuesday’s chemo appointment, the doctor had said he needed to put on two pounds before the next chemo session. He was down to 104 pounds. If he couldn’t put on weight it was because the cancer was causing his body to not absorb nutrients. He was starving to death, in other words.
While he was having his infusion, I walked over to Duke Chapel. If you’ve never seen the Duke Chapel, you should know it’s magnificent. It seemed like a good place to beg for two pounds.
Since Tuesday, Mike and I had talked about food and little else. What was he eating? How much? Other than a couple of Cadbury Creme Eggs, that is. Half a bagel. A scrambled egg. A couple of bites of a hamburger …
The question was whether this would be enough to put on two pounds.
I’ll bet most of you have never watched your child starve to death. It’s a terrible thing. No, beyond terrible. You can’t ever get that picture of your frail, starving child out of your head. Even when I remember him as healthy, that vision intrudes to tell me, “Yeah, but this is how the story ends. The guy starves to death.”
Try and stay calm about health care policy when your starving kids keeps popping in to remind you health care should be a human right.
Yes, I come off as angry. That’s because I am, and justifiably so. My child was killed by this system. Sixteen years before my son was murdered by this system, in 1992, I was writing about the failing of our health care system. We had 17 million uninsured Americans then. Today we’re happy to see the count down from a high of 45 to 50 million uninsured in 2013 to about 35 million now. That’s right, we’re celebrating that the number is only double what it was in 1992, when Bill Clinton was promising to try and fix it. Of course, the health care lobby swooped in and vilified Hillary and spread blatant lies about how Medicare for all would kill us all.
So, we got nothing, and 11 years after my son died, we’ve made very little progress.
In 2010, two years after my son died, we abandoned all hope of pushing a sensible health care system through Congress. President Obama caved and started negotiating with a Republican-crafted plan, asking for a public option — a way for ordinary citizens to buy into Medicare instead of lining the pockets of some for-profit insurance company. But that was too much. We had to leave the profit-hungry insurance companies in charge of our “care.”
Still, I got on board. I pushed for passage of the Affordable Care Act and celebrated when it passed because we had made some baby steps.
Then the Republicans refused to cooperate, suing to try to overturn the law and getting the bone from the Supreme Court of allowing states to not expand Medicaid.
I stayed on board, training to be a Navigator so I could help people find insurance, and with it, the care they needed.
Well, Republicans continued to attack the law, voting some 70 times to repeal it, and managing to weaken it. The Marketplace plans have become more and more unaffordable for too many people, and the numbers of uninsured are rising once again.
But something that happened last summer broke me. A woman came in looking for an insurance plan for her 30-year-old son. The young man had health problems that prevented him from working full-time, so his income didn’t quite reach poverty level. In North Carolina, that means you’re shit out of luck, and I had to tell her that, albeit in somewhat more polite terms.
She began to weep. “My son is going to die,” she sobbed. “Do you know how that feels?”
I told her I know exactly how that feels and we hugged and cried.
That was my last appointment as a Navigator. I can’t continue to be a good little peasant and beg for crumbs. I can’t continue to be polite when more than 20,000 Americans are dying each year from lack of access to health care.
And I will not continue to vote for candidates who promise a gradual fix, knowing full well they’re not going to get anything done.
If you want my vote, you will come out for an immediate system overhaul. No more, “we can’t do it because insurance companies will suffer.” or “it’s too big to do it all at once.” You will support Medicare for All or you will not get my vote.
I will work to get others to make this same pledge. I will work to make you unelectable if you don’t support getting people the care they need. If enough of us come out and make this pledge, Democrats might figure out they can’t win without us.
Eleven years ago today, I still had a glimmer of hope that I might have a few months left with my precious son. It was not to be. We had three weeks and one day left.