Friday, August 10, 2012

Reflections on health care tragedy

I hadn't thought about Bob Brooks for awhile.  Bob was intelligent, humorous, logical, and interesting.  He was a brilliant speaker and activist.  He was a world traveler, and a true citizen of the world--not an egotistical American bent on the idea of exceptionalism.  When he spoke, the room hushed to listen to what he had to say--not that they had to quiet down much; Bob's voice carried well.  They listened because what he had to say was relevant, often funny, reliable if it was fact, and respected if it was his opinion.  People liked him.  I liked him.

Some years ago, Bob was diagnosed with cancer of the colon.   His treatment would have been lengthy, costly, and rough.  Rather than spend the nest egg he had accumulated through a lifetime of hard work, Bob decided to take his own life.  He spent his final week saying his last goodbyes to his friends.  In an email to me, he wrote:

My death is neither based on courage, nor cowardice. It is the logical conclusion of a rational mind based upon my values and circumstances. This is right for me, but that is my intellect, not my emotions. No, I am not brave, as I have been an emotional wreck all week since everything I do, and see, is for the last time. Cutting my ties to this world is not easy. However, my life belongs to me, not the doctors, preachers, or government, all of whom forbid my action.

I thought of Bob during a conversation I was having in The Young Turks' live chat, where we were discussing health care issues and a man who lost his job at Wells Fargo, and therefore his insurance, right before his child's scheduled surgery.  It was a heartbreaking story.  I thought about my own experiences with the health care system, then reflected on my dad, who had insurance but had doctors blow off his pain as the result of a fall down the stairs.  I thought about my Aunt Pam, who could not afford to go to the doctor because her employer did not provide insurance, who waited until the pain was so great that she had to go to the emergency room, only to find that her cancer had spread to her whole body.  She died not long after.

Then I thought of Bob.  It's the first time I'd ever made the connection, but Bob's death could have been prevented if we had universal health care--health care that would not have eaten up his nest egg.  I can't speak for Bob; he may have still gone through with the suicide to avoid having his family watch him suffer--or he may have gone through with treatment and put his cancer into remission.  Or, if his cancer was terminal, he may have decided to use hospice care.  In whatever circumstance, I think he should have had the choice.



Anonymous said...

ThinkTwiceSpeakOnce Greg, I posted this on the TYT chat but no one read it. I think it adds to your argument from a different point in life's journey. Both my parents died after long debilitating illnesses. The whole family worried about paying for their extended care and went to the brink of poverty. I know Mom and Dad both suffered more in the end worrying about their kids going broke because of them. That was a horrible time, when we should have been allowed to focus o them and celebrate their lives before they passed. I am still racked with guilt because I had to make purely financial choice between my beloved parents and my children's welfare. Believe me, there were no easy or palatable choices. Mt brother was a rock, but faced the same unyielding pressure of crushing medical costs with me. We barely made it through. I am still angry at our inhumane system. No other civilized country has a system that torments it's dying citizens and their families in such a callous manner. Why should Americans have to greet the news of a serious illness with fear that they will loose their homes or be unable to feed their children? We have to grow up, push back the forces of greed, and build the county that we thought we could achieve.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear what happened to your parents ThinkTwice! Well I don't trust our health care system. My brother got "care" for his Parkinson's disease and he died. Besides getting healthcare we need to get rid of pill pushers. We need to get rid of harsh meds approved by the FDA. We need to get rid of evil pharmaceuticals. We need to get rid of high medical costs. Hell on Reader's Digest this week just by a doctor marking you with a marker costs $17 a mark on your body. Hospital costs awful. Insurance companies becoming stingy paying for ridiculous prices.

I'm very angry how we don't treat people to get cure, we treat people so they can live a little longer without getting cured. And those are for those who do have health insurance. Yes I want health insurance, but not go to a pill pushing doctor, high hospital cost with horrible side effects treatment.

Greg Reich said...


I did read your story in chat...I was teary-eyed already and somber. We keep hearing about how this nation is a Christian one, but if that means feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and cure the sick, we're far from it.

I agree with you wholeheartedly: having to lose everything to care for dying parents is unconscionable in a country where we pay more for health care in real dollars than anyone else in the world. I am sorry for your loss. I hope people read these stories and understand that there is a better way.

Greg Reich said...

@person with brother with Parkinson's (I know who you are--just keeping your anonymity): You make excellent points. The health care industry, being for profit, has a vested interest in keeping us sick. There are good health care workers out there--people who got into it to heal and help the sick and the injured--but there are administrators and corporate bureaucrats making decisions with the bottom line in mind, not in the best interest of our health.

To add to your points: they also will give you every test they can get your insurance to pre-approve if you have good insurance, whether they are needed or not. I went through six tests related to what I thought was a heart attack, only to find out from the doctor that there were certain symptoms I didn't have that ruled out heart attack before 24 hours of observation and the tests.

Ariya said...

Thanks Greg! I forgot to write my name ha. This is Aria from chat and twitter of course :D Well where I live they don't have the best insurance, but they have hospitals who give 100% discount if you need an operation...We have a lot of Christian/Catholic hospitals ha. Well I had one of m surgeries at a State Hospital and qualified for a discount. When I saw the bill for what I would have paid, I almost fainted. It was way way too high for people who might have paid out of pocket for a simple procedure. The antibiotic cream was priced for $76!! A lil tube!! Read the Reader's Digest Article about the costs of hospitals. It's so awful.

So if we have ACA there are no pre-approved conditions to be considered. However the price of pizza will go up. Whatever shall we do?

Francie said...

I am so very sad to read all these heartbreaking stories. The death and suffering will continue until people become more important than profit.Excessive greed kills. Greg, your blog posts are excellent!

Jeff Waldorf said...

I read your story, and it was absolutely heartbreaking. It's sad that things like these still happen, with Bob and the Steelworkers wife and child with cancer, all so some CEO and a bureaucrat can make a few extra bucks.

I, like you agree with the need for universal health care, and fail to see how our society can treat people like these with apathy, even disdain (remember the let him die crowd during the debates)

It's all about "me" these days, everyone says we should look out for ourselves, bootstraps and the like. Come get your profit, who cares if people die because money has become their new god.

I also participate in the TYT chat now and then, Talyn04. I am sorry I missed your story then, but I am glad I was able to see it because it will continue to fuel me in my efforts to help change the system so things like no longer happen.

Greg Reich said...

Francie, thank you for reading! I am trying to do more writing, with the goal of making it daily and current.

Greg Reich said...

Hi Jeff,

Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. I do remember the "let them die" crowd during the Republican primary debates, and all I could think of was Hurricane Katrina and how the Bush Administration didn't act right away, letting people drown in their attics. It's sickening and disheartening, but what's good to know is that not everyone is like that! We need to fight back against the tyranny of the wealthy and their army of lobbyists.

Jeff Waldorf said...

Yeah, and those who are tricked into believing they a pro-life because they think zygotes are alive yet they let people who can't afford healthcare die, that's real pro-life.

As for Katrina Bush didn't care because they were mostly poor minorities, basically those who would likely vote Democrat.

Luckily there are good people, a lot of them actually, they're just uninformed, overworked or have been lied to and used by the ones in power. I think we can take back our government but only if we get rid of the influence of money. Once our government can no longer be bought we can make changes that the people actually want.

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