“ I just wish I had some better options,” a colleague said to me recently. She wasn’t someone I knew well, and it started out as one of those casual “how are you?” kind of talks.
At the beginning of our conversation these are the thoughts that ran through my mind: I hope it’s not still raining. My throat is burning, I think I am coming down with something. I am way behind on my novel’s word count. Ouch, my throat is really burning. Do I have a fever?
I listened, at first exchanging pleasantries and then nodding in commiseration with her plight, even though I couldn’t really commiserate.
“You see, it’s like I have to choose between paying the rent and health care,” she said, an untenable position made even worse by the state’s new health care law. “I need a place to live so I pay the rent, but then I go into more debt for the health care.”
That’s a pretty lousy choice to have to make, particularly since it really isn’t even a choice. You need somewhere to live, and if you’re sick, you need medical attention.
I turned away a little to cough and when I faced her again my face felt flushed. Perhaps it was from the cough, or the fever that would ultimately knock me down for several days, but I also think it was from that squeamish uncomfortable feeling that comes with knowing you are a “have.”
And someone else is a have-not.
In a way, it all boils down to options. I could never imagine the possibility of paying for my care out of pocket, because the expenses would grind me into the ground almost immediately. It simply wouldn’t be an option for me.
But what if it had to be?
This is an intensely political issue, but I am coming at it from an emotional perspective here. I have sighed when I’ve written large checks for hospital bills, cringed when I’ve needed new medications that are expensive, and I’ve watched with a mix of indignation and sadness as coverage of my daily chest PT sessions—the preventative care that does much to prevent prolonged (and costly) hospitalizations—have been cut down further and further the past three years.
I find many things confounding and unfair about our health insurance system.
And yet that on that cold, rainy day when I knew I was definitely getting sick, where I coughed and wheezed and listened as my colleague said she may have to move of the state because of its prohibitively high cost of living, there was something else I felt. Something besides the jarring cough, the first flush of fever, the awkwardness:
Relief that I did not have to choose between my house payment or my health payment. Gratitude that while my coverage has decreased over the years, I am still covered. Gratitude that when I went home that afternoon—I wouldn’t be able to leave the house again for several days, as it turned out—I would have a supply of medicines and treatments, a doctor who was just an e-mail away. I would have options.
Since I wrote this post on watching someone you love in tremendous pain, I have been thinking a lot about gratitude, and the mix of emotions that come with it. I hate that someone I care about is suffering, but I know I am lucky I do not have her pain.
Likewise, I may have lungs I would classify as dodgy on their best day and down right contrary on their worst, or an immune system that’s about as good a defense system as an unlocked door adorned with a “Come on in” sign, or an endocrine system that is routinely haywire, for example, but (you knew a “but” was coming, right?) this is not all that I have.
I have legs that may hurt sometimes but get me where I need to go. I have a healthy heart and good blood pressure and when I go to the gym and feel my muscles work, I am proud of them. I have many parts that work well. I also have a network of people who love and support me, who watch out for me, who ferry me tea when I cannot stand and who encourage my greater goals when I am scared I will fall down.
Someday I will write a post about the current state of our health insurance system. Maybe I’ll even commit to a course of action for trying to resolve some of these glaring problems, because with each word I type I am conscious of the many, many people would not be in the position to say this:
I have options.