Monday, November 15, 2010

Typhoid Mary

It's finally sinking in that I'm not sick anymore. I will have these moments, sitting at the dinner table, putting on my pajamas, when I realize that I am no longer sick. It's a revelation and a shock. It reminds me of when I sent my oldest son to kindergarten. I would be walking down the aisle at the supermarket and have this horrible realization that I had lost my child! Where was my son? And then I would remember. I have the same feeling as I catch myself checking the whites of my eyes for jaundice or reaching for the thermometer to take my temperature. It's OK. I don't need to do that anymore. It's OK.

My experience of sickness and how it evolved has changed me forever. It has changed my view of myself and my body. It has changed my view of what is important and what is frivolous. It has changed my view of destiny and chance. It has profoundly changed the vision I have of my life from here on into the future.

There is nothing, absolutely nothing, as important as health. It is the basis for every single other aspect of life and experience. It is intrinsically what it means to be human. It is our collective vulnerability and strength, at the same time. It is the ultimate bare all.

I have a vision of myself on the operating table. This was not my first surgery, but I think my age in life, and the horrible, degrading circumstances I found myself in living in the United States, made this my life changing surgery. I am lying on the table, I am naked, I am anesthetized and asleep. I have people around me, some of them who know my name and my story, and some of them who do not. I am once again a baby. As these people cut into my body to heal me, I imagine their only thought is to do their jobs, to use their talents to remove what ails me and heal me. I imagine that after all their training and experience and schooling, this is probably a simple task. Do no harm. Heal the patient. There were no insurance protocols to follow or forms to sign or credit cards to hand over. There was only heal the patient.

I was in the doctor’s office with my son today waiting for his appointment. A young man came in, probably not even ten years older than my son. His eyes were red and swollen from crying, and he was in severe pain. He told the receptionist that he was afraid that he had broken his shoulder. He was alone, and his voice was cracking with fear. And pain. I imagined his mother far away, and wished I knew her so that I could call her. The receptionist was kind, and told him to sit down, take a deep breath. She would help him fill out the forms. Could she have his insurance card? He began to cry, telling her that he did not have insurance. He explained along story of being in between jobs and in some kind of “trial period” of three months. His shoulder was broken or dislocated, and he was alone. The nurse called my son, and we got up and went into the examination room. I felt sick. I thought I would vomit.

My youngest son has another 3 years before he graduates high school. After he is finished, I will leave this crazy place. I do not want to witness any more scenes like the one I witnessed today, especially not in my own life story. I want to live and work and thrive and make the most of my talents. I want to live, and I can’t do that here.

Since I have returned, I have become a sort of untouchable. I publicized my story on many fronts, since I do not believe that Americans are insensitive to their neighbors, just that they prefer to ignore them, pretend they are far from their line of sight. They spray deodorant in the air hoping to mask the stink. People like me are like the untouchables in India, a population living on the fringes, cultivated by the same state to which they pay their taxes and for which they send their children to fight on foreign fronts. My story is not unusual, but I have found that many of the people in the orbit of my own life, people who know me and arguably love me, people who are related to me or respect me or share histories with me, have been strangely silent. If it could happen to me, it could happen to anybody. It may be catching. I hit too close to home. I am the Typhoid Mary. I am the spot on Lady Macbeth's dress, a sour reminder of what is really happening.

My life looks good from here. Rosy even. I am lucky, lucky, lucky. And I won't forget it.


Romerican said...

I've been following your health care story from the very get-go and it really shook me to the core. I'm an American living in Italy and as much as I complain about the shabby public service (Rome has a notoriously bad system), I do realize how fortunate I am to be in a place where I will be taken care of no matter what.
After graduating from college, I was forced off my parents' insurance and got denied coverage several times for ridiculous reasons. And then I left the country... and have been without health care since then.
It's scandalous to think of all the people, like you, who've gone through horrific health care incidents. More people need to hear about your story and realize that there needs to be e BIG change in USA... and soon.

jennifer said...

Thank you- I can't tell you how many people write to me in private with stories much worse than mine. That's why I try to keep talking about it- even though I don't always like to. Feels like I'm airing my dirty laundry. But the laundry isn't really mine, it America's.

Mary said...

You are spot on with your comment about Americans preferring to ignore their neighbors and spray deodorant in the air hoping to mask the stink. Keep talking about it. Hopefully it will open some eyes.

Michelle | Bleeding Espresso said...

Brava brava brava. And thank you for continuing to talk about it.