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Monday, December 19, 2011

Holidays and Family

What makes the holidays so stressful for families? I think it is the unrealistic expectations we have of each other. We know the best of our family and, sadly, also the worst. What we want is a happy harmonious gathering where everyone shares the same interests. The truth is, we are all different. If our family members were people we met, we might not even be friends with them. Yet what we have in common is a history. I remember my older brother pretending to read a book about our favorite character, Keeko, when he was in first grade and I was not yet in school. We howled with laughter at his made-up sentences. My younger brother Paul (who cut off a toe at age 2) built a small house in our back yard out of boards he gleaned throughout the neighborhood. I loved going out there. I remember going to garage sales with my mom when I had small children, and her endless back rubs when I had a migraine. My dad always took us camping and fishing on his vacations. Can you imagine 5 people in a rowboat, 3 of them kids? Dad has been gone for almost ten Christmas celebrations, but I will still hear him speaking pretend Swedish and saying, "Deeeeeelicious!" when asked how the lutfisk was. My memories of my children and grandchildren are among the most precious to me. It is hard to describe the joy they bring into my life. I don't have a lot of money or status, but I do have 6 wonderful human beings that have come into my life with beautiful personalities, warts and all. They are perfect to me, although far from perfect human beings (oxymoron). I would have them get together every weekend if I could, but they have lives to live and I am no longer central to their existence. So I look forward to the Christmas gathering with excitement, trying not to get my hopes too high. If I can remember how blessed I am to have such an amazing family, I will have another happy memory to store away for the future.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Economics of Health

In 2009, I lost my first friend to the insurance industry. Susannah J. Kist was a beautiful woman with a beautiful voice. She had the misfortune to get cancer while uninsured. Months before she died, the hospital refused to treat her because her bill was too high. I was shocked that it could happen to someone I knew. I have never been willing to go without insurance, and have made the necessary sacrifices to always have my family insured, paying incredibly large amounts monthly, working in jobs that have insurance benefits even when they were difficult. I was also ashamed that I could not help her. I was enraged that the powers that be could allow this to be happening to the people. I was angry that a beautiful person was taken when she was doing so much good in the world.
Last year, I learned that my neighbor and good friend had retired, gotten diagnosed with lung cancer, and received chemotherapy. Her dental bill from the chemo was thousands of dollars. On a fixed income, that means fewer choices for fun activities.
Recently, a coworker admitted that she worked in catholic school most of her life. She and her husband retired, then he died. A few years later, she needed open heart surgery. Now her medical bills are so high she is losing her home.
In 1970, I read a book called The Economics of Being a Woman, by Dee Dee Ahern. The themes in the book still ring true. For the most part, women care for the home, their children, and their parents willingly. They want no money for it, are happy to do it. They earn less, so their social security is less. Their salaries are lower than men's, and if they are divorced, they are expected to support their children while the father pays only a fraction of his income.
You don't have to be a woman to experience such loss these days. Poverty is an equal opportunity unemployer. What all this means to me is that if you are off the financial grid, just as much of the third world is off that grid, you don't get medical care. It's as simple as that.
I remember my mother telling me when I was an adult that I had a friend in eighth grade who was Mexican. Her sister died of the measles. I have no memory of it, but the idea was inconceivable to me at the time. Now, such things are becoming commonplace. When are we going to turn our health industry around and take care of the sick? Am I next? Are you?