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I met her 31 years ago.  She was one of the strongest women I'd ever met.  Not weightlifter or bodybuilder strong, but able-to-take-the-force-of-the-blow strong.

She raised four kids alone on a waitress's salary, without the aid of child support. (Gotta love those deadbeat parents.)  Not a Ruth Chris waitress.  Having only an 8th grade education, she waitressed at little family-owned Mom & Pop joints for as long as I knew her.  

She died in 1988 from pancreatic cancer without healthcare insurance.  She was my mother-in-law and she deserved better.  Twenty years later and not much has changed in this country regarding healthcare and profit being the bottom line regarding the worth of a human life.

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Next year I'll be starting a new life alone and I don't want to die like she was forced to.

My MIL was diagnosed in December, 1987.  It started as an annoying pain in her right side.  She didn't have the money to see a doctor, so her sister paid for her visit to her own family doctor.  He didn't like her color and didn't like her symptoms.  So, he recommended she see a specialist.  Again, her sister paid for this visit.  The specialist didn't like her color or her symptoms either and recommended exploratory surgery.  Cash and carry medical advice.  

However, having no healthcare insurance, her case was turned over to the state-subsidized hospital and a doctor two hours away.  Long story short?  They opened and closed her up, deemed the cancer "too far gone" and sent her home to die, which she did three months later, the following March.

We flew to see her in February and she was already in agony.  My husband's siblings had never seen death up close and personal.  They had no idea she was suffering so.  At this point, she was already bedridden and barely able to speak.  I sat down next to her and she clutched my hand with the force of a vice grip and gazed pleadingly into my eyes.  I knew what she wanted and needed because I'd seen cancer before.  I patted her hand gently and kissed her cheek.

I took my husband and his sister into the kitchen and asked when pain meds her doctor had her on.  800 mg. ibuprofen.  You've got to be f*cking kidding me.  Like dropping a grain of sand into the Grand Canyon of pain.

I suggested to my SIL that my MIL needed something stronger - much stronger.  She called the doctor and made the 4 hour trek there and back.  She returned with Demerol pills.  The day we left I sobbed as I caught a glimpse of my spouse cradling his mother in his lap, like the infant that life returns us to in the end, gently whispering his final goodbyes.  The only relief I felt was the knowing that she was in slightly less pain.

She died the following month, coming in and out of consciousness.  Her last day on the planet was agonizing for my SILs.  My MIL's body had been methodically going into renal failure.  Her legs were swollen to twice the size of her waist.  My SIL had again driven the 4 hour drive for stronger pain medication and after an hour long dissertation on the life-altering side effects of morphine, she returned with pills.  Gutwrenching, IMO, considering the woman could barely swallow.

As my SIL walked through the front door, the ambulance had just pulled up.  Seems my MIL's sister was aghast at finding her sister knocking on death's door and took it upon herself to call the paramedics.  It's amazing to me how the human spirit will intercede and do what's needed when we're not sure what the "right thing" is.  

My MIL refused to let them take her.  The driver said that she had to sign a statement of refusal before they could leave without her.  Seems protocol must be followed even in death.  She barely had the strength to make an "X" on the paper.  The attendants left and she passed within two hours - not having even the strength to swallow a morphine tablet diluted in a teaspoon of water.

This is the face of uninsured death in America.

Without getting into too many personal details of my private life, my spouse and I will be going our separate ways next year.  Life is what it is and after nearly 30 years together, only the skeleton of what we once shared remains and the vultures are circling.

The SSI I collect each month is minimal.  I'm dancing as fast as I can to find data entry or research work I can do online from home.  Working outside the house is not an option.  

Living inside the bell jar is difficult and sets hard and fast limits.  When the stress gets to be too much, I become unable to sleep, my days blend, and I drop my basket.  Long story short, it's been nearly six and a half years since that's happened and I'll do whatever I have to do to see that that doesn't happen again.

I'm getting conflicting stories as to whether or not Medicare will drop me completely or partially when/if I find gainful employment.  (Surprisingly, some of my doctors won't accept Medicare because they tend to take long periods of time to pay.)  In any case, I hope to earn enough to pay for supplemental medical insurance.  In my state, it seems that as long as I've got 18 months of unbroken medical coverage, they can't deny or restrict me for any length of time due to my pesky pre-existing condition.

If anyone can offer viable suggestions or a leg up, I'd be grateful.  If not, thanks to all for allowing me to share an insider's view of what death looks like to the uninsured. ©

Originally posted to Dreamland on Sat Oct 04, 2008 at 10:57 AM PDT.

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