This is a very personal story about something that shames me, but I made a promise to someone that I would write it today.
We're living through very difficult times as individuals and as a society. Read Meteor Blades' article about unemployment figures, see Matt Bors' opinion comic about the commercial exploitation of political chaos and terrorism, watch the utter absurdity of the GOP primary debates that call forth spirits of a child-labor nation that fences itself in so that the corporate-run "market" can correct all our troubles and make a profit doing it.
It's discouraging. It's depressing. It's bleak. It's enough to make you give up hope ... give up trying to fight a stacked system ... give up applying for jobs you won't get ... give up volunteering, phone banking, canvassing, and registering voters for an election that isn't going to make things any better.
Well, give up giving up. Hang in there, baby. Everything's not coming up roses -- but there are buds, there is life, there is a garden we must tend to.
If you want to, you can skip the tediously whiny part of this post and go right for the Frank Capra ending. I'm the first to admit to melodramatic tendencies, and you don't need to take that winding-road, scenic-route trip with me if you'd prefer to fast-forward to the destination.
------ optional tediously whiny part ------
You may know that I have some serious health problems. Among them, pituitary adenoma in conjunction with empty sella syndrome, leukocytosis and leukemoid reaction to chronic illness, and immune deficiency that makes the benign tumor inoperable (although it's not cancerous and not fast-growing). I can't get the tumor removed because my immune system is so defective that, when immune deficiency is combined with cerebral spinal fluid pressure from the sella malformation, the world's top neurosurgeon for this type of tumor predicted an 80% chance that I'd develop bacterial meningitis and die post-op. And I can't fix the immune system because of the tumor and the cerebral spinal fluid pressure on it.
It's all very complicated and precarious. Until I lost my health insurance earlier this year, I carried around a list of 17 different doctors who were involved in my care: cardiologist, pulmonologists, infectious disease specialist, neurosurgeon, neurologist, oncologist, family physician, speech pathologists, et al. ad infinitum ad nauseum. I came close to death a couple of times because of pneumonia and other opportunistic infections and diseases. I've had infections that doctors came running to look at because they are so rarely seen in patients without AIDS or end-stage renal failure that I was like a medical-malfunction miracle.
In 2010, I was laid off from my job that offered insurance -- which was perfectly rational, as I'd spent four of my last six months there on medical leaves. I had another job, but I was so sick so frequently that they couldn't rely on me to step up to full-time work.
And even so -- even with the MRIs showing the tumor in conjunction with the base-skull malformation, even with all the bloodwork results, even with adamant letters from virtually all of my 17 doctors, even with the letter from my boss saying that I often dragged myself in to my 8-hour-a-week job so sick that I shouldn't have been there at all -- I was denied disability benefits.
There was an 18-to-22-month wait before I could even see an administrative judge to appeal the denial. Eighteen to 22 months. On $428 a month from a part-time job that I can't even do much of the time -- yet that, in some Dickensian fashion that my febrile liberal communist mind cannot fathom, renders me ineligible for Medicaid or other assistance.
The perfect storm: laid off, under-employed, unemployable, sick, fatigued, overburdened with family-care issues, and unable to access health care or that fabled safety net we hear about now and then. I was even rejected by two free medical clinics and a practice that works with uninsured patients, because my health needs overwhelmed their services.
Now, if you know me, you know that I'm an optimist at heart. There is ALWAYS something worth turning the corner for. Always.
But a few days ago, I skipped around that 10,352,948th corner and hit smack into a brick wall that rivals the scope of the Jerichoan fence that Michele Bachmann wants to build to protect us from poor Mexicans workers and children.
I had made financial arrangements with my former family physician's office to be billed for services and pay in installments, but the billing department somehow didn't put this into my file. So when I showed up for an appointment in the wake of my second bout of pneumonia in three months, I was turned away. Turned away by the family physician's office that I'd been going to for 16 years. Because I didn't have insurance, and I didn't have $91 in cash or credit that day. And even if I'd had the $91, I didn't have the resources for any follow-up care.
I was distraught and overcome. A passing nurse alerted my family physician, who took me into a hallway and said that if I'd come back the next day, he would see me "off the books."
But I had already given up. There wasn't enough gas in the car for another trip. There was nothing in the bank or the plastic for follow-up care. I was exhausted. I was tired of running around here and there for every little scrap, every little crumb of hope. Not even a private James Taylor mini-concert for 50 key Obama campaign volunteers could rev me up for the work to come. It was despair all the way down, even five feet away from "Carolina in My Mind." I just gave up.
I went home and took pills. And, boy, do I have pills! Thanks to my optimistic ability to cobble together a crazy quilt of prescription assistance to keep my lungs going, my brain from seizing, my internal infections from replicating, etc., I have plenty of pills. I took 'em all and went to bed.
Then the whole universe got weird.
------- Frank Capra destination part with a just little more melodramatic scenic-route text to get through -------
I took the pills, straightened up the house, put a few small packets and thank-you notes into the mailbox, placed some key files on my dresser, and went to bed.
At some point that afternoon, a friend called. From the Netherlands. In Europe. Far away from North Carolina. I didn't answer, so he called again. And one more time.
Finally I picked up the phone. I was kind of groggy and not talkative (unusual, right?) and less coherent even than normal. So he asked me: "What have you done?"
The guy's in Europe, right? What's he going to do about it? So I told him he's a wonderful person and has been a dear friend, even though he can be annoying sometimes, which is perfectly fair because I'm annoying most of the time. Then I hung up.
That's when I got the call from 911 dispatch.
Yeah, the friend in Amsterdam hopped on the Intertoob Googlez and called in an ambulance. Which was on the way.
And then the universe got even weirder.
Another phone call just moments -- not even seconds -- later. This time from my disability attorney. The Obama administration is addressing a continuous two-year backlog of disability claims by supplementing the administrative judge supply via "virtual screening experts" who are specialists in particular types of disabilities. These screeners comb through all the records of a disability claimant to determine whether there's a prima facie case for disability benefits or whether the case should go on to an administrative judge for determination.
And guess what? The screener who was assigned my file saw the tumor on the MRI CDs. She saw the base-skull malformation and the signs of cerebral spinal fluid build-up. She read the bloodwork results and the letters from all those doctors and my boss. She saw the hospital records and the stroboscope of the laryngeal/bronchial candidiasis. And she said, "Hey, this woman is disabled. Get her some of that help she's paid for in her 40 years of employment." So no 18-22 months of begging door-to-door for scraps.
And you're not going to believe this, but the screener's name is Grace.
Then another phone call. The friend from Europe asked to talk with the EMTs who were standing at my doorstep about to come inside. He told them what he thought I'd taken, and they trundled me into the ambulance. My friend texted me all the way to the hospital and quit only when they made me turn off my phone in the ER. Then blahblahblah [insert sappy failed suicide-attempt story here].
But guess what? While I was drinking the noxious charcoal liquid, there was another phone call. From Triangle Family Services, about an opportunity with the North Carolina Housing Coalition. The Obama administration has made available neighborhood and community block grants for people who are at risk of losing their homes to foreclosure.
More help. On the way. Thanks to Harriett -- yeah, that Harriett. The one whose name I misspelled. (I'm really sorry about that.)
And THEN guess what? The ER doc interviewed me a few times, then determined that I could manage without an involuntary commitment because the Affordable Health Care Act includes grants for agencies that provide comprehensive mental-health and social-services care for people in need of resources, and he felt assured that I was going to follow through with them if they sent someone to talk with me that night.
More help. On the way. In the form of Richard, who arrived at 2:36 a.m. He did a complete intake assessment and assured me that within a few hours, I would have an appointment with someone who would coordinate care for me until I got myself together.
Alright, alright, alright. I get it. There's help on the way. It's not always easy to hear about. It's not necessarily easy to accept help. It comes with conditions: that we have to hang in there, that we have to show up when we say we're going to, that we have to take a seat sometimes and listen to friends and family who care about us. That we have to recognize the tiny miracles of community, friendship, and -- yes -- even politics that come our way.
I promised my friend in Europe that I would write this diary today. Because I'm not the only one who hangs by thin threads of hope and grit and trying, and he says I owe him the telling of this story.
If you are one of those who are about to give up, I write this for you: Hang in there, baby. Just a day longer. Just an hour longer. Just a minute longer. Hang in there. And know that there are small Tesla engines of help and hope at work, humming softly away at decibels far beneath the sturm und drang of the screaming crazies on the debate stage and in our own heads sometimes.
And when you feel up to it, make a phone call to a friend who can use a referral to a program that might benefit him/her, banter with someone who doesn't see the point in voting, chat up a neighbor about what "neighborhood" means. Call to thank a Congress member for supporting the Affordable Health Care Act and call to urge another Congress member to sponsor an even better one.
Just hang in there. It's all frustrating, it's all chaotic, it's all nuts. And we're all in this together, like it or not, pushing that fecking rock up another fecking hill.
One must imagine Sisyphus happy. (With or without Frank Capra.)