She died on Wednesday. Because she was not a close friend of mine, I think I should not use her real name here. I have no idea whether she or her family would approve of her story being used as evidence that our health care system causes so much needless suffering. After all, we are in Virginia; they may well be Tea Party members. So I will ask you to take this on faith. More after the fold---
I read the whole paper this morning. I am ill myself, had not gotten much sleep last night, and decided to just spend the morning in bed. I don't usually read the obituaries but I wanted to drag out the paper-reading experience so as to delay the decision of what to do next. I saw a familiar smile radiating at me from the obituary page. She was a fellow piano teacher in my local teacher organization, someone whom I always made it a point to speak with at our local meetings. I went to a local commuter college, and she was taking some continuing education classes there. I remember her very fondly.
She was a single mother, raising a child by teaching piano lessons. At one of the meetings the chair asked the assembled organization what topics we thought should be covered in future meetings. I mentioned the lack of benefits for even full-time work in our field, and said that offering group health insurance would be a boon to those of us who did not receive benefits through marriage.
After the meeting she approached me and said that she had thought she was the only one in that position. We discussed our respective situations and I told her that I was buying health insurance on the open market. i told her what I paid and she said that she could never pay that and still care for her child. She also mentioned that she had not had a Pap test in ten years even though she had been told she was at high risk for developing cervical cancer and had at least one abnormal test. Selfless as most parents and tough as nails, she uttered words I have heard many parents say, but which I now recognize as magical thinking: "I'm not getting sick. I can't afford to get sick. Besides, I'm too busy."
Now here we are a few years later, and I am a breast cancer survivor, probably because I am insured, and she, who was so selfless and cheerful and clearly loved her son so much, and was so dedicated to the musical education of her students, is gone. And her son has no mother. She is the second piano teacher I know who has died of a cancer which, caught early using common screening methods, is often curable. The other died of breast cancer that was not caught until her backache got too severe to sit on a piano bench. Both were single moms raising kids and going without insurance themselves.
I'm angry. I'm sure the executives of the insurance companies to whom I send half (yes, half) of my hard-earned pay get fancy whole-body screenings and have every potentially suspicious shadow checked out and every suspicious mole removed. Do their lives have so much more value than those (mostly women) who teach our children music, or who clean people's homes, or those who have been laid off in the current recession?