I had not planned on watching the debate because it conflicted with more important activities, like a new episode of The Closer. But even more importantly, it was being held at a time when I had committed to posting a diary for The Grieving Room. That diary was about the death of my brother from a very painful, uninsured struggle against metastatic cancer.
I had planned to write another separate diary about his journey through what passes for health care in a nation fixated on the profits that that care brings. In a nation where his death was cheered in front of a panel of politicians, none of whom had the decency to object. It is not yet a capital crime in this nation to be uninsured.
Steve worked 14 hours a day building beautiful guitars. Songs will not be sung because he died and will make no more. Thanks to the Republican Party’s theft of our national wealth, he barely eked out an existence with financial help from my husband and me. Money for health insurance? Don’t be ridiculous.
He was 63. He had to start Social Security early so he could afford to eat. He was too young for Medicare and too male for Medicaid. This nation does not recognize the years he spent working for others and making this economy grow, it only focused on the years he worked for himself, creating instruments of rare beauty.
When he had a pain in the butt, he had to wait until early in the morning of December 3rd to present himself at the ER of Highland Hospital, the Alameda County medical facility. There are guards at Highland, and a football field full of plastic chairs for the indigent to use while they wait treatment. He was sent home with a handful of Vicodin and a suggestion to follow up with a pulmonologist for the 3 cm spot the Xray showed on his lung. The soonest appointment was Feb 25.
He was in so much pain that he could not stand up for more than a few seconds at a time. He got Vicodin. And steroid suppositories.
His buddies came up with the $2000 a proctologist wanted to do an outpatient surgery. But the hospital wanted $20,000 for use of the room for the brief procedure because he was uninsured. Because the pain didn’t matter half as much as the profit.
For six weeks he suffered at home. You bastards, you would have liked to watch that, wouldn’t you? Too bad there were no cameras to catch him as he collapsed when he tried to microwave his oatmeal. No microphones to catch his cries of pain or despair.
He was finally admitted to Highland after his heart started to fail in the emergency room one night early in February. The staff there are dedicated, caring, compassionate people who work their hearts out trying to save the sickest and poorest Americans. They have only limited resources with which to do that. And they make every one of those resources count.
By then, of course, the cancer from his lung had spread to his buttock where it attacked the bone. It wrapped itself into the nerves that travelled up his spine. The pain was indescribable. Perhaps his medical records could serve as pornography to sate your sick lust for the pain of others.
The morphine and the cancer combined to cause psychotic breaks from reality. Worse, he knew they had occurred. He was so intelligent, so very caring that these breaks wherein he would roundly curse the staff that cared for him, throwing whatever was handy at the walls, were incredibly shaming and emotionally devastating to him. Cancer is so very cruel, but not half as cruel as the cheers you uttered last night.
The county nursing home where they finally had to warehouse him as the cancer weakened him to the point where chemotherapy would have killed him, looks like a minimum security prison. Half of the staff did not understand English which further frustrated him as the morphine clouded his mind. It was dirty and depressing and I was so grateful that he often did not even know he was there.
He hated it there and was actually glad when an infection sent him back to Highland for treatment. He only lasted a few more days at Highland. I was holding his hand as he drew his last breath. Have you ever seen a man die, you bastards? His fingertips turn grey, his breathing becomes shallow. His grip weakens. And he simply stops breathing.
And all of the laughter and love goes away with that last breath. The intelligence, the creative beauty, the caring compassion. They all disappear. But that probably wouldn’t matter to you since I doubt you would recognize any of it.
Love, compassion, beauty. Laughter, intelligence. And the ability to realize a dream. A dream that never included cruelty or indifference to the suffering of others.
And I cannot, for the life of me fathom why he is only ashes today and you are walking this earth.
But then, I am not the hero my brother was. He would have forgiven you. He would have understood the source of your fear that caused those cheers. I don’t want to.
I think you are scum.
Update: Wed Sep 14, 2011 at 12:48 AM PT: First, let me make it plain that I did in fact see Wolf Blitzer's question and heard the full response. The question was clearly framed for deniability: "Oh, we weren't talking about those who can't afford health insurance, but only those who chose not to buy it.". Nonsense. We all know that this 30 year old, financially secure, healthy man would not refuse insurance at the bargain basement price mentioned. These are not the 49 million Americans without health insurance.
This was all about the ongoing war on the working poor. I, for one, am refusing to allow this sham to continue with my silence. We know who you were talking about Wolff Blitzer, we know who you meant when you yelled out Let him die, Mr Anonymous Asshole in the crowd. I refuse to let you pretend that you don't.
But even if this straw man did exist and was so irresponsible as to refuse affordable healthcare insurance, how exactly does that absolve us as a community, or a nation of our responsibility to a dying man?
Secondly, and far more importantly, thank you to all of the amazingly wonderful posters here in this community. I can't find the words to tell you how much comfort and healing you have given me today. If you were all a bunch of nasty tea baggers, the words would roll right off my fingertips onto my keyboard. But because you are so warm and generous I am speechless. Please accept instead this you tube glimpse of the lovely instruments my brother crafted and the music they produced.