I got the call from the gynecologist’s office yesterday. My pap came back with some “abnormalities.” Time to schedule the colposcopy; I go in two weeks. This isn’t the first time it’s happened, I went through this about 8 years ago. I completely freaked out then, I just knew I was riddled with cancer. I remember feeling pukey for weeks, first waiting for the procedure, then test results. Everything was fine and I’m sure that’s how this time will turn out as well. I’m more annoyed than worried, it’s not a comfortable procedure, having your cervix scraped and biopsies taken and whatnot. But. But. IF it isn’t nothing, and it is, but if not, this discovery is early in the process, I’d be able to get the treatment I need quickly and probably/hopefully be over it without a lot of fuss.
I’d be lucky.
Lucky to have health insurance through my employer, pretty good insurance at no extra cost – it’s part of my salary. I have a fairly low deductible. I have short term and long term disability through them as well. I get three weeks of PTO every year. My employers are generous when bad things happen, I wouldn’t have to worry about losing my job. I have a partner who would be able to drive me back and forth for treatments, who already does the majority of the house work. I have friends and family near by. I’d be able to concentrate on fighting and healing, I’d know my life wouldn’t completely disintegrate.
I’d be lucky.
Can we just for a minute put everything political aside and think about how fucked up that is?! The most effective indication of cancer survival is early detection. Gynecological cancers are usually picked up at a woman’s annual appointment – there’s a breast exam, internal and external physical exams and a pap smear. My latest appointment lasted 10 minutes once the doctor was in the room. So, 10 minutes, once a year is the best cancer prevention a woman has.
But only if she’s lucky.
These exams are not free. Ideally, a woman has insurance, takes advantage of her annual exam coverage, picks a doctor she likes, anything discovered is between her and her physician and she’s got a pretty good chance of not being killed by her uterus. OB/GYNs also discuss moods, abuse, weight, birth control, pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, puberty, menopause, vitamins and any random questions the patient has. I’ve talked to my doctor about depression, about migraines, about things y’all don’t need to know about but were important. Being able to pick a doctor you like and trust, someone who will take the time to discuss these things, both of you having the time and resources to investigate irregularities – that’s really important.
But only if you’re lucky.
Without insurance, your choices are reduced to free clinics and prayer. If you live near a major city, it will be a lot easier to find a clinic. As long as you’re in a state that hasn’t passed legislation to shut those clinics down. As long as there’s still funding for those clinics. As long as those clinics have any time left to see you and aren’t completely overwhelmed because they’re the last place in the entire state you can go. As long as you have transportation. As long as you’re willing to walk past angry strangers calling you a babykiller and shoving pictures of mutilated fetuses at you as you enter the clinic. Then, if all of those things fall in to place, you can go and get a free exam and know that you are healthy.
If you are lucky.
The knee jerk response to the uninsured problem has been – well, get a job and get insurance. Take personal responsibility! Don’t come crying to us good, hard working Americans when you’re sick, you should have made better life choices! Even in a bad economy, even with high unemployment rates. Even when more and more corporations reduce hours and benefits for employees and “reinvest” the surplus in the form of executive bonuses. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. That’s what all of the “makers” did.
They weren’t lucky, they worked.
Of course, decent jobs with decent employers concerned with their employees’ health and well being aren’t just laying about, waiting to be filled. Here is an abbreviated list of people I know who have gone a significant amount of time without health insurance and the reasons why:
• Me, after I moved to Richmond the first time, I started out with a temp agency and ended up working for a real estate company, who had a three month waiting period before insurance kicked in. I worked there for two months before I was officially hired, I’d been with the temp agency about a month before then, so I had 6 months without insurance.
• My sister, who has spent the majority of the past decade in school, only able to work part-time jobs.
• My mother before she was legally married to my step-father, luckily she was actually able to get married, unlike the gays in Virginia, so that was resolved happily for her (she did not get married for health insurance, just in case it sounds like that)
• My father as a small business owner
• My best friend, who found out when she was pregnant her employer did not file her insurance paperwork and she had no coverage
• A friend who was laid off, moved to a new city and was only able to find “contract” work and therefore was not entitled to health insurance
• Most of the waiters, waitresses, cooks and bartenders in the world
• Friends who worked one or more part-time jobs
• Friends who would be eligible for coverage through a spouse’s plan, except it would mean an extra chunk of money taken out of his/her paycheck and it wasn’t affordable
• Friends who work as stylists, real estate agents, insurance producers, roofers, theater techs, writers, musicians, nannies or entrepreneurs
Oh! But wait! We have a social safety net, right? Isn’t that what Medicaid is for?? HAHAHAHAHA, oh you, don’t you know how much Medicaid funding has been gutted? How many people are getting kicked off because there’s no money? Have you ever taken a look at the eligibility requirements? If you’re making money, you’re out of luck. If you’re not making money, chances are you’ll be out of luck as well. Your kids? Unlucky. Your spouse? Unlucky. If you do have coverage with Medicaid? You’re looking at a limited pool of physicians you can see, who are all overwhelmed by the amount of patients they have. You’re waiting months for appointments, limited resources for tests, limited options when something is wrong.
If you’re lucky.
I’m not a politician. I’m not a policy writer. I’m not a lobbyist or a government employee. I don’t know the solution to healthcare in America. But I have a couple of ideas. Let’s quit cutting funding for clinics. Even if they offer abortion services (which are completely legal!! You can’t preach the sanctity of life to me when you refuse basic medical rights to women.). Let’s stop defunding Medicaid. Let’s stop assuming the uninsured are lazy and ignorant. Let’s throw away the image of the welfare queen. Let’s, just for a second, consider that people can be poor for a variety of reasons, but no matter the why, they are still people. Let’s stop worrying about having the strongest military presence in the world while people are dying from easily preventable or curable illnesses in our hometowns. Let’s stop pretending that emergency rooms are enough. Let’s remember that the first truth we believe to be self-evident is the right to life. Let’s think for ourselves, let’s learn the facts about the debates, let’s make decisions based on truths instead of fear. Let’s take a step back from thinking about wants, and realize what we need. Because one day you could be out of job, you could be uninsured, you might have to skip annual exams, you might find out you have a serious illness, you might have to prepare yourself and your loved ones for your preventable, unnecessary death because you weren’t lucky.
Luck should have nothing to do with it.