For Keith Olbermann and His Dad, Continuing Good Wishes; And Then, A Further American Health-Care Horror Story

The Olbermann family knows altogether too well what a horror show the current health-care nightmare is in America. Most of us have one, and here’s mine.

Trish, to whom I was married before, was legally blind, had to take numerous pills to control the pressure behind her eyes, yet managed a productive writing life that included screenplay options, publications, and the praises of her teachers and editors, and worked as a secretary in an alternative school in Pittsburgh. She proved herself stronger than glaucoma.

She discovered a lump in her breast, and we went to the hospital to have it checked out. Now, we didn’t have insurance, being contract employees at the school (University School, by name) so the owner wouldn’t have to be responsible, but there was no choice for us. Of course, the lump was cancerous, and I waited for hours in her room before she was wheeled in. Her surgeon came in a little while beforehand—he was a short man who walked straight up to me in the semi-darkened room, and said these words: “Mister Wylam, your wife has cancer. You have decisions to make.”

My first reaction—not a thought at all—was to grab him and throw him through the seventh-storey window. But that specific news was a fist that caught me dead in the solar plexus, and I doubled over a chair crying instead. And what did this goddamned weasel of a doctor do?

He walked out. I hope he never gets anywhere near a patient ever again. I still wish his license could be revoked.

Trish wound up having a mastectomy, which was the beginning of hell for her. Staph infections followed, then of course the inevitable reconstruction. This turned out to be a horrific procedure, leaving her with a scar scross her middle that couldn’t even be closed with staples, so she had to pack the wound with gauze. First time I went into the bathroom after she tried it, there was so much blood on the floor and all four walls it looked like the shower scene from Psycho. If only it had been a movie. 

Then the first brain tumor, the lung tumor, the second brain tumor, and then, after so much suffering, radiation, chemo, more staph infections, she died. Maybe she was beyond medical rescue; one doctor told her that her body was “very good at making tumors,” and as cold as that sounds, it might’ve been true. But it doesn’t matter. She was a human being, and that on its own was enough, or should have been. As it was, though, we were looked down upon as virtually indigent although we were both working, and therefore we were less human, apparently, than others who actully had coverage. 

After she died, the medical bills were—well, a laugh. Well into six figures, I don’t even remember the final total now but it was extraordinary. I took one look at it and said, “Well, thank you Ronald Reagan and George Bush, you bastards both, for putting us here.” Because they had. I got a lawyer whose jaw literally dropped when I showed him the paperwork. He represented me pro bono since I was by then working at a book store and couldn’t possibly pay him what he normally charged.

When we finally had our bankruptcy hearing, the judge—I’m not kidding here—laughed out loud before signing off on the necessary forms. But that was no weight off my shoulders; it meant I’d failed. Oh, I knew I’d failed Trish, and would never forgive myself for that, but I’d also failed myself, or so I thought. Now, sitting here years later, I know better.

Our government failed us. The health-care system failed us. And it didn’t help when, a year or so later, I was job-hunting while dealing with a full-blown fever; on the LRT going home to Dormont, I started to see bright stars in front of me and knew I was passing out, so the question occurred: What do actors do when they fall? They protect their heads. I was able to do that, but a few seconds later when I came around, the train had pulled into Potomac Station and another passenger was kneeling over me. “Thought you was dead there, bruddah.” “On the whole,” I said, “maybe I’d rather be dead right now than where I am.” Sure enough, the driver wouldn’t even let me sit up; and sure enough, the unaffordable ambulance arrived. It all made me wonder if it was possible to go bankrupt while in bankruptcy. Further hundreds I’d never be able to pay back while working a subsistence-level job.

It’s been years now, but I’ll never forget that sense of fear. Hell, I still feel it. Always will. But here’s my point: no one in the richest country on Earth should go without health care. No one. This is what Olbermann’s been saying, and I completely agree. If Canada can do it, for God’s sake the US can. If not, we know who to blame—the Republican Right, the godforsaken insurance companies who deserve to be smashed to pieces by a truly socialist government, their executives hauled out and made to do the perpwalk, and even those Dems who’ve chosen to take the side of evil, nothing less than objective evil.

In fifty years, I hope we’ll see the free clinics as a beginning for truly nationalized health care. And if the Repubs don’t like it, they don’t have to get well. They can just opt out if they prefer. But at least then it’ll be a matter of personal choice and not the medical Darwinism we find prevalent in the US these days.

For Keith and his dad, of course I continue to wish them all good things from this small place on the blogosphere, that his dad will keep fighting and live a long time in good health. And Keith’s absences from the chair at Countdown always go noticed in our house because we understand where he most likely is, sitting with his dad. Difficult as that can be, it’s nonetheless important. We’re all fellow members of that club, unfortunately. You have to sit in one of those seats in the ER, or in a semi-private room to understand what it all means. If you can focus on regaining your health and not have to worry about how much money your health will cost you, count yourself blessed. I’m sure Mitch McConnell does, psychotic imbecile though he is; I’m sure Rushbo feels blessed that he can go on eating Big Macs until he bursts (at which point those of us outside the immediate blast zone will also be blessed, but until then there’ll always be a doctor on the other end of his sustantial line-of-credit).  But, like Keith, I’ve seen too many people who’ve had to endure an entirely avoidable nightmare.

We’ve seen this movie. Just run single-payer health-care straight down the Republicans’ throats. Let ’em choke on that. And hold off on the ambulance. Let the sorry sons of bitches think about it awhile, the way we’ve done for too damn long. Just get it done, liberals. Just get it done.  There’s a guy named Kucinich who’s had just such a bill awaiting a day like this.

Goddamn it, now is the time. Not tomorrow. Not next week.



About johnwylam1957

I'm a poet and teacher now living in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
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