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On Fear and Health Care

As a disclaimer: I have not researched the new health care bill. The only things I have heard have been through others and have been riddled with opinions and biases. Although they play a huge part in what I am saying, I am not writing about either the new health care bill or Obamacare. Please don’t read anything I write as an argument one way or another.

In the last 24 hours, I’ve seen a lot of people talking about health care. And when I say “talking,” I mean I’ve seen people express real concerns and watched them be met with vitriol. I’ve seen people buckle down and defend their party’s position without any sign of sensitivity for “the other side.” I’ve seen arguments for Obamacare. I’ve seen arguments for the new Republican bill. But what I haven’t seen is empathy, especially empathy from one side to the other.

I have a very hard time with politics. I don’t like it. I don’t like talking about it. I don’t like how messy it is. I wish it could be as simple as “Well, that’s what you think, but this is what I think.” But what you think affects how you vote, and how you vote affects what happens to millions of people. And so it can never just be an intellectual discussion devoid of strong emotion because what someone is saying they believe and support is going to affect what everyone else experiences out there in the world.

Over the years, I have rarely heard anyone speak of politicians without talking about their crookedness, their deceit. Then a while back on a podcast I listen to, one of the podcasters, John Roderick, ran for Seattle city council. Roderick is a musician and guy-who-knows-a-bunch-of-stuff. He’s certainly not a politician. It was fascinating to hear his insights before, during, and after the election. It would take me forever to find it, so I’ll summarize, but his observations amounted to this: politicians themselves rarely go into politics to be crooked and abuse their power. Roderick went so far as to say that not a single politician he met was actually “a bad person.” He found himself discouraged because, while he wanted to win without running a negative campaign, he found it impossible to succeed that way. Furthermore, he came to the conclusion that the political system as it exists in America makes it impossible to be a politician without becoming a politician. The system requires the bad behavior that leads us to see all politicians as corrupt liars. 

I’m sure there are exceptions. I’m sure there are bad people who decide that politics is the way for them to garner power and abuse it. But I sincerely believe that that does not describe the majority. It seems an exhausting and incredibly difficult job to choose if you just want to take advantage of people. Just become a manager at a Walmart if all you want to do is make people miserable.

Sadly, the system we have in place pits two binary groups against each other. However, what in life, except actual binary, is binary? Have you ever had a politician that you agree with on literally everything? If you think you have, you probably just haven’t dug deeply enough. People are infinitely complex with all sorts of paradoxes and contradictions in them. No two people completely agree on everything. That’s why our government is supposed to be representative. Our elected officials are supposed to act on behalf of the people they represent, ideally even those that didn’t vote for them.

But back to my original observation. We’ve let the political system, which wrongly pits a bunch of people who are just trying to do the best they can to make a difference in whatever direction they think is best against each other, make us argue and fight and insult each other.

I have a friend with epilepsy who posted to Facebook this morning a genuine question about the new health care bill. So far the responses are civil, but I doubt they’ll stay that way for long. Because there will be someone this person knows who hated Obamacare and that person will likely adopt whatever “the Republicans” have been saying and spit it back out at my friend.

But don’t miss what is going on under the surface. My friend isn’t actually asking a political question. He’s asking a personal one. He’s scared. And he’s asking for reasons not to be scared.

And you know what? I’m scared too.

At age 1.5, I was diagnosed with hypoglycemia. I’d be sitting in my highchair waiting for dinner, babbling and playing, and then I’d slump over, sweaty and shaking. Easy enough fix: my mom would give me some sugar, and I’d perk right up. I can remember being a little kid and feeling low in the car. Mom would hand back a baggie of sugar cubes, and I’d munch until I felt better. We certainly didn’t have to worry about affording sugar cubes.

At age 6, I was diagnosed with type one diabetes. My parents pulled me out of my kindergarten gym class and drove me to the Toledo hospital where I was admitted for three days, hooked up to an IV, and told a million different ways my life would never be the same again: three shots of insulin a day, anywhere between seven and fifteen blood glucose tests a day, a specialist appointment every three months, blood work, tests, medical supplies. We absolutely needed help affording all that.

At age 19, I was diagnosed with aggressive rheumatoid arthritis. For months prior, I hadn’t been able to use either of my wrists. My college roommate had to help me zip my pants in the morning. I had to stand outside a classroom or bathroom door and wait for someone to come along to open it. I’d ask people to help me get my backpack on after class. I couldn’t write with a pencil or pen. My rheumatologist put me on therapy as equally aggressive as my disease: 15 mg of prednisone daily, 5 mg of meloxicam daily, 200 mg of hydroxychloroquine daily, 20 mg of methotrexate weekly, 5 mg leucovorin weekly, and, after a few months of little improvement, 50 mg of Enbrel weekly. I have no idea what all that would have cost out of pocket, but a month’s supply of Enbrel alone costs nearly $2800 without insurance.

I began crying just now, writing that. Do you know why? Because without Enbrel, I am not myself. I am tired all the time. I struggle to do anything from writing to wiping after I use the bathroom. I can’t do hand lettering with chalk. I can’t do yoga. I can’t hold a book to read on the couch. I can’t play tennis. I can’t drive my manual transmission car. I can’t hold my husband’s hand while we walk through the mall.

I don’t even make $2800 in a month.

I don’t want squabbles between political parties. I want someone to assure me that I will be able to live a healthy and happy life, to whatever degree it is possible. 

All three of those conditions are genetic. I didn’t do a thing to cause them, and I couldn’t have done a thing to prevent them. It’s not about me being irresponsible or not taking care of myself. It’s just the crappy hand I was dealt. A straight flush of “preexisting conditions.”

I want to travel. I want to see the mountains up close. I want to play tennis with my husband. I want to hand letter signs for coffee shops and stores. I want to pick up my cats and smother them in kisses. It’s scary that this system that divides people into two parties can threaten all that.

A lot of the people who are upset about this bill are not upset because they are out to get the people who agree with it. People are not Republicans because they hate poor people. People are not Democrats because they want to take away your guns. People have beliefs about what the right thing to do is, and they act on that. And people disagree about what the right thing to do is. But let’s not forget that, in general strokes, nobody chooses how to vote in order to bring harm to someone else. They vote in whatever way they think is right.

But let’s also not forget that sometimes our decisions affect others in ways we wouldn’t have thought of. Sometimes people have genuine concerns that we don’t.

My friend on Facebook isn’t spouting off Democratic views in order to anger those who identify as Republican. He’s scared, and he just wants to be able to travel, to see the mountains up close, to play with his dog, to take care of his family.

Please choose to see the humanity in all this. Don’t call someone stupid or evil because they disagree with you. Ask them why. Ask them how they feel. Ask them what they want. And then share with them what you think, how you feel, what you want. Choose to see the person and their feelings and fears. Look past Republican and Democrat. Be human. Be a friend.

Let’s try to do better.

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