Archive for July 31st, 2009

milwaukee fireLast night on the NBC Nightly News, there was a segment, part of their Making a Difference series of feel good stories about people helping out others, that was a follow-up to the story from a week or so ago where the off-duty Milwaukee firefighters rescued a family trapped in an overturned and burning minivan. 

It was the story of how the firefighters’ wives went on the offensive to raise funds for the victims of the crash, one of which was a young boy who suffered burns over 30% of his body.  It seems they were uninsured and going through financial difficulties, so the costs of the intensive therapies and surgery needed for their son’s care would inevitably overwhelm them.

I was thrilled and heartened to see such unity in the way the community came together to raise money for this family’s hardships, just as I’m sure NBC hoped I would be.  But after a moment I was angry.  This was the face of the debate that’s currently going on in this country concerning healthcare.  Sure, I’m glad that there are good people out there who are willing to step up and help out those who need it but what happens when there is nobody stepping up, nobody taking the time to look out for those in trouble?  This family would have been put into a financial hole out of which they may have never been able to escape.

I know from personal experience how this works.  When I had the accident that enabled my painting career to bloom, where I fell from the peak of my home and shattered my wrist and knocked out my front teeth, I was uninsured.  My very first thought on hitting the ground and getting to my feet, as blood poured out of my nose and mouth and I saw my wrist with two 90 degree bends in it, was, “Oh, shit.  I won’t be able to work.  How can I pay for this?”  I remember that moment from seventeen years ago as though it were this morning and I remember that sense of dread and worry more than I remember the pain.

I also remember the doctor who set my wrist saying that normally he would perform surgery on such an injury then looked at the paperwork and asked again if I was insured.  He kind of frowned when I said no and said he would simply manipulate the shards with his fingers and shape them, putting them back into place.  It should be okay , he said, and so far it has.  It is rough with more bumps and edges than my other wrist and there is occasional discomfort but it’s been okay.  I ran into another orthopedic surgeon in a gallery years later and told him of  my story.  He felt my wrist and said that it probably should have had surgery but that my doctor had done a pretty fair job.  Said I was lucky.

Now, mine is a story with a fairly happy ending though it was a huge burden to pay off the several thousand dollars of medical bills even without the surgery.  My wrist is relatively good.  But what if it was not?  It always bothers me that, at that moment, when a decision needed to be made that could affect the rest of my life, it came down to the matter of whether or not I had insurance.  I can’t imagine being the parents of the kid in the minivan and wanting only the best for their boy but knowing it would hamstring them financially , maybe forever.  The dread and worry I felt in those seconds after I fell would be nothing to what they must feel.

And that’s just not right…

Now I don’t have answers.  I don’t have data and facts to spew out and this is simply a couple of anecdotes.  But to say that we should maintain the status quo or that we can’t do a better job is just wrong.

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