One of many stories

Thursday, March 12: When I woke up Thursday morning, I decided to self-isolate. I woke up with a heaviness in my chest, like someone was sitting on it. I also had a sore throat and a dry cough. I checked my temperature and it was normal. I have not been overseas and have not knowingly been in contact with anyone who could have the virus. Regardless, I decided to stay home.

I worried about my co-workers and students. Even if I didn’t have the virus, adding my weird symptoms to the mix would not be good. I emailed my bosses at GBCC and told them I would not be coming in, but I was available for online tutoring and would create an assignment for my students.

Even though Ian had and continues to have zero symptoms, I figured he’d been exposed to whatever I have and didn’t want to be sorry in a few days, so I called Ian’s school to say he was staying home as well.

Even though my chest hurt, I decided to go for a 3-mile walk. I figured the fresh air would do me good and working out is one of the many ways I take care of myself. Obviously, going to the fitness center was out of the question. Yes, I had chest pains, but I wanted to see if my lungs were compromised. At the end of the walk, I didn’t have labored breathing. It relaxed my anxieties.

Making sure I was careful with food prep, I made healthy meals for us, took vitamins, gargled, washed my hands constantly, and drank lots of fluids. By Thursday night I had a low-grade fever, about 99.5. I was a little nervous but knew there were several other possibilities for my symptoms.

Friday, March 13: I woke up a little achy, and my fever had gone up to 100.1. I repeated my routine from the day before, but since it was raining, I couldn’t go for a long walk. I worked from home but felt tired and foggy. I took my temperature again: 101. I was conflicted about it, but I told my kids about the fever. I hate worrying them when there’s nothing they can do.

Nicole’s response was “Call the doctor.”

My response, “I don’t have health insurance.” I assured her that I was still breathing fine. And told her I couldn’t afford a doctor or urgent care visit, especially if they were just going to tell me, “Go home, drink plenty of fluids, and rest.”

“But, Mom. They have to test you. At least see if you have strep. You’ll need antibiotics if you do.”

So, I called a few urgent care places: $140, at minimum just to be seen. If they do a strep test it goes up from there, with a $250 maximum charge. It was an option, but a last resort. I decided to wait. Besides, I was told they didn’t do Covid-19 tests there. I decided to wait to see if things got worse.

Later that day, the sun came out briefly. I went out for a mile walk. I was tired, but it felt good. Back inside, I relaxed and watched a few shows. I took my temperature again, and it was gone. But the heaviness in my chest and sore throat were still present. I told my kids my fever was gone.

Before bed, my symptoms started up again, so I took my temperature. 102. I didn’t tell anyone. I was too worried to share—backwards thinking for sure—but speaking it out loud would make it scarier. I didn’t feel any worse. I could still breathe fine. I made some tea with a little bit of honey and whiskey (hey–it’s worked before) and went to bed.

Saturday, March 14: I woke up and felt completely different. No fever. The heaviness in my chest was almost gone. No sore throat. I was immediately thankful I didn’t waste my money on an urgent care visit. I felt good…

…until a few hours later. I started feeling tired and my chest and throat began to hurt again. I took my temperature. Back to a low-grade fever 99.8. The rest of the weekend went the same way: Brief moments of low pain and no fever and then more pronounced pain and low-grade fever.

Monday, March 16: I woke up with a severe headache. The last time I felt this kind of pain was when I had pneumonia and pleurisy. That worried me, but again, I had no fever. I decided to call my doctor—a doctor I hadn’t seen in over a year because I no longer had health insurance. I had no idea what would happen once they found out I was no longer insured, but I hoped that maybe they would test me anyway. Besides, I heard that the tests would be made widely available by Monday—and maybe free.

I was wrongly optimistic. They told me I couldn’t get tested because 1) my symptoms were not that bad, 2) I hadn’t been to any of the hot spots in or out of this country, and 3) I hadn’t been in contact with anyone who has it.

I asked her how any of us were going to know who has the virus if no one is being tested unless they had been in contact with someone who has it?

She told me to call the CDC. I’m sure she was only following orders. I don’t blame her, but I do blame the higher-ups. Without accurate counts, people have been given a false sense of security.

She assured me that I could, however, be tested for strep or a regular flu. I asked how much that would cost. She said someone would get back to me. So far, no one has.

Tuesday-Friday, March 17-20: Since then, I’ve gone through similar cycles: Feeling better followed by chest pains and low-grade fever. As a matter of fact, I’m running a low-grade fever as I write this.

Why health insurance matters

Two weeks ago, health insurance was a prominent topic among citizens and potential candidates. Now, and rightly so, our attention is turned to other acute Covid-19 concerns, but we must not forget that a major underlying issue in our ability to handle these concerns is insurance.

If I had health insurance, I know I would have gone to the doctor immediately, but without it, even a $250 bill is not something I can afford. I work three part-time jobs, all of which are hourly—no sick leave, no guaranteed salary. To add to it, a few weeks ago, I took four days off to see my mom in upstate NY, which means I didn’t log any hours during that four-day period. In addition, I spent money on a hotel, food, and gas to be there. I was already set back from that trip and falling behind on my bills.

I know, without a doubt, that my daughters or friends would help me out financially if I asked. But contrary to the stereotype of those who are fighting for universal healthcare, I am not a person who asks for handouts. I could never take money from anyone if I wasn’t sure I could pay it back.

I actually had state health insurance for a few years while I got back on my feet after a divorce and a move across the country. As soon as I made too much money, the insurance went away. Thankfully, Ian is still covered, but I’m not sure for how much longer. If I continue to make more money, I’ll reach a point when Ian won’t qualify for coverage, but I won’t be making enough to buy the same kind of quality benefits.

The other thing that struck me this week is that this is the first time I’ve actually stayed home when I was feeling sick. I usually push through. We need to be strong, right? We can’t inconvenience others by calling in sick, right? Also, as a teacher, it’s so hard to miss a day. It’s always been easier to go to work than to create lesson plans for a sub when the illness is minor. I’ve also encountered ridiculous mind-sets from some of my superiors. Last year while teaching on a military base, I had a supervisor tell me to either come in to teach my adult students or lose my job. I had the flu—a temp of 103 with body aches. I needed the job, so I went to work. When did it become noble to spread our germs? When did our health become a non-issue when “work” had to be done?

I wonder if this is why universal healthcare fills people with such anger. These people say healthcare is not a right—it is something you must earn. Is it because we’ve been taught that we’re not supposed to feel pain if we’re real Americans? Is it some type of culturally conditioned response of “tough Americans don’t get sick”? And if we do feel pain, then we must pay for the right to see a doctor about it; otherwise, we need to suck it up so as not to put a strain on the system. Anyone who needs help must be a bottom-feeder, right?

No longer a “bottom-feeder,” but also not making enough to “earn” healthcare leaves me in this vulnerable place. I’m a productive member of society. I’m a teacher who devotes much of her time to helping students follow their dreams; a writer who creates stories to improve relationships; a mother and a friend who would give her last dollar to someone in need; yet because I don’t make enough money, my health is not a priority in America. Someday, if I make enough money or get a job with benefits, then and only then, will I be worthy of healthcare in this country.

It is so different in other countries. People love to share on social media that their “brother’s friend has a cousin who lives in Canada who hates the socialized healthcare system.”

I actually have a cousin who lives in Toronto. We’ve been talking online this week, and she said a few things that are important to share—with her permission. I know it may not be how all Canadians feel, but I still thought it was valuable as another perspective.

When I told her my symptoms, she asked if I was going to get tested for Covid-19. When I told her that I wasn’t allowed to get tested, she couldn’t believe it. People who have symptoms are getting tested in Canada—no other criteria needed. Then she asked, “Is it true they are charging for the test? We do it for free here. You would think with something like this, they would do free testing.”

“You would think,” I responded. “Or at least test people who have symptoms no matter how mild so that they understand how big the problem is.” (The virus test might end up being free, but your doctor’s “visit” won’t be, and they are doing flu tests to rule it out before administering the virus test. Those other tests won’t be free.)

I wanted to know how she felt about her healthcare system. “Do you hate it? Do people wish they lived here for our healthcare system?” I asked.

“I’ve never heard anyone say they want to live in the States for your healthcare. No way! Our healthcare is for everyone, and I mean EVERYONE. The only reason I’ve heard of people wanting to go to the States is for MRIs and things like that. The wait here is so long… you can wait weeks sometimes for that or just to see a specialist.”

That is one of the arguments people use here, but truth be told, the wait here isn’t much better. I’ve never needed an MRI, and I don’t know too many people who need MRIs for routine healthcare. My son needed MRIs when he was battling cancer, which was part of his diagnosis and treatment. However, I did need to see a specialist when I had health insurance in Colorado. I had to wait a few weeks to be seen—no different—except that I had to pay for that visit with a copay on top of what I paid for health insurance, which was about $800/month.

My story matters

It is dangerous to look at any one story and think it is the complete story (which reminds me of this great TED Talk from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie https://youtu.be/D9Ihs241zeg), but if you can think about healthcare from my perspective, from my cousin’s perspective and add it to your own stories (not the political talking points), you’ll be closer to understanding the importance of universal healthcare.

Here’s a great article that supports some of my testing concerns: https://www.wired.com/story/coronavirus-interview-larry-brilliant-smallpox-epidemiologist/

One thought on “One of many stories

  1. It is notable that there are some Americans who think healthcare shouldn’t be part of being a citizen. It’s like low self-esteem or something. We’ve been programmed to think we shouldn’t expect anything. I think they call it a peasant mind. Since I left my family growing up I’ve only had healthcare/ insurance for about two years.
    It’s been a long time since I did this exercise but I sat down one day and added up approximately what it would cost to provide full healthcare to a town of 1000 people. The actual number per person if it means hiring a doctor and getting the supplies the doctor would need are pretty minuscule. Compare that to what it cost now for health insurance versus what you get for it and you understand where the corruption is.
    Rick

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