Trying to write while Rome burns
Warning: I’m getting political here. If you want to believe that romance writers should be Switzerland, you may want to go somewhere else for the moment.
So I’m trying to work on Cross Current while watching the run-up to the vote in the House of Representatives over the new iteration of the AHCA, and taking breaks to comfort friends who are having panic attacks because this bill passing means that they or their loved ones will lose their health insurance, and wondering how badly this is going to make our own health care costs go up (I have two autoimmune disorders which will be considered pre-existing conditions), and generally being pissed off at the attempts of some very rich people to turn us all into out and out serfs. Because let’s be honest, this country is already an oligarchy.
And man, I really wish there was something powerful and mind-changing that I could say about this, especially since I’m a writer and words are my tools. But I can’t. The Backfire Effect means that people won’t listen to reason and fact if it contradicts their core beliefs, and apparently the core beliefs of those who want to vote YES on this bill can be condensed to, “Screw you, Jack, I got mine.” So instead, I’m gonna tell you a story.
Back in 1998, Ramón and I had just moved to Sweden for his contract job with a major telecoms company that I shall call the Three Blue Sausages. Ramón’s teenaged sister the Generalissima had come with us for various reasons, and was starting school in Stockholm while I started my own new job as a tech writer at TBS.
On the third day of my new job, I went home after work and found our apartment looking like a whirlwind had torn it apart — papers everywhere, the phone book out, just a mess. Grumbling about slob teenagers, I start cleaning the place when the phone rang.
It was the Generalissima. “Nic, I’m sorry,” she said in a small voice. “Your mum’s dead.”
It turned out that the place was a mess because she’d torn it apart trying to find a phone number for TBS so that she could call and tell me (I hadn’t gotten an office phone yet). I remember thanking her, hanging up, and calling my sister to find out what had happened.
As it turned out, my mother, who had been working as a temp secretary without health insurance, had developed a serious case of cellulitis. She couldn’t afford to see a doctor and tried to treat it herself. It went systemically septic over the course of six weeks. My brother, who lived with her, got scared when the pain grew too bad and took her into the local charity hospital for help. After a day of treatment they sent her home, telling him he could nurse her as well as they could. That night she was sitting on the couch, shocky and unable to speak, writing in notes that she could see man-like shapes hovering in the corners of the room. She sent my brother into his bedroom so that she could change out of the adult diapers the hospital had put her in; he asked if she wanted help, and she silently shooed him away. After a half hour, he came back out. He found her slumped over on the couch, her eyes still open, panties in her hand.
Not the image you want to have of your mother’s last moments on earth, by the way. Not at all.
I flew back to the States the next day, and am still grateful to the kind flight attendant who found me a row where I could stretch out and not upset the other passengers with my quiet crying. Mom wound up at the local mortuary, which was run by a former schoolmate of my aunt’s. He told her that Mom’s legs were in such bad condition they probably would have required amputation if she had lived.
Thing is, none of this happened in a war-torn place or a third-world nation. Mom lived in Whiting, Indiana, within spitting distance of Chicago. She worked all of her adult life, a great deal of it at the University of Chicago. She died because she couldn’t afford to go see a doctor and get antibiotics for a bacterial infection before it turned life-threatening. She was 58.
And I look at all of those GOP representatives in Congress preparing to vote on the AHCA, ramming it through even though it’s incomplete and CBO hasn’t even had a chance to put an accurate price tag on it. And I have to wonder — if their mothers are dead, did it happen because they couldn’t afford health insurance? Did they die while hallucinating and struggling to put on a pair of panties? Somehow, I strongly doubt it. So why are they expecting the rest of us to watch the people we love die in such a horrible way?
I say the rest of us because it’s written into the very bill that members of Congress won’t have to use the same kind of health coverage they’re expecting everyone else to live with. Congressional health coverage is great. They’ll be fine. And their owners will be fine, as well. And the super wealthy who are going to get a seriously juicy tax cut from this bill? They’re going to be the happiest of all.