Dollars and Disease

October 20, 2011

The sicker I become, the greater my sense of entitlement.  Weird but true.  So many of the have nots in this land suffer with serious chronic conditions in ways I do not know.  The wallet can feel pain.  These citizens of sickness have no financial buffer and must make major and unwanted sacrifices for the privilege of seeking medical assistance on a regular basis. The sick pay grossly inflated costs.  Those include out of pocket expenses and loss of income because of time away from jobs.  And as patients deteriorate, so does their economic standing.

I have crossed the dreaded line separating those who now must play for keeps from the wounded. I feel like a professional patient.  That carries a hefty price tag. L  The new line of work can be exhausting and the hours long.  My illness has taken over my life.

I undergo tests and see doctors, it seems like every few days. I travel distances all over the city and to another state to offices and labs, hospitals and physical therapists.  And I wait.  There is a common look on the faces of those who sit silently in waiting rooms, staring at magazines they are not really reading.  Frequently their eyes have an empty look.

The devastating part of this picture is that many have to stop doing what they once did for a living.  Most human beings cannot hold down more than one fulltime job at a time, and for many, the employment office is at a hospital registration desk.

Filling out forms and waiting in line are a poor substitute for honest work.  That is our healthcare system at work.  The psychological cost to patients is high.  Bureaucrats have tremendous power over us.  And we sit in a corner dreaming about returning to a humming office and having the cash for flowers or a bottle of wine.

How about the rent or the latest payment on the car?  How are these people to pay for food and clothes for their kids?  Ask Buzz Bay, who was profiled in my book, Strong at the Broken Places.

In some respects, I am a lucky fellow.  I worked in television news for a quarter century and did quite well financially.  My good wife inhabits a space high in the stratosphere of television.  I would say she prints money, but she would kill me.  Let’s just say she is quite successful and does not worry about where the next jar of peanut butter will come from.  I have been writing books and these columns and have not taken up fat cigars, but the hours are of my choosing and allow doctor detours.

Life is tough for many in a bad economy.  For the chronically ill, with incurable conditions, too often it is a losing proposition.  Costs are staggering.  Many of us go uninsured.  Financial institutions are unforgiving.  It is heart breaking to see the sick slowly lose everything they have worked a lifetime to achieve.

I am sick.  That is true.  But I can afford the creature comforts to ease the journey.  More significant is the confidence that we will not lose our home or miss a meal.  Our two children still in college will finish their educations, and they will be launched in their lives.  I realize it makes little sense to feel guilty.  I do feel horrible.

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