Saturday, February 07, 2004

on being tall and uninsured

Submitted to the Radical Women of Color Carnival :

If you don't like gross stuff, please skip the next paragraph or two.

What a world, what a day. My toenail fell off today, which is the next step in a long, long scary healthcare-free journey that started when I busted my big toe wide open on December 30th. I remember this quite acutely, because it was the day before my health insurance got cut off. (There, gross stuff done, you can read on now and see what happened.)

See, I was walking into this little tiendita (really like, a small bar, I guess) en Mayaguez, which is a gorgeous city on the eastern side of portareeco, because it was blazin' hot and I wanted a bottle of water. Being that I am over 6 feet tall, I sometimes miss little things on the ground. Like the quarter-inch difference between the outside and the inside floors of the bar. So I slide my sandaled foot right into the tile as I enter, and damaged my poor, pitiful, absolutely gorgeous toe that had done nothing to deserve such ill treatment. Dangit. OooooWEEEE that hurt.
Now, I'm in Mayaguez with a toe that is wide open, and I have to make a decision which I realize is more common than I thought: do I go to the Hospital, or not?

Today, looking back, I can understand why healthcare isn't a bigger issue on the presidential candidates's radar. Until you don't have any kind of health insurance, you don't understand just how crucial it is. Betcha hardly any of those there candidates have had insurance and then lost it. I have a Public Health minor, so insurance is something I'd thought quite a lot about, but not so much until I was injured on the point of not having any. It really changed my thinking.
My particular situation probably isn't uncommon. Last December was the sixth month after I graduated college, and my mother's insurance was going to drop me on the last day of the year. Being that I'm twennytwo and an official grownup and all.

I even had a job at that point, a relatively good one. I'm a teacher at a public middle school. But no health insurance. I had to ask about it for months, and no one really came up with a satisfactory answer. Should I have had a benefits orientation when I was hired? Certainly. Did I ask the teachers union representative at my school about it? Yup. I had to stay after the man for two months before he passed me a phone number. That phone number led to more hours of frustration before someone got around to telling me that that particular bureau handled the free healthcare for which I don't qualify. Did I spend enough time looking for private insurance? Of course. It was too expensive. The irony was that I earn too much, according to government calculations, to qualify for the puerto rican health care card, and I earned too little to afford most private insurance. Suing the people who own the bar was out of the question for me; THAT STEP SHOULD HAVE BEEN MARKED, but I should've been looking where I was going. I could see on their faces, while the woman offered to put isopropyl on it, that they were terrified I would sue. I couldn't be the typical lawsuit-hungry american in that situation. It was as much my fault as theirs. But no lawsuit and not registering with the police meant I was on my own if my toe fell off or got infected. As it did.
How many other people have passed this very way?

Shout if you can testify!

I called my mother way back in Cincinnati to tell her the news; she wanted me to visit the hospital. Me being my twennytwo year old stubborn self, decided not to. I wasn't dead, just bleeding and in pain. I wanted to fully taste the vagaries of life without health insurance. My friends Isabel and Pedro took me back to their house, where I cleaned my foot in a tub of cold water, slathered it with neosporin (with the pain killer in), and dosed myself with panadol and coquito. Dont worry, the coquito was alcohol free and darn good.

I managed to shake and salsa my way across the dance floor three days later at Isa and Pedro's wedding, bum foot and all. And for the next 5 weeks I kept up with my toes myself, with no insurance. I'm still alive, and most days I forgot all about it. Until today, when I'm rocking in my garden underneath a beautiful bright white moon and look down to see my toenail isn't there. Then, I thank God I eventually did find health insurance (Much love and strength to Nilda and Fernando G. for hooking me up with the right people to do so), so I don't have to freak out about losing some body part more important to my health.

And I don't have kids, don't have parents to care for, I'm not responsible for anybody but myself. Can you imagine if I had had that happen to a five year old child? I have plenty of twennytwo year old friends with kids older than that. i Imaginate !

I made it without healthcare insurance. The uncertainty and consequences of not having it are something I wouldn't wish on anyone, anywhere in the world. Especially not the twennysomethings who are just starting to take responsibility for the world. Not anyone whose situation could end up so much worse, way worse than me.