I went jogging tonight in Los Angeles. The setting sun and the fall breeze coupled with the full moon made me eager for another beautiful autumn on the west coast. I'm 33 now – I’ve experienced 33 autumns, and I’m lucky - I’m lucky to be alive. I think about that all the time. Every once in a while I’m reminded why.
As I approached the intersection of Santa Monica Blvd. & La Cienega, the center of the city, I heard the sound of breaking glass. My eyes searched for the origin of the sound and found a young lady that had just dropped something on the concrete. Out of instinct I ran to her. She was frozen there on the sidewalk with a horrified look on her face, trembling. Two other people stood by as she shook in silence. I told one of them to call an ambulance. I asked the girl her name, if she knew where she was, and if she could tell me where she was going. Her response over and over was “What?” I asked her if she’d taken anything we should be aware of, and if she had the ability to sit down. Again she responded “What?”
The man who called the ambulance was instructed to tell her to lie on her left side. I held her hands, guided her to the ground and gently placed her on her side. I laid down facing her and calmly tried to make her feel better with my words. I had her breathe with me and follow my smile. She eventually told me her name, where she lived, where she was coming from, and that she lived with a sibling but she was still very incoherent. Her pupils finally started to stop rapidly jumping around her eyes as she heard the sirens approaching. She then sat up slowly, began speaking very clearly and informed us of three things; she is an epileptic and this happens from time to time when she forgets her medication, she had to go before the ambulance arrived because she couldn’t afford the treatment, and if her sibling found out about this something bad would happen.
This girl was afraid to accept professional help because it would put her in debt. As I was realizing this, the firemen and EMT’s approached us and she very articulately informed them of her epilepsy and that they need not worry. They probably saw the look on her face they’ve seen before on many strangers, the look that says, “I can’t afford your help.” They spent a couple more moments with her. I held her hand, said goodbye and went on my way.
The look of fear I saw on her face is one I know all too well. A few years back I contracted a staph infection that almost killed me. I was 4 days shy of eligible for benefits at my job. I was in a hospital, without insurance, for nearly three months. I was a 25-year-old bartender being sued by that hospital for $185,000. After years and years of hard work and help from my family we were bled dry until the debt was gone.
Then two years ago while riding my bike, I was hit by a car. The driver, busy texting, blew a stop sign and hit me going 60MPH.
I didn’t have health insurance because I couldn’t afford it. I was a struggling artist in a new town just trying to get ahead. At that point even a full time service industry job wouldn’t have provided me health benefits.
I don’t remember being picked up by the ambulance that afternoon, but they told me later I’d said I was fine and could just go home. Even in a state of complete shock I was wary of the looming price tag of the care I’d need, and horrified of telling my family I was in a hospital without coverage yet again. I got 17 stiches in my face that day and needed 4 months of physical therapy.
I don’t know the circumstances of the young lady I met tonight, but if she’s taking the bus, has no health insurance and has had multiple seizures in a short period of time it’s not because she forgot her medication but because she can’t afford it.
I don’t follow much policy, or even take sides that frequently. I grew up in a household that was one part hippy, one part frat boy, passionately exposed to both sides but I didn’t like the turbulence so I stayed out of the sky. When my brother joined the Marines I was forced to follow policy so I began reading the news. Now that I had a horse in the race I’d started taking sides.
Calling an ambulance shouldn’t be a luxury. We shouldn’t recoil, afraid of the expense, we should take solace in the approaching sirens, thankful the help we need is on the way. People should have the right to stay healthy regardless of their rank in our socioeconomic hierarchy.
Our president made it his mission to afford us ALL this luxury. His plan isn’t perfect, but it strives to be. People are historically uncomfortable with change, but if we gave into the resistance we’d still have slavery.
Yes, our country is running out of money. We needed to raise the debt ceiling. I guarantee that most people don’t know what it is or understand its correlation to the government shutdown. But I bet that they know someone with cancer, or a child with autism, or someone who was in a car accident, or someone who has epilepsy.
These are real people who we all know, people who contribute to society. Marshal McLuhan stated that it takes a village. It truly does and it always has. It’s time the villagers ask the right questions.
I’m 33. I’m an artist. I’m an American.
I’m happy to be alive, to experience this autumn, this year, this life. Who knows what would have happened if an ambulance didn’t come get me that day. Who knows what would have happened tonight with this young lady, maybe she’s someone you know.
Health insurance is a ridiculous concept when you think about it. People and employers spending ridiculous sums of money every month their entire lives in the event something happens. Something always happens. How about just making health care affordable for when it does?