I am Obamacare. Even though that term is a deliberate politicization of the issue and we shouldn’t call it that (see the Jimmy Kimmel bit where people hate Obamacare and love the Affordable Care Act).
I know there is a lot of small print with this thing, and there are sob stories on both sides of the issue – families and small businesses whose costs may go up, for instance. But for me it is so important, and I really think there is something to be said about availability heuristics, and spreading the word about who really cares about and is affected by this stuff, so that the demagogues on the right can’t frame it as an issue of welfare queens and other moochers.
Actually don’t get me started on welfare queens. Racist mythmaking.
But I bring this up because a few weeks ago I was at my job, where a student of mine said he didn’t like Obama because Obama gave away stuff like healthcare and made other people pay for it. I couldn’t help telling him that it’s not free and the people he’s “giving it away” to are people like me who don’t get it because their jobs are too cheap to offer it.
Well, I avoided the word cheap. But he’s an impressionable fourteen-year-old and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let everybody else make all the impressions.
Today was the first day that the marketplaces are open for the Affordable Care Act. I have been counting down the days, ever since a few weeks ago when, for the first time in my life, I started having an actual health issue without insurance. As the New York marketplace kept crashing due to two million visitors in the first two hours, I started to write this.
After no longer being a teacher with benefits, I went back onto my parents’ plan until I was 25 (thank you Obama, part 1). Then they helped me get COBRA coverage, where you pay a lot to extend the benefits you lost. But every time they brought up researching the ACA or other options, I resisted. Most of this resistance was my own embarrassment over not having a job that gave me my own healthcare.
That, I realize, is silly. I was trying to not have my cake and not eat it, too. I had rejected the college-job-retirement straight line that I was on, but I was ashamed to no longer have the trappings. I had said goodbye to being a young suburban professional, because I was unfulfilled and unhappy, but I didn’t want to admit all that that really meant: I lived for a while with my parents; I gave up my retirement plan; I gave up healthcare; I gave up not having to worry about which gas station is cheaper.
Coming to terms with this, and I mean coming to terms with now being someone who has two part-time jobs and no benefits, who still relies on others to partially finance his life or his art, is for me a process. It leads to moments like I had this morning, where I freaked out over my Optimum bill (which I do every single time I get it) and then spent an hour on the phone changing and unchanging my wireless/cable plan. I ended, in case you’re wondering, by going back to exactly what I had at 8:57 AM, when my panic started. Because I fear change.
Now, I hate going to the doctor. Always have, insurance or no. But thanks to this health concern I had, which thankfully isn’t grave (okay okay it’s a RASH), I went to a neighborhood health clinic nearby. It is literally on the other side of the tracks, and I felt bad just being there. Like, even though I didn’t have healthcare, I didn’t have any business taking the sliding scale option that these other people, these truly poor people, were getting. Like I wasn’t poor enough for the poor clinic. In reality, as I know from registering as a patient and stating my income, I am perfectly poor enough. So that’s fun.
The real thrill started though when the doctor looked at my chart and told me my blood pressure was high. She looked physically pained by this. “Have you had high blood pressure before?” she said in her Eastern European accent. “No.” “And you’re not even obese!” she said. “Thank you.”
She freaked out and wrote me a prescription for a home monitor and ordered me to get an EKG to see if my heart was enlarged. I rationalized. It’s probably because I walked through public housing to get here and was surrounded by people I onto whose mostly uninterested faces I projected judgment and racial discontent. My guilty little heart probably was in overgear.
But at the same time I started paying way more attention to sodium content, and worried about my drinking, and my stress levels. I felt like Cookie Monster when he climbed down the food pyramid.
I also found out that my parents both have high blood pressure. And take meds for it. “So why does this bother you so much?” my brother-in-law asked. “If you know it’s genetic and treatable.”
I hemmed and hawed.
“Is it because this is your first real ‘thing’ that’s wrong with you, the first thing that you have to deal with now, for the rest of your life?”
“Yeah! That’s it! That’s exactly it!”
He meant it as a throwaway, as something that shouldn’t bother me. But that does bother me. Because now, and for me really for the first time, I’m stuck in the world of bodies. I had already been sitting in the waiting room thinking about how we are all so scared of death that we just keep lugging these things along, putting up with suffering through banal waiting room TV squawking under mind-numbing soul-crushing lighting just in order to get pay outrageous prices for a little more elixir to limp a little farther down the line. I mean as an occasionally depressed person who sometimes romanticizes the literary suicide, I can’t always help feeling a little disgusted at people’s unbridled desire to keep going for as long as they can.
Cut to me in my little kitchen with my blood pressure monitor from Walgreens, not wanting to die young.
The doctor I saw ordered me to have some blood work done. I couldn’t do it that day because I had recently eaten. “Any day,” she said, as if those words would be comforting. I wanted to bolt out of the room and never come back. I have this desire, this anti-Woody Allen drive let’s call it, to not know what’s wrong. To not know that, oh yes, you also have sky high cholesterol, like everyone else in your family.
I want a little blissful ignorance, because I’ve had too much reality lately. I’ve fretted over bills and been turned down for jobs and had writing submissions rejected one after the other after the next. I’m 28 and everyone rolls their eyes when I say it but for the first time I feel older than ever. Even the nurse at the clinic, in between bouts of singing Taylor Swift, told me I need to hurry up and get married.
This twenty something(something) malaise is of course accurately and more pithily summed up in Avenue Q’s “I Wish I Could Go Back to College.” I did, in fact, go back, to get my Master’s, and it was as wonderful an escape as could be imagined, and now is over. So I doubly can’t go back.
To cap it all off, I went to the DMV yesterday. Insert tired joke here. I waited at a station that only had one employee servicing it. I wouldn’t have really minded except the man in front of me said, “Y’all only got one employee working here?” so I was inspired to indignation. When a second person eventually came, he spent a really long time setting his station up. We had been waiting for a while. I thought, here’s the problem. He doesn’t see us as humans. He sees us as a line of people, part of his job, which is dehumanizing in itself. If he saw us as people he would hurry up and try to be ready for us.
That’s probably being a bit purple about the whole thing, but I guess my real lesson is to see myself as a person, too. A person with a body that is imperfect and needs taking care of and help from others, just like every other person with a body out there. Sometimes it is easy to remember that we are all people with bodies. Other times, someone buts into your exit lane without properly waiting in line and for thirty seconds you lose your mind and honk and wish you had a tire iron under the passenger seat to beat that person with a body into an unpersonlike pulp.
But because I’m seeing myself as more of a person-body and not just a brain with fingers, I’m thinking more about health, physical and emotional. I’m going to have those blood tests done. I’m going to eat less Hamburger Helper.
And after I honked at that son of a bitch I remembered my blood pressure and ten minutes later let someone into my lane. Color me Mother Theresa.
So while I don’t know a lot about the ins and outs of healthcare, and like I said I’m sure there are loopholes and horrors all over the map, and I’m not trying to say that everyone should have to kick in so that privileged white kids like me can quit their 9 to 5 jobs and be Bohemian. I mean I get it: I too watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi and secretly wished my parents had kicked me out at age 9 so that I could have found the inner strength and dedication to be a master sushi artist.
But I hope that maybe all of this hubbub over healthcare will remind me to invest more in the health of myself and all the rest of us.