LJWorld.com weblogs Something Done Right
What Health Care Reform Means to Me... A Personal Story
My father was and still is my hero. While he was human and with faults, his story humbles me and I try to look at others with more understanding as a result. He was the only son of Swedish immigrants. He and his father worked to create the American dream for our family. By the time I was born my family owned a farm of 240 acres and dad row cropped other farms in addition. At his funeral family friends talked about how dad was up with the sunrise and didn't go to bed until the sun went down, but this was not the man I grew up knowing.
In 1975, when I was 3 months old, my father contracted polio. For those of you who are too young to know what it can do to someone, it paralyzes voluntary and involuntary muscles. Polio paralyzed dad's right side of his body: his lung, arm, leg, everything. He spent 18 months in the hospital learning how to breathe with one lung and how to walk, talk with a trache, and deal with multiple respiratory infections.
For almost 2 years my sister, brother and I didn't have a father. In fact, I learned to call my uncle "daddy" long before I ever met my real father. My mother spent most of her week at the hospital and my aunt and uncle took care of my brother (12), my sister (6), and me. During that 18 months my mom's mission was keeping our family together, our farm going, and my dad alive.
With the help of our church, our neighbors and family she somehow made that happen. People pulled together and put up our hay, plowed fields, tended cows. Our church held fundraisers (bake sales, newspaper drives, etc). Because of the generosity and Christian spirit of so many people our family made it through those first couple of years. Growing up in this community I learned to love Jesus Christ because I witnessed his work through these people.
However eventually life resumed and the bill collectors started calling. The efforts of our community could not be sustained indefinitely and for the first time since they married my mom went to work outside the home. At the same time KU Medical Center sued for the $250,000 in medical bills for dad's care. Remember this was in 1977. I can not even guess what his care would have added up to in today's healthcare system. Somehow my mom paid for dad's continuing medical bills and raised us on $15,000 a year she earned working in manufacturing.
Quickly my parents realized everything they had worked for could disappear. Dad could not work. There is no recovery for polio. The paralysis that remained was lessened through PT but there was no regaining the use of his lung. The work ethic he had maintained for 50 years could not be sustained with a body that had failed him.
This was devastating for a man who prided himself on providing for his family and creating a life for us that his parents had dreamed of. My father was the person who "pulled himself up by his bootstraps." But he was left in a situation where he couldn't reach for his bootstraps let alone pull them up.
I was lucky enough to have my father in my life for 11 years before his heart broke literally and figuratively. In those 11 years I knew a man who was strong but who questioned whether we would have been better off had he died, a man tortured by watching his family take charity, a man who knew the moment he died our farm would go to the collections with KU Med Center and who knew my mother would still be left with hundreds of thousands in medical bills.
So what is my point? 1. Whatever political party you find yourself in, please remember those hard working families devastated by the high cost of healthcare. 2. Avoid repeating the party lines for or against healthcare reform. Don't hide behind words like "Entitlement," "Socialism," and "New Tax" when we are talking about real people. People like my family. 3. Remember those Christians who pulled together to help our family because they felt compelled to share the love of Christ. Matthew 25:35-40 "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'"
- Talk about real change because we are long past due when it comes to making healthcare a basic human right. The question is not "Do we reform healthcare?" It is "How do we reform healthcare?"