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A physician uses his stethoscope as he visits a intubated patient in the ICU at Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut on January 18, 2022. (Photo: Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images)

The Stench of a Moocher Launched Into Yet Another Health Mess

When you are very sick, the primary despair should not be caused by the money you need—but don't have—to get better.

Donna Smith

Over Labor Day weekend this year, I launched into yet another damned health mess. As soon as I woke violently ill in the wee hours of Saturday morning, I began worrying about money. It’s always the money. Of course I wondered about what it was this time making me sick. Yet I worried so much more about how much damage I would do this time to our finances. It was enough to turn my suicidal ideation into a full blown chorus of, "Whatever it is, please let me die before the bills rise and rise and rise." That's what being an insured American who has fought for her life through cancer three times, abdominal hernias, gastric bleeds, Covid-19, MRSA, sepsis, and beyond generates. It isn't conducive to much positive thinking or feeling even as people urge me to stay positive, focused on recovery, and allow time for healing.

You see, though I've worked to make sure we always kept the very best health coverage (even topping off our Medicare coverage as best I thought possible), my body keeps throwing illness and injury my way and thereby draining the drained coffers and sending me into the tailspin of wondering why my life isn't more a liability now. Being a burden physically is bad enough as I watch my wonderful husband do his best not to express the resentment and disgust he must feel to have a wife who is so weak and impaired though 10 years younger than he. Adding to that burden, when I don't feel well or have another serious crisis, the burden of me includes loss of income through the gigs I gather and work to continue paying off my older medical debts. As much as my husband grows angry when calls and bills from Apria oxygen providers come in, imagine how he feels when surgeons, hospitals and extraneous others send their bills anew. He doesn't ever say so—ever—but I know it hurts.

So, mooching I go. Begging of friends to help, begging of strangers to help, if need be, and hoping against hope I can gather enough to mitigate my latest shell shock to our money situation. I hate losing the respect and closeness to people I care about because I beg. I hate it. I hate knowing people think I’m a loser for begging. Yet, I beg as the way to help. It never helps that I have worked myself sick to keep us covered. It isn't enough to have worked hard for half a century. I became little more than an internet panhandler, begging and hoping and all the while full of shame that will never wash away.

This summer, I was treated to a cruise by one of my dear friends in the social justice movement. Everything was paid for except any souvenirs or trinkets that I might want. Imagine the generosity of that. But also imagine my guilt and the judgment others felt to see me—the health care moocher—enjoying anything like that at all. I ought to have been ashamed, eh? Then when I returned, as if in punishment, I came down with Covid-19. Sicker than Omicron is supposed to make us, I got the delightful Remdesivir treatment, and two weeks later I was improving. My body launched into the current crisis almost immediately. Hospitalization, emergency surgery, etc, and bills, bills, bills. The moocher earns her due, I guess.

If there were a little less shame to go along with this whole cycle it would be good. If I were able to look myself in the eye in the mirror, that would also be good. If I hadn't lost the love and support of people I respect who have already helped me over and over, I dream of that. And to not be a damned burden?

Well, that would be only possible if we lived in a society in which the health care system didn't punish us in every way, including financially and with relationships to friends, family, and beyond.

We all must look at what our ingrained beliefs have wrought. We're mad at ourselves and each other for the financial damage dome to us by health events. Why? Why do we get angry and judgmental about illness? Why are the insurance companies let off the hook?

When profits come first, people fall behind somewhere in the priorities. I've always known that. I just didn't know how far behind. A truly humane, patient-first health system requires we shed our bias against those in our lives who have succumbed to the current inhumane system and that we see one another as equals when our bodies cry out for care. I can do that. And an improved, expanded Medicare for All system that is protected from the greed we allow to permeate our current system would spare us all so much sorrow and suffering. Until I do finally give up or die, I will keep fighting for that. Your life is worth that, and mine once was too.


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Donna Smith

Donna Smith

Donna Smith is the former executive director of Progressive Democrats of America and currently a Medicare for All campaign surrogate for Sen. Bernie Sanders.

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