Monday, February 23, 2009

The High Cost of Living

The High Cost of Living
by Ima Gardener

NBC's “Today Show” about a woman who dies, untreated, on an Emergency Room floor while others watch. Matt Lauer simply sighs, shakes his head and resumes business as usual. (Youtube link)

This is a secret transmission from one human heart to another, from one soul to another, from one human being to another. Human to human, heart to heart. It is an appeal for you to feel with your heart rather than ignore it. To see through the lens of shared experience, empathy and compassion rather than bitterness, resentment and apathy.

I write to you now with a busted leg. I'm not entirely sure what is wrong with it but I haven't been able to walk in three days. I have been unable to leave my small apartment, to work or do any chores. Since I am unable to walk I am essentially helpless to take care of myself. Three days ago I fell wrong on my knee and there was a loud popping sound and a wave of excruciating pain—from this I have guessed that I have a sprain, perhaps a second degree sprain or a third degree sprain. That means that one of my ligaments is either partially or totally torn; an extraordinarily uncomfortable experience which rendered my leg totally useless for all intents and purposes. Without proper medical care, which may include a cast or even surgery, I may not be able to walk correctly for months to come or even for the rest of my life. It's an injury that was entirely a freak accident and it could happen to anyone, even you. It could happen at any time, when riding a bike, walking or playing with friends. It is only a small example of all the possible misfortunes that can strike any one of us at any moment—a problem which is very easy to fix and yet, if untreated, could have repercussions for the rest of your life. I am lucky, however. I did not cut an artery or break a bone (to the best of my knowledge); I did not have the type of accident where I would die quickly if it was left untreated. Those types of accidents are very possible for all of us, too.

Unlike millions of Americans I actually have some health insurance. The problem is that I have the lowest and cheapest health insurance available, as it is all I can afford. After calling literally dozens of hospitals and doctors in my area (all of whom asked for my health insurance information before even asking my name) I found that my best option was to wait weeks. This would be a serious problem for anybody with any level of insurance. Even "Walk-In" clinics are so full that you would be lucky to be treated the same day you needed help. But my real problem is more common: though I have a low co-pay for a doctor's visit, I will have to pay up to $1500 out of my own pocket to get an x-ray or MRI. $1500, even $300 or $200, is an unacceptably high amount of money for me to pay. The economy is down and we're all living more hand to mouth now. It would be better for me to not get the x-ray and hope that my leg heals without knowing exactly what is wrong with it on the inside. In a single moment my life may have been changed forever... at this point I am not sure, but the social and political issues surrounding this are clearer than ever for me. And they can be for you, too, if you just use your imagination and think about yourself in a situation perhaps different than your own. Perhaps it isn't different at all, and what is happening to me is exactly what will happen to you. And what is happening to me is far better than what has happened to literally millions of human beings in this country. Human beings with souls, who laugh and cry and love and hate just like you. Human beings who are just like you.

We have to ask ourselves—right now—whether this is something we find acceptable or not. Each one of us has helped build a national wealth that is almost unparalleled in the world, and yet we all exist under the threat of illness or injury that is too expensive for us. As a society we have put price tags on human beings, an action which is, in every religious and/or ethical thought process, evil and wrong. We call ourselves a Christian nation and yet we act in the most singularly un-Christian ways humanly possible.

We have two options: either we work extremely hard and wash the best years of our lives down the drain to help build a wealth and a society which does not care for us and only cares about the bottom line or we don't. We either contribute to a system of violence and negligence—a cold, beurocratic monolith which truly serves only the interests of a sickeningly small minority of people, or we don't. Either we scramble after as much money as we can in an attempt to have the best health insurance possible, playing along with a system which is damaging to that very same health, our psychological wellbeing, our emotional wellbeing, our environment, and our friends and loved ones, or we don't. Either we sell our souls to the All-Mighty Dollar Bill and literally BUY IN to the factory death machines, the war machines, the exploitation and rape of the earth and its inhabitants, or we don't.

The wealth of this nation is huge—think of it as a huge mountain of gold. Each one of us has slaved away in our jobs, whether they are retail or manufacturing, small business or corporate... we have all worked so hard and so long to build this capital, this huge mountain of gold. But then, when we need a little of that gold to mend our broken wings we are refused, because, though we have worked so long and so hard at such great sacrifice to ourselves and others, it does not, in the end, belong to us. It belongs to less than 3% of the population of this nation. The rest of us are out in the cold; confused, frustrated and scared. And in this society we were all born afraid—and with only one solution: work! Work, work, work!

This reality is so clear but so few of us can clearly see it. We have so many distractions... so many flashing screens and unrealistic desires. Though our society and our lives are exactly what we make of them—they are external projections of our internal states. Do we accept the evidence we see around us? The preventable death, the preventable suffering, all of it unnecessary? Do we accept those things as who we are? Because we are all causing them.

And many of us are actually Christian, or at least consider ourselves to be. Or we are Hindu, or we are Muslim, or we are Buddhist. Has any of our religious icons, our spiritual leaders, our moral examples... would any of them--Christ, Krishna, Shiva, Muhammad, Buddha—would a single one of them have turned someone back who needed help? Did Christ ask for payment before healing the blind? Did Buddha require a subscription fee before helping others ease their own suffering (his only solution to ending personal suffering is compassion, by the way)?

Is this the society that you want? Are these the forces and pressures that you would choose to bear down on you? We have all been hoodwinked... we've been told that this is the only way it can happen when in reality we are choosing for it to happen and are empowering it. And that mountain of gold still exists, and we continue to shovel money into other people's pockets, even when we ourselves are faced with a medical situation which could potentially alter our end our lives forever.

Now we have this new president. A young, black man which promises change along true ethical and moral grounds. But what will change? Will the Free Trade Agreements be repealed, ending the sufferings of untold millions across the world, including small children worked to death in sweatshops? Will we actually find ourselves free from the constant stress of our own health, knowing that our work will come back to us and our communal efforts as a society will work for us instead of against us? What change will we actually see? What moral standard is actually going to be applied? A human standard, which takes into account every preventable case of suffering? Or a standard which still allows for the greed and exploitation on behalf of the elite owner class? Obama is a symbol which has placated the masses and we will see no substantial change.

But how will you feel when you have a leg which no longer works and the future is uncertain? When you aren't even sure if you'll be able to walk correctly again? Will the same cynicism that you wrap around the suffering of others consume your own situation? Will you say about yourself, “That lazy (insert racial, sexist or class slur here) should just work harder” about your own self? Or, when it's your life and happiness at stake, will it seem totally different to you? Will you see that your work and effort did indeed go out into the world only to be grabbed and held greedily in other people's bank accounts as opposed to coming back to you in the form of health care services? Though you manufactured the doctor's equipment or sold him his food, will he return his services to you? Though the poor was used to grow and pick his food, a thing necessary for his survival, will he help them with their survival? Even though both are being paid, is it truly fair? And, if you were to truly face judgment, how would you be judged? Will you plead with God and use the Nuremberg Defense? Will you try to explain to God that you were only following orders or that you did the best you could for yourself though you knew millions were dying? Though you believe that Christ died for your sins, do you really believe that that means God doesn't care if you DO sin?

Or are you too concerned about right now to do anything, too busy working every single day, to notice? So eager to relax during your two days of rest a week (if you're lucky) that you drown your woes in alcohol desperately searching for this mysterious concept called “fun”? You can't be bothered with this all right now, you have accepted this as a “kill or be killed” world of haves and have-nots. What greater sickness could possibly afflict your soul?

The stock market is down, the recession is deepening, and even now, after all our work, all of our decades and centuries of work, there are so many poor and dying human beings in our own country. What, after all, did we believe we were working for? Have we collectively put in so much effort to see so much misery in the world? This country was called a “Great Experiment.” When will we step back and assess the results of this capitalist experiment? If we're all going to be working so hard anyway, why not be working for something rather than so eagerly putting in such effort towards digging our own graves?

It's all quite possible that my leg will be fine. I simply don't know. But even if my leg completely heals, or your leg completely heals and we are OK for now, does that change any of these questions, really?

We need to think about more fundamental issues and stop living hypocritically if we are to live with any meaning at all and cease our mindless marching towards oblivion.

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