Thursday, December 10, 2009

A contemporary Christmas Carol

Several months ago I came home around mid-day and as I got out of my car, I saw my neighbor standing at his door looking my way. Before I could speak, he asked me “Can you help me?” I said “sure” thinking that he wanted help moving a piece of furniture. What do you need, I asked. He answered saying, “I can’t breathe and I’ve called 911, will you show them into the house for me?” Good God! Lay down on the sofa, I will watch for them. What happened?

My neighbor, it turns out, has a heart condition. He also suffers from diabetes and is a considerably overweight 50-year-old widower whose children live out of state. His breathing seemed erratic and I was afraid that the paramedics might be too late. I asked him what prescriptions and medications he had taken, knowing that he might not be conscious when the ambulance arrived and that the medical personnel would need that information. I made him as comfortable as possible and stood at the door looking for the paramedics to make sure they came to the right house. Just then, another neighbor pulled up, it was Tracy who is a nurse. I exclaimed God sent you and quickly explained what was happening.

Tracy rushed in, checked on Kevin and then, ran upstairs to collect Kevin’s considerable prescriptions from his medicine cabinet. It turned out that the four bottles of prescriptions he had downstairs were but a fraction of his total prescriptions. At that moment, the paramedics arrived and began their work. After a methodical, but rapid assessment, they began to prepare the gurney and asked Kevin to remove his shirt so they could situate him on the gurney. Tracy prepared a bag with Kevin’s prescription medications and a few toiletries and some clothing for Kevin’s stay in the hospital. Kevin began to protest and said he did not want to be taken to the hospital.

I looked at him incredulously. One of the paramedics took his heart rate again and explained that they could not leave him at home in his condition. He explained as gently, but as firmly as possible, that Kevin’s condition was life threatening and that unassisted, Kevin might die. Finally, Kevin consented and was loaded into the ambulance. In the aftermath, I asked Tracy “Why was he so adamant about not going to the hospital?” Tracy explained in one very short and devastating sentence. “He doesn’t have health care insurance and he can’t afford the ambulance and a hospital stay.”

Six weeks ago Terry, a 48 year old unemployed cinematographer died. He died from complications of swine flu and an undiagnosed condition. Terry, unknown to him, had diabetes. Since he did not have health insurance, he had not had a physical in several years and was unaware of his condition. When he came down with the flu, he simply stopped doing his freelance work and went to bed. He tried overcoming his flu with over-the-counter drugs and when he got very seriously ill, he finally went to a doctor. The doctor immediately had Terry hospitalized and put on a ventilator, but it was too late. Terry died.

Today, the headline on the Huffington Post read “Public Option: RIP.” Over the last many months, I have followed the debates and the political process regarding health care legislation. As part of that, I have been scandalized by the fact that many of our senators and members of Congress have received obscenely huge amounts of financial “contributions” from private Heath Care Insurance companies. If this happened in a third world country, many Americans would correctly call it bribery. As if we are morally superior and somehow immune to that in this country because of our political system. Jay Leno once quipped that Congress is the only whorehouse in America that does not make money. Normally that would be funny, but it is hard to laugh when you are attending funerals of people who died needlessly, so that Senator Lieberman and many of his colleagues can live in luxury. As a clarification, I would never dream of referring to Senator Joe Lieberman as “a whore.” After all, a whore actually gives you something of value for your money and there are some things that a whore would never do for money.

I have read many comments that people have posted in response to articles on the Health Care issue. One of the most offensive was a person explaining that he had health care insurance and that he did not want to lose his great policy and be put onto a public option. Aside from the fact that this person was misinformed regarding the public option, this betrays a total disregard for the suffering a vast number of uninsured (and uninsurable) people. Dickens in his famous work “A Christmas Carol” has Scrooge state of those who would die in England due to poverty “Good! Let them reduce the surplice population!” Dickens wrote his work as a searing critique of a “Christian society” that understood “morality” as something pertaining only to the use/non-use of one’s genitalia. They seemed to have forgotten that God actually expects each of us to be our brother and sister’s keeper.

As a society, we have made wealth our national god and greed our national religion. American corporations have plundered third world countries to provide “bargains” for American consumers. When I was a boy, there was a popular ad on television with a jingle that said, “Look for the Union label.” The union label meant living wages for workers. Americans forgot that and instead looked at the price tag to determine what they bought. This national blind greed has been rewarded by American corporations that have out-sourced American jobs overseas to lower product cost and increase quarterly profit margins.

American citizens are rapidly approaching a third world standard of living. The once “middle class” is rapidly shrinking leaving an ever growing unemployed and underemployed class of poor people and a very small wealthy elite. As for our elected representatives in Washington DC, well we Americans have the best government that money can buy.


Kevin said...

Great post Fr. I love watching the 1951 version of Scrooge every year. One line gets me everytime. It's when Scrooge goes to Marley's house as he dies. The ghost of Xmas past says to him,"what did you feel when you signed his death certificate? Did you feel any sympathy for him? Look at your face Ebinezer, the face of a scrapping, scrawling, covetious old sinner..." We could ALL learn what is really important to God by watching that story...Kevin

BobinCT said...

I agree Kevin, I love watching the 1951 version in black and white. Dickens was right, everything one needs to know about Christianity is contained in that story. Just look at where the US Bishops are in the health care debate, that says it all.

Fran said...

The healthcare debate is lost in such a sea of bulls**t.

And people get sick, they die. Their health is impacted by the constant worry. I have health insurance but it is crappy and I am in an awful paper chase with them that has me owing $$ that I should not owe.

However, I am alive and in good health, but honestly the whole system is rotten to the core.

It seems intrinsically evil to me.

Kay & Sarah said...

Father Geoff, you are correct on all points. We went to one of the town hall meetings on health care. People were so angry because they are afraid that everyone having access to health care will limit their health care.

I do not understand how our country can put the amounts of money they do into the war and question if we can afford health care for everyone.

My dream is for everyone to have access to quality health care.

William D. Lindsey said...

Thank you for a powerful eyewitness statement of what is so wrong with our American health care system right now, Fr. Geoff. Real-life human beings are unable to get basic care on an ongoing basis around our country--a tremendous indictment of us as a nation.

And our political leaders fiddle and diddle as people die . . . .

Joe said...

Great post, Father Geoff. Every time I hear an American snicker at the corruption of Third World country governments, I always say, "We have bribery here in the U.S.A. too. It's just sanctioned by the law in the form of campaign contributions." Never once has someone been able to argue against that point.

What gets me the most is that the politicians who are against a national health care system like they have in the UK always seem to be the "family values" type. What could be more pro-family than ensuring that they all will be taken care of medically? These politicians (BOTH Republicans AND Democrats) use the "family values" label as a cover for looking out for corporate interests instead of the poor & the middle class. Unfortunately, the "liberal media" doesn't call them out on their hypocrisy. And too bad the Church hierarchy is no better.

Leonard said...

Dressing up vile personal character is a National´s more popular than baseball, football and basketball combined...recently the only Republican person I know (which is saying quite a lot) stopped being a Republican because he wants to be a Independent...he objected to the zealout fundamentalist Christians ¨wing¨ but wants to continue exploiting humanity (which they seem to have no problem with either)...I thought they made a nice least I knew where they all were (and who they voted for).

Frank said...

It is not surprising that congress can not do the right thing. The ideological divisions in the US are so destructive that efforts to compromise typically result in the worst legislation possible: it costs money and delivers nothing to the people. It does however make the rich (corporations, insurance companies, senators), richer. It has become a dysfunctional system.

As someone from Connecticut, I have pegged Leiberman as a self-serving SOB from way back. He has been able to get himself re-elected by playing the game and feigning sincerity.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for further proof that the whole idea that religion makes you a good person is false and hence that there is no god. These are all people who go to an organized religion. Lieberman is especially pious. They are willing to consign people to a painful lingering death because they just don't care and would rather have a tax cut.

BobinCT said...

Frank, as a fellow resident of CT I agree completely with your assessment of Senator Lieberman. He is a self-serving SOB and everyone (well, almost everyone) has known this for a long time. In the last senatorial election he was denied the nomination of his own party and ran as a third party candidate, which only gave him enough of a plurality to win, but by no means a majority.

The health care legislation that ultimately comes out of Congress will be everything the insurance industry wants, the handwriting is on the wall.


Will said...

This is not an original thought so I'll be brief: NONE of those clowns in the Congress has the slightest idea what it is to live as a normal U.S. working citizen. They're delighted to take our money and turn it into privileges and benefits for themselves, but have little interest in the reality of life of those whose money is taken.