Reckonings

For a minute and a half when I wake up in the morning, my chest feels normal and I can almost take a normal breath. The minute I sit up and try to take in anything resembling a deep breath, however, sharp pains in my chest cut it short, reminding me that plenty of gunk is still lodged firmly in my lungs. I’ve walked this path a few times before – – for some reason, despite having never smoked, my lungs are prone to pneumonia—but Friday was the first time I ever felt unnerved by the landscape.

Friday morning was spent mostly resting as any physical exertion left me wiped out and gulping at the air. I rested on the couch until it was time for a family walk around the house and, after our daily ZeroK, was wiped out for the rest of the afternoon. By the late afternoon, it was increasingly harder to breathe in, and I considered calling the doctor to see if there was anything I do should do in the face of worsening symptoms.

But I didn’t call him.

I took my pills and drank my tea and remembered my research of this illness. Dr. Google and actual doctors had told me that worsening symptoms might indicate a need for hospitalization, oxygen, or IV antibiotics.

Any other week, I would’ve called him, but this is not any other week.

This week I know that, nationwide, hospitals are struggling to find beds and masks and things to help people with a much more serious illness breathe. This week I know that calling for help might make me one more drain on a system that’s already overtaxed at the beginning of what appears will be a challenging spring. I don’t want to be in the healthcare system, but, even more I don’t want to be one more stressor on it.

So now it’s Saturday morning, and I’m still gulping as I write or talk, still trying to decide if I should call or wait until my next appointment on Monday to let the medication have more time to work.

Most of the time when I’m sick, I won’t call the doctor. I’m a doctor’s kid and grew up hearing admonitions to not worry about most aches and pains or even fevers. I know, however, that pneumonia can become quite serious, even in 2020.

What’s also serious, is the reckoning that the entire country is having with managing scarcity in an emergency and with our healthcare system. No one who has been in a grocery store in the last two weeks can have avoided the sight of empty shelves, sometimes rows of them. Panic has spurred some people to buy more toilet paper and pasta than could be consumed in a lifetime, leaving others to search for substitutes or simply go without.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve seen a number of people pointing out that a pandemic highlights the need for a strong system that is more equitable and accessible. Having lived in Germany and experienced their robust public healthcare system, I tend to agree. This week, however, I’m also reckoning with the role individual choices may have in making our current system in Bennington, Vermont less accessible to others simply by using increasingly scarce resources.

I don’t know that this is a bad conversation to have.

For years I have worked at a company with excellent health insurance and, especially where the kids were concerned, had no reservations about calling and getting that appointment or heading to the emergency room or urgent care. This week is not just about what we can afford for our family. It, like the choice to buy all the boxes of pasta or a just one or two for our family, is about what my choice may take from someone else. It’s about making sure that making that call is truly necessary.

For now, for better or worse, it’s keeping me from picking up phone.

Rejoice and Be Glad

It was a sunny six degrees by the time I got Thing2 to the school door, and, after a weekend of sub- sub-zero temps, the sky was so gloriously blue that I had to stop myself from blurted out how much it felt like spring. Knowing the mention of the five-letter S word would scare it off like showing a rodent its shadow in February, I silently ran my errands, making mental paintings of the trees and the shadows on the still-crisp snow.

Even a text from Thing1 reminding me he needed to practice driving stick (in mom’s car of course) couldn’t dim the feeling that it was as close to a perfect day as anyone could ask for. I’m not religious, but whenever Mother Nature is putting on a show like that, the greeting from Psalms that opened services at my parents’ old church runs through my head:

“This is the day that the Lord hath made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Whether you think a beautiful day was made or just happened, there’s something to be said for the missive to rejoice and be glad for it.

I admit to being a bit of a worrier. I worry about Thing1’s healthcare prospects as he’s starting to leave the nest. I worry about ever being able to retire. I worry about the growing number of displaced people around the world or if we’re moving closer to blowing up the human race with every single day.

I’ve been guilty of not rejoicing for days on end and even contemplating throwing away the rest of my personal collection of days.

My failure to rejoice in the moment — even for just a moment each day — is being rectified. Over the last few months I decided to make a change in my life and go back to school so that, in the long run, I would have more time to work on art and to feel like my life work will make a contribution. I’ve enjoyed school as an adult but as soon as I was immersed in study, I felt as if a fog was clearing.

The world started opening up, and I suddenly started to see the possibilities as well as the dangers. Despite a new mountain of work and all the same worries, I had more energy everyday. Without even realizing it, I was rejoicing.

Even if yesterday had been the last day, not rejoicing in the beauty of sun on the snow would not minimize any current troubles. Acknowledging the gift of that day, however is a recognition that there is always beauty, and worry cannot diminish it, even if it tries to obstruct it sometimes.

In It Together

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My sons are the center of my life.  They are the center of my husband’s life. 

Today, Congress began changing the future drastically for my eldest son by endangering his ability to obtain insurance when he is an adult. 

Today Congress rolled back Obamacare, and with it, protection for millions of people with pre-existing conditions (replaced with high risk pools).  My son is one of those people. He was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder (a lifetime diagnosis) that requires medications that would be unattainable for us without insurance. 

He’ll be a man soon, and, again – through no fault of his own –  he may find it more difficult to get coverage or possibly even job, since he will have to evaluate the laws in each state and not every employer will want to cover hires in his situation. It will  Even so, he’s lucky compared to the millions of Americans who will lose insurance outright. He’s still on our insurance plan, and we’ll keep him there as long as the law allows.

Jimmy Kimmel hinted at some of this the other night in his emotional monologue. He briefly touched on the fact that, prior to the ACA, a child like his would have reached his lifetime insurance cap before he left the NICU. If that child had appendicitis, or a broken bone, or cancer, that cap would have left many parents bankrupt at best or burying their child at worst — even if they had insurance.  

I have thought a lot about those other parents in the months since our son was diagnosed. When we get our meds, I silently thank our company for making it possible and then shake my head that anyone in a country as rich as ours might have to watch their child suffer or even die.  I shake it when I wonder how many people die prematurely because they don’t have access to the same healthcare we do, and I wonder how we benefit as a society from treating children and poor people like disposable objects. 

I call my representatives. I donate. And I shake my head. But today I’m done shaking my head.  I’ve thought about moving our family back to a country with stronger healthcare, but I’d still be shaking my head at the drugstore, wondering how people back home were managing without access.  

So now I’m still calling my representatives and donating, but I’m also looking for new ways to show solidarity with my son and with all the other people who are being pushed out in the cold. Because, as Jimmy Kimmel so beautifully stated, “We need to take care of each other.”  

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Oranges and Oranges


Sixteen year old Thing1 got into fitness in a big way last summer. He started working out like crazy. He spent the summer cutting hay (with a scythe) at his girlfriend’s house and jumping in ponds and rivers.

Just about the same time, he began having digestive issues that caused him to lose over 20 pounds in a few weeks — no mean feat for a kid who can seriously endanger the profit margin of any restaurant daring enough to put out an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Thanks to my job, we have excellent insurance, but it still took multiple visits to the ER and the regular doctor, along with a healthy dose of nepotism to finally find us the right specialist to hand us a diagnosis of Ulcerative Colitis.

At the time, all I could do was feel eternally grateful for our health plan and angry at a system that would have left Thing1 at sixteen without a colon if we hadn’t known somebody who knows somebody who could make something happen. I was angry for a while at the seeming apathy of the people in the system and not just on behalf of Thing1, but on behalf of the millions of Americans who have bad insurance or none at all. It left me wondering how many kids miss their potential because of lack of access to adequate care.

I still think about that every time we go for a checkup, wondering what we can do — aside from regularly calling our elected representatives — to change things.

Thing1 has clearly been thinking about it too, taking the ‘change the things I can’ approach to a life that now suddenly includes up to 12 pills a day.

At first when I saw his reaction, I thought I was worrying about oranges and he was thinking about apples. While I made my daily calls to my reps, he began researching his autoimmune disorder and adjusting his diet long with his workout. He googled and read. He experimented with different portions of protein and fiber, fruit and starches as he learned what his system would tolerate (incidentally coming up with a unified digestive theory that involves eating whole crates of clementines while simultaneously helping your parents run up a grocery bill to rival the national debt).

At the same time, we’ve started the time-honoured college search. T1 is a math fanatic, so we started looking at math/science schools, but he surprised us by announcing he wanted to study nutrition to help other kids who might be dealing with similar digestive issues. We’ve since signed him up for a course at the community college, and he’s even considering a blog with fitness and nutrition tips.

I finally realized T1 and I really were both thinking about oranges and oranges. We were just thinking up different ways to get to the good stuff under the skin.

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