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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Winners and losers


On the day Republican senators unanimously voted to repeal the Obama-led health care overhaul, my right knee took a turn for the worse.

For weeks it had been hurting. As is common for those without health insurance, I put it off as a sprain, something that would heal given rest and time. The pain began as a pulling sensation in the tendon behind the knee before spreading to the muscles or tendons in the thigh immediately above the knee. Flexing my leg grew increasingly difficult. Ice packs, heat pads, elevation—nothing provided much relief. 

Finally, the epicenter of the pain centered inside the kneecap, slightly interior to the leg, wickedly sharp. A fancy brace provided a measure of stability, enabling me to walk short stretches. Kneeling, as when using a dust pan or wiping up coffee spills at work, was impossible. 

“It’ll get better,” I assured Lori. 

But I didn’t believe it. Nothing about it felt like a sprain. It felt as if something inside was slowly tearing itself apart, or tectonic plates grinding together.

And it didn’t get better. It got worse.

Members of Congress who opposed the health care bill can afford to be uncompromising. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the median personal wealth for members of Congress in 2009 was $911,510. In fact, nearly half of the members of Congress are millionaires. The conservative branch of those millionaires acted to repeal the health care bill without offering another proposal in its place. It was all or nothing, my-way-or-the-highway; they opted for the highway. 

Who benefits from a repeal? Not the millions of Americans without medical insurance. Not the millions of Americans who struggle to afford medical insurance while still paying bills and putting food on the table while their paychecks continue to shrink, if not evaporate. The price of gasoline, insurance, groceries and utilities is escalating, yet for many Americans their salaries are frozen. One commentator called earnings for the middle and lower classes “static.” But nothing is static in today’s economy. The cost of merely getting by skyrockets while paychecks wither due to inflation. People are falling behind while our millionaire leaders cozy up to big business, the pharmaceutical industry and insurance companies. Who benefits? Not me. Not you. 

Now, I’m not an expert on health care reform. I haven’t read all 10,000 pages of the legislation, or whatever the final tally was. From what I’ve heard, there are parts of it I dislike and parts I distrust. My gut feeling is that the Democrats caved to insurance companies and antagonistic Republicans in order to wrangle a compromise that will ultimately benefit only the insurance companies. On those grounds, the idea of being forced to purchase health insurance worries me. 

In a recent news report, several Republican senators confessed that they hadn’t read the health reform bill. Nobody had time to read it in its entirely, they said. While I can understand their point, I can’t understand their refusal to try to find a compromise. Apparently finding solutions or compromises isn’t part of their agenda. Their vote wasn’t a denouncement of the bill, its inclusions or exclusions, its language or scope—it was a vote for their political party. It was a vote for maintaining  the status quo.

For most Americans, the status quo is broken.

My knee, however, is staunchly apolitical. It doesn’t care about the riots in Egypt or the state of emergency in New Mexico. It’s served me well for 57 years without too many complaints. And now it’s telling me that hoping for a miraculous recovery is as unlikely as Republicans and Democrats working together for the betterment of the nation. Hope, in this instance, was just another word for denial. 

Denial, at best, is but a short-term postponement. My knee was willing to wait for a few more days but eventually its patience came to an end. At work one morning the pain became so fierce that I could barely stand. Walking was agony. There was nothing to do but finish my chores, which I did, before dragging sacks of trash to the change house. The walk across the parking lot to the car in the subzero darkness of pre-dawn was an exercise in mind control. 

You can do this, I’d say through gritted teeth. 

My knee wanted to argue the point. Whenever I provided an encouraging word it responded with daggers of white-hot jolts. If a knee could laugh, it would have.

Reaching the car was one thing; getting in was another. Folding my leg to cross the threshold left me panting. Once safely home, I had to repeat the procedure in addition to climbing two short flights of stairs. By the time I hobbled to my easy chair I was done. I all but collapsed, covered myself with a blanket and dropped into restless dreams in which debilitating pain and my knee played starring roles.

The chair became my domain. It was my office and my entertainment center. I pulled up a small folding table to hold things I might need, or things I’d feel more comfortable having nearby: the Kindle, the MacBook, a gaggle of remote controls, a stack of photography books two months thick. 

The chair became my prison. Now and then I’d struggle to my feet with the support of a wooden cane that once belonged to Lori’s great-grandmother, Sadie Vail, and shuffle painfully around the house. Lori hovered over me like a mother hen, scolding me when I tried being too active. She was a wonderful nurse; I was a terrible patient.

And I broke down and called a doctor, knowing full well the financial calamity that might ensue. But whatever happens, happens. I can’t live the rest of my life without the ability to walk. I’ve only two options here and neither are good but one is definitely better than the other: live mobile (if broke) or die rotting in a chair. When put so succinctly, the number of options decline by exactly one.

Republicans, defeated in their attempt to repeal the bill, vowed to continue the fight. New York Representative Nan Hayworth, a self-proclaimed free-market absolutist who voted for the repeal, said that if Americans “had a single issue that troubled them the most, it was that health care vote.” 

I couldn’t agree more.

7 comments:

Wes said...

Tom, I'm now using a cane that B.B. Smith once used to get around. I get a cortisone injection in 2 weeks and I can hardly wait. It's like getting a new knee, if only for a couple of weeks. It looks like knee replacement surgery in April in time for my birthday. Although I thought I would never say it, but I can hardly wait. I also cannot kneel nor hardly bend over. Good luck, Tom, and let us know what you find out.

tom said...

Wes -- Doc suggested an MRI to see if meniscus was torn, to which I declined. We're adopting a wait-and-see, using Alleve, rest, elevation and exercise. He thinks the meniscus is torn or degenerating, or possibly a torn ligament. Basically, I diagnosed myself. Hope all goes well with your surgery. He offered a cortisone shot and I declined as well due to cautionary stuff I'd read online. Today I wish I'd taken him up on it.

Peg Nichols said...

Tom, until you get this knee issue resolved, get yourself a rolling stool. Mine is a mecanic's stool, with no back, which I bought at an auto supply store. It has a bottom shelf (for tools).

I also got a folding cane from a travelers' supply place online. It folds down to about a foot long, would fit nicely into a briefcase.

tom said...

A rolling stool sounds nice. I'm getting along pretty good with a wooden cane, but mostly I think I'm on the mend. A slow, slow, slooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooow mend, but a mend nonetheless. Thanks for the tips!

Vikki said...

Great post! I have found more that I like than I don't with the healthcare reform. So many people that I hear say that they hate it, can't name anything specific that they hate about it. In fact, they haven't read it. Then, they'll resort to, "It's socialism." I think many hate it because it was driven by Obama and the democrats, so therefore it is ultimately evil. But, who can't admit that our system is broken and the status quo isn't working...something needs to change!
Hope your knee is feeling better!

shoreacres said...

Let's see... There already have been 733 exemptions from the new health care bill granted for companies, unions and other business entities, allowing them to continue on without having to abide by the provisions of the bill. And of course none of the legislators who passed the bill have to abide by it, nor any of their predecessors. There are hundreds of thousands of people who will be exempt because of "deals" made with the administration. I won't put in print what I think about that.

And since passage, my mother has lost the medicare supplement coverage that was part of her pension package, has seen her prescription costs double and been told by her physician that unless things get changed, he'll either (1)no longer accept medicare and medicaid patients or (2) shut down his practice and go help his brother-in-law on the farm.

You know I have no health insurance, and haven't for a year, since premiums became so high I couldn't afford it. And I know changes need to be made. But this Obamacare business is abysmal. I would be delighted to be proven wrong - although I'd prefer not to be proven dead wrong!

As for that blamed knee - did I tell you my story of my torn rotator cuff? Left shoulder - not torn entirely off and in need of immediate surgery, but about half way torn.

I couldn't do a multitude of things - reach behind my back, raise my arms behind me to straighten a pillow in bed - the simplest things. For someone who does physical labor, it wasn't good.

It took months, but it healed with nothing more than irregular exercise and being very, very careful with it. I suppose it would have healed faster with regular exercise, but... well...

There were two things I was told. One made perfect sense - when it starts to hurt, stop what you're doing. The other seemed flat weird, but I did seem to improve faster once I took the advice - to drink plenty of water.
A sports therapist told me that. It does make some sense, since muscle tissue is about 70% water.
And you don't need a prescription for water!

I do hope it's getting better - it's absolutely no fun to deal with something like that.

tom said...

With my knee now starting to pop and threaten to collapse (or flex backwards, not the most inviting sensation), I'm taking your experience to heart. Rest, recuperation and Lori might get me through this given enough time. At our age we don't bounce back like we once did.