It was the middle of the night in the middle of August. I was lying in my bed in the dark while imaginary ironworkers slammed steel hammers against my chest and back, and I don’t exactly remember what was going through my head at the time. It should have been terror, but I think that I’d have recalled it. It might have been a rundown of the previous days and the hints therein: that metallic taste in my mouth, the bouts of bad circulation, the leg cramps I had been experiencing more frequently. I don’t really recall. I do remember the next few days, getting up at the regular ungodly hour, going to work, going through the motions. I remember buying that first bottle of aspirin, sliding it into the glove compartment of my car and deciding to make five tablets a day my regular regimen. It was not always this way.
When I was a kid, I was a bit of a hypochondriac, but weren’t we all? What a wonder drug that was! With little more than the inference of an ache or a pain, you got an instant fix of attention, sympathy and for a brief moment, you were the center of the universe. No wonder we learned how to exploit our non-owwies as deftly as our actual ones. But with adulthood came public indifference to our pain, real and imagined, because everybody had one. Then came the job market and a whole raft of separate factors. For some, if you don’t work your day, you don’t get paid, period. For others, you’ll get a sick day, but we’ll make you regret it upon your return. You don’t have health insurance? Better eat more garlic and pray, boy. You do have health insurance? Better pray the co-pay doesn’t cripple you even more. By the time I was out in the real world, I no longer told people about my aches and pains for all the reasons above and more. Hypochondria is a rich person’s ailment, don’tcha know.
God forbid anyone saw how I was propping myself up against my surroundings after my “cold” that night, how I was leaning on things a lot more than usual, and how for a week straight, I was collapsing to sleep almost immediately after arriving home at the end of the day. I’m an insomniac by nature and I can’t even sleep on my own couch, so the fact that at five o’clock I was dead to the world would have been a solid tell that something was wrong. I didn’t want to have that conversation — you know the kind, where the dialogue devolves into a two-sentence parry and thrust. “You have to go to the doctor.”
“I can’t go because I can’t afford it.”
“But you have to go to the doctor.”
“I can’t go because I can’t afford it,” and down that rabbit hole we tumble. I’m not fooling myself. I know I need to see a cardiologist, but in order to do so, I need to first have $2000 just to get through the door, at least. I’m not even factoring in the requisite EKG, or the probable hospital stay or the battery of medications that might come afterward. I never told anyone that which I know to be true right now, that which I’m admitting to in this very public forum because the plain truth is that I don’t have my money for my life. And so I place my faith in my bottle of Bayer, try to eat more sensibly, attempt to make good choices in my actions and try to stay calm. Yeah, right.
I had my fingers crossed for the health care bill, and was hoping that which finally emerged from our elected officials would allow me to see someone who could help me without latching me into a form of indentured servitude. I thought this was the big moment where the rest of the civilized world would, once and for all, stop laughing at us and our bourgeois barbarism disguised as free-market health systems. I thought we were joining the greater fraternity of nations that cared for all their citizens, not just the wealthy ones.
But what have we learned from our bright-eyed optimism, class? We learned that the most effective ways to force insurance companies to price their wares responsibly, through competition constructed by a government-set standard, was red, white and blue on the outside but pinko through and through. We learned that any government interruption of the status quo wouldn’t be tolerated by a segment of the population who proudly call themselves teabaggers. They believe their moniker is representative of Boston Tea Party radicalism, failing to grasp that it’s also a slang term for having someone dip their testicles into someone else’s mouth, failing to understand why they’re being snickered at, all the while proclaiming how they’re proud to be one of a long line of teabaggers and they’ll continue to be teabaggers until the day they die — or choke on someone’s undercarriage, whichever comes first (rimshot.)
Mostly we learned that the citizenry would be mandated, forced by federal law, to buy into the insurance system as it now stands or else pay a financial penalty for failing to do so, and it’s back to the rabbit hole. “Buy high-priced health insurance.”
“But I can’t afford it.”
“Then pay the fine for not having insurance.”
“But I can’t afford that either.”
“Then just buy the insurance,” and so on. The rest of America will simply be delivered to the doorstep of the Medical Industrial Complex with no other options, to which the insurance companies will see even greater profits. Will those profits come back around in the form of reduced rates for customers? Are you high? Has profitability ever reduced costs, or has blanket greed covered their bearers in woolly, green glory, like an executive of a Wall Street brokerage watching their corporate value tumble harder than a diabetic in need of an insulin injection, only to be rewarded with end-of-year bonuses? What were they being rewarded for? Existence? It certainly wasn’t for merit, but that’s just the way it is, or so they say.
The health care bill-go-round stinks of the Cash for Clunkers program, initially designed to get polluting old cars off the road and out of the system, replaced by cleaner, more fuel-efficient models. Only scant months before the program, the government pumped massive amounts of bailout cash into US automobile companies in an effort to prop them up. Cash For Clunkers turns out to be a great way to sell cars, to get money back into the car companies and, ultimately, attempt to get the government infusion/intrusion extracted from the equation as soon as possible. Was it ever really about curbing greenhouse gasses, or was that just another green, woolly blanket covering up the real situation. Is this health care initiative really about making these vital functions available to every citizen or is it about forcing every hold-out to ante up, driving up the value of these companies, driving Wall Street into further and stronger numbers, consequences be damned, citizens be damned? Was this dog-and-pony show merely a sham to lock everyone into the Moloch machine, pay to play or die away? Is Joe Lieberman really such a jerk-off that even his own ideas, like the 50+ buy-in into Medicare believe it or not, become distasteful when it was time to stand up for them, or for anything?
Now comes the American Graffiti wrap-up where we find out what happened to our cast of characters after the credit roll. Cash for Clunkers ended, and the greatest beneficiaries of those discounts were non-American automobile manufacturers. GM has petitioned the feds for more cash, and will get it because they’re “too big to fail.” Likewise, the currently neutered health care bill will probably squeak by, be considered a victory for the current administration which will herald it as definitive proof of “real change,” yet never once make mention of the millions of US citizens that are being led up the ramp, lambs to a financial slaughter because now it’s positively criminal to deny the insurance devil his due. They were promised something that might help but, in the end, wound up with a big hurt. Joe Lieberman will, in a couple years, publicly flaunt his maverick demeanor in hopes that Saint Sarah soon would be there. He’ll show John McCain this time, oh yes he will.
And me? Your humble scribe will continue on, writing about the things that give him great joy and about the things that vex him, keeping on that aspirin regimen and praying the railroad union doesn’t return in the dark of night to drive a spike into his chest. God knows if they do, there ain’t a damn thing he can do about it.