My neighbor, Ellie, also has carpal tunnel problems. Hers is advanced, so a return to normalcy is unlikely even with surgery, but Ellie is obliged to sell plasma just to get by, so surgery is out of the question.
One of my Masonic brethren, Nathan, changed jobs recently, and his new insurance wouldn’t take effect for ninety days. During that time, Nathan came down with an undiagnosed illness that caused his fever to hit 104º. He couldn’t afford a doctor, so he rode his illness out at home.
Linda, the technician who hooked me up to the monitors for my recent polysomnogram, was injured in an accident and unable to work for seven months. Her insurance ran out after six, leaving her $30,000 in debt.
I don’t look for such stories, but now that I have become so dependent upon insurance and so aware of how different my life would be without it, they leap out at me. It’s like never noticing a certain make of car until you buy one.
There is really no way around the fact that, as individuals and as a nation, we spend money on that which we value. I value financial security, so I save money. My sister-in-law values foreign travel, so she spends money on that even though she has to borrow against her house. As a country, we value the War in Iraq. We also value health care for poor people in other countries, although the money has to come partially from the taxes paid by the poor people in our own country, people who cannot afford health care. We say to our own poor that their lives are of less importance than countless other things that we spend money on. If Nathan should die or Ellie should become permanently disabled, well, that’s very sad to be sure, but Africans with AIDS need our help more, even if we are obliged to borrow the money from China.
I am amazed that we Americans put up with as much as we do, but then I am one of those by whom I am amazed. But what to do about it… I met a man last week who was going door-to-door to gather support for Barack Obama, and I wished mightily that there was a candidate who I believed in that much. Hell, I just wish I believed in the goodness of our democratic system that much.
“All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or backgammon, with a slight moral tinge…. I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right; but I am not vitally concerned that right should prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority…. Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail.” Thoreau
I have long admired Thoreau because he writes as if he were beside me, contemplating the same problem that I am contemplating. No matter that the steam engine was cutting edge technology in his day, his issues then are my issues now. Ah, but he knew what to do about them. He avoided marriage partially because marriage would make moral compromise easier, but I embraced marriage because I had yet to meet the issues, and because I naively thought I could have it all. Still, I would not choose to live alone. But what would I do differently if I were alone? I would bury my money in a hole in the ground (figuratively or literally), so the IRS couldn’t find it, and I would stay in Oregon most of the year so I wouldn’t have to pay a sales tax. I feel little compunction to eradicate evil, but a great compunction to abstain from supporting it.
Yesterday, I received a bill for $465 for the carpal tunnel surgery that I haven’t had yet. The letter explained that this should cover my portion—after insurance—of the clinic’s operating room. This means that the clinic is going to charge $2,325 for the half hour that I will spend in that room. If not for the insurance company’s required write-off, the charge would be closer to $3,000. The letter also explained that the surgeon and anesthesiologist will bill me separately.
Last night, I could scarcely sleep for knowing that I am supporting a merciless and avaricious health care system. During one of the short lulls in my wakefulness, I dreamed that I was required, before surgery on Friday, to pay $499.99 in advance for a bath in a stainless steel tub. The tub turned out to be a thin vinyl mattress that was painted to look like stainless steel, and the bath was a damp washcloth with which I was told to wipe myself off.
My father died partially because he was unwilling to support what he considered a greedy healthcare system. People generally thought he was a nutty eccentric, but, for what it’s worth, Thoreau would have made the same choice. Of course, people in Thoreau’s day thought he was a nutty eccentric too. People who won’t support evil no matter what the cost to themselves are ever seen in such a light.
I look at things this way. My wrist hurts and my hand tingles. I sleep in a brace. I avoid certain activities. I am guardedly optimistic that surgery will change all this. On the other hand, if I refuse the surgery, what good will I have accomplished? None, externally. But would I respect myself more? Maybe, but I am still going to put my money into surgery, because I value my health more than I value my own moral approval, especially in regard to a decision that won’t make the world better or worse anyway. How do I live with this choice? I tell myself that the surgery will soon be over, and that I will move on. I usually prize expediency above principal, and I feel bad about this at times, and not so bad at other times. Mostly, I try not to think about it. In fairness to myself, those around me seem to knuckle under more than I do. They just ponder it less.