I’d like to tell you about a young family with no health insurance. They’ve just bought a house and are working two jobs to pay for it–two jobs that barely cover the mortgage and the bills in this time of economic downturn. They have a little girl who was born without health insurance, and there were those bills to pay, too. It’s a struggle and they’re just barely getting by. What started as a sniffle in their eight month old daughter turned into a raging fever and hacking cough. They rush to the hospital where the little girl is immediately put in the NICU. The whole time she lays there both parents are in agony. Their life is over no matter what. If the unthinkable happens and their long-prayed-for daughter dies then their world will stop. They can feel the grip of that fear seize their hearts with every breath they draw. And yet if the hoped-for happens, their world will still be in a mad disarray. What little money they have saved will be swallowed by the endless hospital bills, and they’ll be thrown down a tunnel of dark economic struggle for ages to come. No matter which way the dice fall, it’s ugly.
Then the night comes when they can see the baby through the lucite incubator wall and they know she’s stopped breathing. It’s over. They call the nurse and she asks them to step outside so she can change the baby’s sheets. It’s her one kindness to these parents–that they not see the efforts the hospital makes with their dead baby.
Now maybe if those people had health insurance they could have gotten their daughter seen to when the sniffle was just a sniffle. Maybe we wouldn’t be here talking about how their baby is dead in an isolette and they have no way to pay for it.
People die all the time. It’s never not a tragedy when people die. It’s a heart-stopping, world-ending game changer. It’s ugly and raw and cold and it is very much the essence of hell. People are scared and angry and their world doesn’t look the same whenever there’s a death. And they want to blame someone. They will blame themselves for not taking the baby to the doctor sooner. They’ll blame the insurance company for not covering the life-saving treatment. They’ll blame the government for not offering better options under Medicare or Medicade. They’ll blame the doctors, the nurses, the janitors and whomever else they can find. It’s part of the process of dealing with death. But we are all short-timers and that will never change. So as we discuss health care, I think it would be wise to remember that ultimately death is out of everyone’s hands and is the last line on everyone’s dance card.
Yes, miracles can happen. But they’re not sent by insurance companies or Congress. They’re at the whim of the angels.
Just last week I was talking to that young mother. She and her husband just got back from a Disney cruise where they laughed and ate and drank and were merry. They were eventually able to pay all of their hospital bills after a lot of hard work and prayer and sacrifice. It took awhile but the sun came up eventually. I remember very clearly the first time she and I talked about their baby dying and all the financial sacrifices it took. I asked her how they managed and she said very simply “you just do what you have to do. You put one foot in front of the other and move on.”
Of course I do need to make one thing clear. Their story had another bit of a happy ending. When that nurse came in to “change the sheets” she and a team of medical professionals were able to bring the baby back to life. I remember the doctor saying once that they had God in the room with them and they knew it. I was a little kid when he said that to my mother, talking about how they brought me back to life. I’ve never forgotten it.
In the end we’re all at the whim of the angels.