We all hit speed bumps. But sometimes these jolts to the old chassis hang around and threaten not only your life, but your livelihood, as well. The following synopsis of my own medical adventures in 2016 is not for sympathy. I am fine and back to playing tennis twice a week with the Moke Hill group. It’s also not a poor me, cautionary tale about taking care of one’s health. I hope it is read as a tool, sort of a metal detector showing where some of the landmines capitalism has buried along the road. Pay attention, there’s a quiz below.
Once, the word used to stoke fear in the faithful was “communism.” That morphed into “Muslims.” Now all the evils of mankind are dumped into the bin labeled “socialism.” But what are Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security if not socialism? A huge amount of our society also fits into this dreaded title. I want to look at my own experience to see how “dreaded” such a concept is.
In early 2016 I had a knee replacement. Midyear, a simple bout of heartburn and shortness of breath became a quadruple-bypass. They took the vein for the heart surgery from the new-knee leg and replaced it with a staph infection. This meant removal of the prosthesis, so I was without a knee for three months. The antibiotics for that knee removal shut my kidneys down. After two weeks in the hospital on dialysis and two weeks as a dialysis outpatient, my kidney numbers improved enough to give up my “chair” in Lodi. Then they gave me another new knee. Based on the bypass, I needed to get my cholesterol under control. My specialist found that my thyroid numbers were elevated and put me on vitamin B-12 shots and supplements. He also sent me to a sleep doctor who recently diagnosed me with severe sleep apnea. On Aug. 15, I began sleeping with a mask that ensures my brain gets the proper amount of oxygen.
Now, the quiz: The care I got was top notch. I met an array of excellent caregivers from countries far and wide. How much do you think the medical stuff cost? I don’t know. I can’t even ballpark it because I am over 65 and on Medicare.
Without the Medicare safety net, I would most certainly now be without a home, two cars, an RV and our meager life savings. In a word, I would be toast. Done. Over. Kaput. My point is that such situations happen to people around the clock. And, as we baby boomers age, we put a huge strain on everyone: our family, our own independence, the social programs that protect against catastrophic medical loss. This Gray Wave will continue to pressure society, and with the current ideological schism in Washington, D.C., the real question being how many years, or months, do we have left before politics creates a black hole from which our society will never claw its way out of.
The Republicans’ plan is as simple as it is cruel. They allow rich donors to extort a tax cut from them, and then call for a slash to the “liberal entitlements” they blame for the exploding deficit. Their rich donors rarely pay taxes, but I paid into Social Security my whole life. Thanks to Reagan, they even deduct Medicare from my meager Social Security checks. It is insulting that politicians enter government with modest bank accounts but leave with that sum expanded a hundredfold. How?
The GOP will gut anything that Obama touched, not just the Affordable Care Act. This means that departments like the EPA will turn on the brown water spigots again, which means that everyone, not just us old geezers, will get sick from their so-called fiscal conservativism. The fact that Flint, Mich., has gone years without potable water is only a political nuisance. I am pretty sure that gated communities, where those politicians and their non-taxed donors protected by Citizens United and the Supreme Court live, already have the specs for their own segregated water agencies.
I am going to end with a paraphrase of a quote from cable news pundit Lawrence O’Donnell Jr., who served as Sen. Patrick Moynihan’s chief of staff back in the day before winning a writing Emmy for his contributions to “The West Wing.”
“What did liberals do that was so offensive to the Republican Party? Liberals got women the right to vote … got African-Americans the right to vote … created Social Security and lifted millions of elderly people out of poverty … ended segregation … passed the Civil Rights Act, Medicare, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act. What did Conservatives do? They opposed them on every one of those things.”
Lawrence O’Donnell is proud to be a labeled a liberal. So am I.