Around this time last year, I was flying off on business trips every week or so–at company expense–between Colorado, Texas, and California, trying to push back the tide of this recession for the brands I represented. In spite of all the hotel rooms, morning meetings, and conference calls, for almost six months I made well under a thousand dollars in commission per month–less than they were spending to send me on these fruitless and frustrating business trips. I wasn't surprised when my position was eliminated.
I tried self-employment, but faced a struggle trying to make ends meet. Health insurance for all of us was one of the last things we let go of when our financial crisis crested. Pre-existing conditions that I'd always considered of little consequence, like a tendency toward mild hypertension in pregnancy, caused our premiums to skyrocket into the four-figure range every month, and that was for a no-frills policy with high deductibles and copayments.
We paid to keep the plan as long as we could, even though we tended to gravitate toward a holistic approach. I've long advocated good preventive lifestyle choices; we are active and do not eat fast food, smoke, keep processed treats in the house, or drink to excess. My experience has always been that if you give your body the tools it needs to be well, then very little intervention is required for most mild illnesses.
Still, there were my annual pelvic exams, the kids' checkups, my husband's dental care. We had to have insurance, how could we not? To not have it would be the height of irresponsibility. Like most parents, I flashed on images of what could happen: a car accident with a long injury rehabilitation, a diagnosis of chronic disease. So for the bulk of the time while I was self-employed, we kept paying this bill.
I don't really remember when we stopped being able to pay the premiums. My stress level was escalating with every month I couldn't cover our basic needs. I just let go of all except what was immediately pressing: keeping shelter and utilities. Food was farther down the list than it should have been, even. Looking back, I wish I had been quicker to turn to government programs for my family . . . I just always thought I was a couple good weeks away from being able to turn it around myself.
There is never a time that you forget that your children are uninsured. You feel like running behind them in a half-crouch, arms extended, ready to catch the sudden stumble. I wasn't prepared for how demoralizing it would feel, knowing that no one would be there to help if a member of my family was hurt or sick. I was living with this illusion–it seemed an utter impossibility that one of my children would be turned away when I carried their hot body into the hushed and reassuring calm of a doctor's office, vulnerable as a parent often is.
I don't remember my mother being especially affectionate when I was growing up. I looked for signs of her love everywhere, even in something so simple and small as the feeling of her fingernails flicking efficiently against the nape of my neck as she twisted my hair into a bun. Taking me to the doctor when I was sick was a type of love, and I clung to it and still remember it. Remember that feeling? A hand on your forehead and a thermometer in your mouth made it seem like everything would be all right.
When you don't have medical insurance, you never really feel like everything is going to be all right. I managed to have two failed root canals while we had no dental insurance, and now I have two less molars. Seems we always made to much to qualify for Medicaid, yet there was no way we could pay even to cover only the kids privately. Sure, there were county offices for vaccinations, and walk-in clinics where we could sit for hours and wait for a nurse to prescribe an antibiotic for thirty bucks.
Several months ago, my husband finally passed through that preliminary stage of employment before benefits kick in, and suddenly–for a hefty yet manageable monthly fee–we have medical and dental coverage for all five of us. I have been able to take my younger two to their first ever dental visits, and have had my first physical exam in years.
Oddly, amazingly, they've found a tumor and a lesion in my mouth that don't look good. I have an exam with a specialist and a biopsy scheduled, although the process of diagnosis is taking weeks. Meanwhile, I am having to take painkillers around-the clock for the strange pain that's afflicted me down the back of my neck.
The information we receive in the next month has the potential to change our upended lives yet again. I'm relieved and grateful that now, at least, I can walk into the quiet offices of medical specialists who will touch me, examine me, and monitor my progress.
Having received what may be really bad news about my health, I am glad I don't have to reassess what I'm doing with my days, or try to find a way to spend more time with my family. I consider the fact that if I do end up getting the worst possible prognosis, we will rely on our community more than we currently do. I'll need others to help parent my children, and possibly to ferry me to appointments here and there. My husband cannot lose any income, so taking time off isn't an option.
But at least I'm not in a random airport or a lonely, generic hotel room feeling this worry, as I would have been this time last year. I'm loving my children. We're blasting music and riding our bikes. I'm putting the tomato seedlings in the ground, now that the winds have died down. I am not ready to leave this life, and there have been times in my past when I have been.