When we talk about people dying without Healthcare, trying to convince the other side that they should care about people other than themselves, we often hear the big stories - cancer that will kill without treatment, HIV patients dying without access to lifesaving medications, and organ transplants so expensive that people would rather die than send their families into bankruptcy.
These stories are all over social media and the news. They're true and they're heartbreaking.
But the rich and the politicians see poverty as a personal moral failing rather than a societal failing, and say to themselves there's not the bad cancer in our family because we live right despite one of their own, McCain fighting brain cancer. They won't get HIV because they live "good" lives, their organs are fine because they're from good people and they do good things. These terrible medical emergencies won't touch them.
So how about a small story. A tiny one. A story that could happen to anyone. A story about a harmless scratch. Anyone can get a scratch doing something, our skin isn't armor. It's just a thin layer holding us together. Just a little, teeny-tiny, harmless scratch that rich or poor, young or old can get.
I don't remember how I scratched my leg back in 2004, but this was way before the affordable care act and I had no health insurance. I would not be getting any health insurance anytime soon either because the year before a melanoma tumor that grew down into the small of my back was removed after giving birth to a child. I was woman, I had the audacity to give birth, and I survived cancer. No one would cover me. I didn't have health insurance again until Obama's Affordable Care Act.
But this was just a small scratch on my leg. I cleaned it up, smoothed over some antibiotic ointment, slapped on a band-aid, and then it was time to forget about it. We all do this. Later on we find the bandage floating in the bath tub drain.
But the scratch didn't go away. I put on more antibiotic ointment and continued on my day. My son was slowly showing developmental delays and when I was wasn't worrying over him I was my mother's caretaker. A long-term diabetic with wound care issues and cateracts now detached retinas, I was her eyes and her hands. I managed her visiting nurse appointments, which was how the nurse spotted the scratch and told me I should see a doctor.
But I didn’t have insurance, and my only job at that time was caretaker for my mom and son, which means there wasn’t a lot of money for a doctor visit over a scratch. And there wasn’t a gofundme site to beg for money to not die yet like there is now. Maybe if I were bleeding or in pain I’d figure something out.
The scratch went south fast, less than a week. My mom, being an ex-nurse and currently stocked with her own wound care supplies, taught me how to use sterile pads and gauze to cover and wrap my now red and ugly scratch, and gave me bits of salves like silvidene and medical grade honey. We waited to see what would happen, keeping our fingers crossed we wouldn't unwrap it to find gangrenous colors.
Instead something worse happened. One morning we unwrapped my leg and my skin sloughed off.
Think about that. Picture melted mozzarella cheese falling off your slice of pizza. Pretty gross right?
I still didn't have the money to see a doctor. In fact, I was still paying off the cancer surgery done at a low-income clinic and a $17,000 migraine bill from my college days in 1996.
Mom assured me I wasn't dying. Okay, then. I wasn't dying. My leg was melting off below my knee, but I was the lone caretaker for a disabled woman and a two year old we suspected of Autism. I could totally manage this.
"My dear readers," says the Narrator, breaking in, "she did not have this managed."
No. What I had was cellulitis. It's an infection in the skin, and if left untreated goes into the soft tissue and blood stream.
For an entire year and a half I fought it with topical medicines and bandages my mother shared and watched as my left leg slowly... melted. At one point an ulcer opened up that we could see bone through it. At that point we knew it was past hoping and it was time to admit defeat.
I saw a doctor. They were horrified and amazed I hadn't actually died during the year and a half. I couldn't afford a hospital stay, skin grafts, nothing. I accepted really strong antibiotics and went home with my own wound care supply tailored to my leg. I took care of myself. I took care of my disabled mom. I took care of my disabled son.
It’s many years later and I have the ugliest scar on my leg. It’s a few different shades of red and the skin over it remains delicate and dry like paper. It peels and barking my shin on the end table sometimes means an open wound. But it healed.
What you should take from this story is how dysfunctional and awful is the United States where medical help is so financially out of reach for some, that we risk dying by a single scratch? And what does it say about our politicians that they want it to happen again? Who hears this and thinks? This is fine. This is how it’s supposed to be.
Are we so morally bankrupt a people to let fellow Americans die by a thousand scratches?