A Paper Gown & Macaroni On Father's Day?
I will fly from California to Tennessee this weekend to eat Father's Day dinner with my Dad. But I don't expect the meal to be very satisfying.
For one thing, we will be eating whatever we eat in a hospital room. My father has emphysema and stage 3 lung cancer. He was responding well to chemo, but then he developed pneumonia. He has been hospitalized for more than a month, with his health worsening rather than improving. In the hospital, he developed a major blockage in his intestine; now he is battling this digestive tract malady, on top of everything else.
If Dad were the only person who is sick in my family, all of this would be scary, but perhaps somewhat manageable. Unfortunately, my father is not the only one who is ill. In fact, I am the only person from my nuclear family who is NOT sick.
My mother, who has multiple sclerosis, can barely walk and is unable to care for herself. And now she sits at home alone, knowing that her champion and helper is in worse shape than she is.
Meantime, my twin sister (who lives nearby) suffers herself with lupus-like symptoms. Doctors have not been able to giver her a specific diagnosis, nor any useful treatment. To top matters off, both of her sons have asthma.
So here I am: a husband, father and senior executive, living two time zones away. And suddenly all of the shortcomings and challenges of our health care system are leaping into view.
My father is getting decent care in the hospital, thank God. But he had been the primary health-provider for my mother. Now she struggling to make it around the house, without his support. Finding quality, long-term care for persons afflicted with degenerative diseases like MS is very tough - and can be very expensive. It is something I will have to take on, long-distance.
My sister is in a double-bind. She needs to keep working, so that she can keep her health insurance. But the job of a social worker itself is stressful and demanding; it is probably the main factor that is contributing to her illness and exacerbating her symptoms of joint pain and deep fatigue. Because we don't have universal health care, for my sister must do two things to get her health back on track: she must simultaneously keep her job - and quit it.
To make matters worse, she cannot afford to add her two teen-aged sons to her health plan at work. So we just have to pray that neither of them get sick before they enroll in college or get a full-time job, in three or four years.
We are a middle-class family; both my parents are former public school-teachers with advanced degrees. My sister has a graduate degree in social psychology. I am an attorney, as is my wife. But America's health care nightmare is now a part of our lives.
There are lots of things that could have made the situation better. We have not always made the best choices as a family. But none of these are the kinds of sin that should rightfully damn us to the levels of daily fear, stress and anxiety that we all manage today.
For instance, I wish that my parents, and especially my Dad, had not smoked cigarettes for decades. I wish that we all had better savings habits and investment strategies. And I wish my sister had chosen a lest demanding profession. But different members of our family, for different reasons, made sub-optimal choices. Then Mama's MS struck from out of the blue. As her condition has worsened, the entire family relied on my father to help her, indefinitely. Now he can't. And for the first time in my life, I live in a family that fears the future.
So as I am eating whatever mush they serve us on Father's Day, I will be wishing for more than just better and more nutritious meals for my Dad. I will be wishing for a completely different health care system that can better help my parents, my sister and nephews in our time of need.