For Now

I know it’s not over, but what a relief that this week of Senate voting/posturing is over. High drama last night as three GOP senators broke ranks. Skinny repeal was a ridiculous way for the GOP to try to put a checkmark in the win column. 

It all hinged on trying to get the House to pinky swear that they wouldn’t pass the legislation that the Senate wanted to pass.

Hey, I have an idea. How about you craft some decent legislation in the first place? You know, the kind that gets bipartisan support and doesn’t rely on a knife’s edge margin? 

For now, at least, we can thank Sens. Collins, Murkowski, and yes, McCain. That guy has a way of flip flopping between hero and evil villan to the public, huh? 

Letter to Senator Rob Portman

Feel free to use this as a template if you are stuck. This isn’t pretty, but I am somewhat crunched for time.

 

Sen Portman,

You and I have a mutual friend who tells me that you are one of the best fathers he has ever met. I’m a parent too and hope to appeal to you on that level.

In 2008, I underwent treatment for breast cancer at age 41. At the time, my kids were going into 3rd and 1st grade at St Columban and I was scared for lots of reasons. One was that my husband would lose his job and health insurance during the Great Recession. Luckily it didn’t happen, because I was uninsurable and medical bills would have ruined us.

Instead, my kids are in high school at MND and Moeller, I am still alive, and still covered under my husband’s health insurance.

Unfortunately, this year my children hit a health snag. They both were diagnosed with Celiac Disease (an auto immune disorder). My son had an acute health crisis this month – a massive blood clot brought on by a previously undiagnosed anatomical abnormality.

Please – don’t vote for the skinny repeal, which is just a veiled attempt to repeal the ACA. We need preexisting conditions included so my kids can have a safe and healthy future. As much as some complain, we need the mandate to spread the risk pool, as every other insurance product does. I know the ACA needs to be fixed and trust that can be done.

Thank you for you time and please stand strong against the pressure from bullies who only want a “win” instead of what’s best for this country.

Chronic vs. Acute

Based on my perusal of the morning news, the desperate GOP health care bill was resurrected then died again. John McCain made a tear-jerker speech about working together but voted in line with his own party’s divisiveness. And despite getting some of the best health care in the world for a horrible disease, McCain seems willing to deprive millions of others of access.

In other words, just another day in the asylum.

For anyone enjoying this chaos, I caution you about the chickens not being hatched. This isn’t over and if you care about this issue, you need to make your voice heard. After all, if you live in my state you saw our senator refuse to support the bill and then vote yes on it.

If you don’t think any of this matters, let me tell you a story of how my nondescript summer turned downright scary.

My son, a rising high school sophomore, has been training intensely for the opportunity to try out for goalie on his high school soccer team. Toward the end of June he began to complain of back pain. The pain increased in severity over the next couple of weeks and by the 4th of July holiday he couldn’t get out of bed.

I contacted the head coach and trainer for the team, both agreed he needed to be seen by a doctor immediately. They got me an appointment on July 5th with our city’s prominent Sports Medicine center. We thought we were looking for a bulging disc, a pinched nerve, or maybe worst case scenario of a stress fracture in his spine. The x ray was clear but the doc sent him for an immediate MRI on-site. The report came back surprising: yes, there was a mildly bulging disc but of greater concern, there seemed to be some abnormality in his vein structure and some of his organs looked funny.

The doctor referred us back to his primary care doctor for a CT scan of his abdomen. I pushed for a quick turnaround because we were about to leave on a summer vacation. The following afternoon he had the scan.

My son and I were pulling in the garage after the test when my phone rang. After confirming with me that he had some swelling and discoloration in his right leg, she instructed us to go to the emergency room at Children’s Hospital immediately.

After a few truly terrifying hours of uncertainty and obviously concerned doctors, he was admitted to the hospital. My son had a sizeable Deep Vein Thrombosis at the top of his leg that was severely restricting the flow of used blood from his leg. He was started on a drip of anti-coagulants immediately and the plan was that if he didn’t respond, he would need surgery to break up the clot.

In the quest to figure out how this could happen to a healthy and very active 15-year-old, we learned that the MRI was correct – there are some abnormalities in the anatomical structure of his veins. The human body, being the amazing thing that it is, had grown a unique structure of veins to compensate, but one must have been injured when he hurt his back, kicking off this clotting situation.

I could bore you with a million more details, but I won’t (right now). I will tell you that the medication worked and he avoided surgery. He spent a couple of days in the hospital and a full recovery will take about three months. He is progressing every day and learning to adjust to this new reality which, at least for right now, precludes soccer or any other contact sports.

This was an acute medical crisis, meaning it necessitated immediate treatment. The bills are rolling in now, but we are fortunate to have some of the best pediatric health care available. That comes at a price and I’m guessing that this acute event will clock in close to six figures. We have employer-sponsored health insurance so we won’t be crushed by the full financial responsibility of this.

But underlying this acute crisis is a chronic condition, my son’s anatomical reality that will be with him his whole life.

In other words, a preexisting condition. He will rely on health insurance to manage it. Forever.

High risk pools, you say? I’ve posted this link before, but please read about the reality of such programs. Many of them had exclusions for 6-12 months, meaning a person would have to pay the higher premium based on this condition but nothing would be covered related to it for excluded time frame.

I’m far less concerned with the high brow and low brow rhetoric that surrounds the health care debate. I’m concerned for my children, that when they grow up they will be able to care for themselves the way we’ve cared for them. Their health conditions weren’t brought on by poor choices or moral failings.

If you have never been affected by a health crisis, I think it’s time you realize how big of a role luck has played in that.

Sorry to break it to you, but you’re one phone call, one test result away from the collapse of the privilege good health has afforded you.

Don’t assume Congress will do the right thing here. Two examples above show politicians who say one thing but vote in the exact opposite way. Call, email, go to their offices and talk to them.

Words, Still Mattering

My stomach turns to read about the shooting at a Congressional baseball practice outside of DC this morning.

WaPo reports that the shooter had a problem with the current GOP administration. Certainly this story is still developing, but I don’t think this was a random thing.

Let’s be clear. I have a problem with the current GOP administration too. That doesn’t mean I want them dead or injured, it means I disagree with them and want them all voted out of office.

To make our voices stand out we get overwrought, couching our language in grandiose terms like “traitors” and “dangerous.” Some people will hear those words and believe that there is a drastic response needed. You might try to wash your hands of responsibility there, but I won’t let you. You choose your words to make an impact, you can’t control what that impact will be.

From 2008-2016, we saw Tea Party protesters carrying signs about the tree of liberty being being watered by the blood of patriots. I’ve heard more than one demagogue say that liberalism is a mental disorder and liberals are defective. I really feared that Obama would be assassinated.

Now that the GOP is in charge, the same dangerous rhetoric has fired back up. Liberals don’t have the same existing network of mouthpieces via cable news and talk radio, but it seems like the democratizing force of the internet is well-functioning here. It’s easy to share memes or say outrageous things on social media. You can’t control how they impact others.

We have got to take it down a notch.

Like 50 notches, really.

Stop lumping people together as “repugnicans” and “libs.”

For the love of all things holy, stop believing that a person who disagrees with you is your enemy.

What’s ruining this country is not Trump or Obama or Pelosi or even that big jerk Paul Ryan. It’s us – you and me – who blur boundaries. We think that if we find out one little fact about a person, like their voting record, that we can attribute all kinds of other convenient and neatly predetermined traits to them as well.

Guess what? We really aren’t that smart. We certainly aren’t immune from flawed patterns of thinking.

So let’s stop taking the easy way out. This isn’t a western. There aren’t white hats and black hats. We need to behave responsibly.

Just take a freaking breath, stop screaming about tyranny, and focus all that energy on looking out for each other instead.

Beyond Words

My kids went to a Catholic grade school. For those of you not familiar with the system, let me introduce you. The population waxes and wanes at my kids’ school, 50-100 kids per grade matriculate in the same building from first through eighth grade (kindergarten and preschool now too, by the way, but not when my kids were that age). It’s a big one by today’s Catholic school standards, but still a relatively small school option. Like most Catholic schools, it tries to stay affordable by relying heavily on volunteers. Sports, classroom aides, chaperones, scouting, theater, other extracurriculars, all staffed by parent volunteers. Most families see each other at Mass on Sundays too.

In other words, we interact. After 8th grade kids scatter – there are several excellent public and Catholic high school options on our city. My son’s class graduated 8th grade last year; his class of approximately 80 moved on to about seven different high schools. Life changes.

My last post was about the reporting of a suicide in the local news. The boy was a senior at a Catholic high school, one well-attended by graduates of my kids’ school.

Sadly, beyond sadly, sadly beyond words, the topic moved closer to home within hours of that post. A boy from my son’s grade school class died by suicide.

I could write volumes here about what it’s been like to be a parent and member of the parish through this so far. Maybe someday. Not today. It’s still an unnavigable whirlpool in my brain.

One lesson I learned from having cancer is that the search for an answer to why is a pointless and destructive waste of time. I’ve tried to impart my hard-earned wisdom over the last couple of weeks – the pursuit of the unknowable distracts from what matters. Even if you could know what he was thinking the moment he decided, it wouldn’t satisfy you. The best we can do, I’ve advised again and again, is accept and figure out how to move forward.

All the while, my hypocritical self has been trying to figure it out why.

I get the urge. It’s the same as wanting to understand why people get cancer. In part, in large part perhaps, we want to know how we can be sure it won’t happen to us. We want to point to something and say AHA! See!  That’s what caused it and that does not apply to me. That beast will never get any closer. Guaranteed.

Into the abyss of non-understanding, we toss answers that fit our narrative.

People suspicious of social media blame it. People who had lonely teenage years wonder if there was a lack of close relationships. People who’ve struggled with mental illness ask whether there was something undiagnosed. People who see the world as a dark and chaotic place see this as something that could happen to anyone.

Me, I’ve been wondering if high achieving kids are more at risk. In this theory, kids don’t learn how to struggle in the early years because things come easy. Once they do hit the inevitable wall, they don’t know how to cope or ask for help.

You don’t have to look very far outside my four walls to figure out why I’m wondering that.

As the expression goes, we don’t see things as they are, we see things as WE are.

Apart from a gazillion other things that I’ve learned in the last couple of weeks, I’ve learned that I need to stay aware and let go, not just of the need to know why but of my belief in the existence of why.

Recognize it and let it go. Over and over and over.

Shine

Yesterday as I was driving my son to his high school, traffic reports advised that a close-by road was closed because of an accident. I avoided it on my way in but had to drive past on my way to work. News crews were everywhere. Hm, I thought. Must be a big accident.

I googled once I got to work and read this:

Earlier this morning, the driver’s mother called 911, according to a recording of the call.

She said he left their home in White Oak in the middle of the night. He has expressed suicidal thoughts and has been depressed, she told a dispatcher.

A tracking device inside her son’s green, 1998 Toyota Avalon showed the vehicle was stopped where the highway ends just before Montgomery Road, she said.

It also indicated the vehicle was going 112 mph, she told the dispatcher.

The mother said she feared her son’s vehicle had crashed, and he was not picking up his phone.

Out of the ordinary. As both my children are in high school, I felt queasy.

Sure enough, later in day I read that the driver was a senior at a local high school and had died. Local outlets report that the crash is under investigation – no references to the early morning report about the mother’s 911 call.

If you find yourself thinking, “Out of respect for the family” or “Now’s not the time” I ask you two questions:

  • Is suicide the only cause of death that is withheld out of respect for the family?
  • If not now, when?

I’ve argued here before that sticking mental illness into dark, shameful corner respects no one. We have to shine a light on the issue of mental illness and depression before we can begin to understand it.

Here is a list of resources I’ve posted before.

Most important:

Crazymaker

A few years ago, I read a book called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Her words helped me frame out some of my own nebulous ideas, none more so than her concept of Crazymakers. The name pretty much says it all – people who bring chaos into your life. As much as I have found crazymakers and crazymaking appealing in the past, I’ve leaned that life alone can leave you wondering which way is up. I need people I can count on. Why spend time with people who can turn a calm lake into a wave pool; choppy waters into a tsunami?

As the saying goes, the personal is the political.

There is something very wrong with our country.

I noticed an uptick in collective madness when Obama was elected. People still claim he is a gay Kenyan Muslim who hates the United States. In 2008, I called it the Death Rattle, firmly believing that ugly ideas like racism, classism, and this insipid American idea that we are products of our own bootstraps were expressing their final gasp.

I think I might have been premature. Now I think this is a two men out in the bottom of the 9th situation. When you’re down and nearly out, you take risks you might not otherwise take. As in, Go Big or Go Home.

Hence, Donald Trump.

I’m not going to try to make sense of yesterday’s crazy crazymaking because that’s how crazymakers suck you in. But here is some work others have done.

Smart people believe that Trump’s slim margin of victory in three swing states can be attributed to Comey’s actions during the election season. Now, for these same actions that Campaigning Trump and Senator Sessions used to praise, President Trump has fired Comey, in a terribly unprofessional way. Could it be that he’s trying to shut down the FBI investigation into Russian election tampering? If not, why fire him now for actions taken almost a year ago, when Comey is knee-deep in this work?

And then, in perfect crazymaking form, Trump tries to twist it around this morning, saying that HRC supporters should be happy since they didn’t like how he handled the Clinton email situation anyway.

Mr. President, it is absolutely possible for a person to believe that Comey should have been fired AND question your timing and method. Lots of people reject the “ends justify the means” philosophy of ethics.

Adding to the crazy tornado is the way the alternate universe spins this – as a punishment for NOT prosecuting HRC, even though the memo says something entirely different. In fact, this firing, we are supposed to believe, is about the mistreatment of HRC.

Crazymaking might work temporarily to keep North Korea on it’s best behavior but it also directly contradicts the notion that in the United States, laws matter more than any single person.

I think we’re in the wave pool, heading straight into the tsunami. I told my son today that I feel we’re at some sort of turning point. In the muck of it all it’s impossible to know which way this is heading but I have a pit in my stomach.

Will our elected leaders have the guts to put the long-term health of the country before the possibility of short-term gains by the party?

I’m afraid they don’t do anything unless their jobs are at stake. That sort of pressure is up to me and you.