My closest friend has been dealing with her mother’s recurring cancers for two years. The battle is nearing an end as her mom goes into a hospice for end-of-life care.
There is one part of this story that has affected me deeply. It has been watching middle-class people, who worked their whole lives, struggle to afford the medical care they need at the end of their lives. I knew that our healthcare system had serious problems. But I had never seen the effects of these issues, up close, on people’s lives.
My friend’s mom was a nurse and her father was an engineer. They saved some money over the years and were comfortable up until the time they got sick. The dad died a few years ago. His last illness soaked up most of the extra cash that they had put away. So when the mom got cancer, money was tight.
My friend works 60 plus hours a week as an executive at AT&T. Her sister, also local, is the mother of two teenage girls. There came a point when their mom had to go to frequent doctors appointments and chemo or radiation several times a week. The sisters had to take turns driving their mom to her appointments and staying with her through her treatments.
They couldn’t afford to pay an aide to spend several days a week doing testing and treatment runs. If the sisters hadn’t turned their lives upside down to take care of their mom, I don’t know what would have happened to her. If she didn’t have two willing daughters living near her, she would have been screwed.
This situation became a real hardship for both siblings. As time went by, the mom’s symptoms got worse and she eventually needed a feeding tube. That upped the level of care she needed exponentially. After a while, the mom couldn’t handle the feeding tube on her own. So the sisters had to get to her house several times a day to help her.
When the mom needed help getting to the bathroom, the daughters broke down and hired the most affordable aide they could find to come to the house twice a day to supplement the daughters’ visits.
Then the mom became effectively bedridden and they had to hire a full-time aide. They couldn’t afford a fully certified RN. So they found a willing woman with some healthcare experience.
But she is Russian and speaks almost no English. She could communicate with my friend with a translating program on her phone. But she could not communicate with her mom at all. Unfortunately, that’s all they could afford. They were lucky to find anyone.
It’s outrageous that families are left on their own to take care of sick relatives unless they are in the top 1% of earnings.
My friend was lucky she can work wherever she has a computer. So she could get work done at her mom’s house or at the hospital or at the treatment centers. That’s not a common situation. If she had had to show up to work at an office every day to keep her job, she’d have been unemployed long ago.
Which is the situation in which most people find themselves.
So how do average families take care of their sick? Watching my relatively well-off friends struggle, I have no clue how other less lucky workers manage.
Our health care system obviously has serious problems. I understood this intellectually. Watching my friend try to do right by her mom, I suddenly understand the flaws in the system on a more visceral level.
Affordable help should be available to everyone who needs it to care for sick family members. People should not have to suffer extreme hardships just to care for a loved one who is ill. People should not have to choose between their job and their own financial security and caring for a family member.
This situation is outrageous in as rich and sophisticated a country as America. It’s not an issue in most other democracies in the western world. Hopefully, the movement towards universal healthcare here will eventually solve this problem. If we’re all lucky, I’ll live to see enlightened healthcare for everyone in my country. If not, shame on us!