NOT ENTIRELY GOOD WERE THOSE GOOD OLD DAYS

I went to school on Long Island, the one that lies off the coast of New York. I started school at 16, was married at 18, became a mother at 22 — and ran for State Senate as a Liberal when I was 24.

The house we lived in on Long Island. I remember when we planted the tree out front.

How come? Well, herein lies a story. I did something really bad to my spine when I was very young. It involved a pickaxe. I was a very small child. Short, thin. In the summer, me and the other kids roamed the area looking for something to do that didn’t involve breaking and entering. We did that too. We never stole anything. We just left notes — printed because we hadn’t learned script yet — saying “the cat burglars were here.” I’m pretty sure everyone knew it was us.

One day, as we were moseying around a neighbor’s lawn (fancy lawns were not in fashion yet), she commented that the raised flower bed had once been a pool. Long ago. We got all excited and offered to turn it back into a pool again. She said it was fine with her, so we scrambled to get shovels and any other implements we could use to dig. Which is how come I wound up swinging a pickaxe. I swung it backwards over my head and there was a sharp snap in my spine. From that day onward, my back hurt. It wasn’t improved by horseback riding because I fell with regularity. Landing on your ass doesn’t look like a big deal, but it’s really hard on your spine and mine was already damaged.

By the time I got married, my back was bad. It didn’t stop me from riding because I loved horses and I expected riding to hurt. But one day, I came home from riding and it didn’t hurt. I was more or less numb from the waist down and couldn’t lift my right foot. It dragged on the ground. The pain hadn’t scared me, but the numbness did.

The orthopedist said I needed immediate surgery on my spine. It was 1967. Far in the future were the delicate techniques now used to deal with spine repair. Back then, it was hacksaws and chisels, not tiny little remote-controlled devices. I could have gone to a much better hospital in Manhattan, but I was married and Jeff was working two jobs including early morning DJ, so I opted for the local hospital (very bad choice) and their doctor. He was an older guy, I think not far from retirement. There were more modern techniques even then, but he was “old school.”

There was no way to check out the doctor. All of that stuff was yet to come. No internet. No home computers. No Macs or PCs. Even main frames were rare beasts. You picked the best hospital you could. They assigned a surgeon. Good, bad, or indifferent, you didn’t have much choice. Figuring out exactly what was wrong was also tricky since there were no MRIs or CAT-scans. Just x-rays. The doctor mentioned, casually, I might later in life suffer from “minor lumbago,” but at least I wouldn’t be in a wheelchair. Which, he assured me, I would be if I didn’t deal with my back.

Everything that could go wrong went wrong, but I was young. I recovered. I was in the hospital for five and a half months following surgery. When I emerged, I was in a cast from armpits to knees.

We were broke. Jeff had insurance — good insurance for 1967. Since there was NO Medicaid or Medicare, if you didn’t have insurance, tough luck. We’d gotten a few nice monetary gifts when we were married. By the time I left the hospital, we had nothing and we owed the hospital more than $15,000.

$15,000 in 1967 was equivalent in purchasing power to about $133,300 today. That is an increase of $118,300. To put it another way, that’s a price increase of about 790% over 55 years.

We never caught up. Owen was born in 1969 with clubfeet which cost us a ton more money we didn’t have. We just kept piling on the medical debts. Considering Jeff was only earning $9,000/year — a decent if not exceptional salary for the time — we never got fully out of debt.

We were living in a very Republican area, so naturally Jeff and I registered as Liberals making us 50% of the registered Liberals in Nassau County. They needed a candidate. Jeff was too busy, so I offered to run. I wanted to talk to people about medical insurance or more to the point, the lack of it. By then I’d done some studying up and discovered medical debt was the primary cause of bankruptcy in the U.S.

There was zero chance that I would be voted into office. This gave me an opportunity to talk about what I thought was important: medical debt. I got quite a bit of newspaper and radio coverage, far in excess of my likelihood of election, which was zero. Most people thought the idea of offering medical care to poor people was some kind of sick liberal joke. Many of these people still feel the same way, except of course they take all the help they can get because it’s one thing to scoff at giving help and quite another to turn down help if you need it.

Funny about that.

So if you think I’ve just lately come to a belief that medical care should be a basic human right? Nope. I’ve been on that train for more than 50 years. We were lucky, Jeff and I, that we were both middle class kids who had parents with enough money to help us along. Most people aren’t that lucky.

And here we are. It’s the end of 2022 and we still don’t have a medical “system” or anything close to one. Medicare and Medicaid are better than nothing (thank you, LBJ), but depending on where you live and who runs your state, your access to Medicaid may be severely limited — and you have to be old to get Medicare. But to be sure, it’s better than it was in the good old days.



Categories: #Health, #HealthInsurance, #Medicare, Anecdote

Tags: , ,

14 replies

  1. The scientific and technological capabilities of health care have improved tremendously over the past 60 years. Sadly, the availability and delivery of those advancements have sorely lagged.

    Like

    • 55 years later and the “system” is not changed nearly enough. So much of the available technology isn’t used because insurance companies WON’T PAY FOR IT. There are so many new developments that could cure so many of our ills, but our medical system is “for profit” — and our ailments aren’t.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Too many people don’t realize how close we are to losing even basic social services. They just don’t believe tragedy will ever happen to them. Your tree story reminded me of the house I grew up in. My father built it and so we planted all the trees. They’re now so huge you can hardly see the house.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Young people especially don’t seem to realize they are one medium-level accident away from losing anything and everything. Here, in Massachusetts, we have a better than average Medicaid backup, but you have to be dead poor to get it and the levels they set for poverty ONLY involve how much money you get, not how much it costs you to actually survive. And we are one of the “good” states. Pity those living in those red states where they have turned down the additional Medicaid they could get. After all, the pols don’t need it. They get full medical and don’t even have to pay for it. But the rest of us?

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve heard your story before but now it really resonates. I guess age gives more perspective to the so-called “good old days”. The ‘pick axe’ surgery of yore sounds downright scary. It’s too bad you were not able to go to one of the better hospitals in NYC. That’s Monday morning quarterbacking and hindsight that won’t do much for you now. Really sorry you’ve had to deal with so much physical misery across the decades. You really are a good sport – in the best sense.

        Like

  3. It’s a huge issue! Impacts everyone eventually, except perhaps the extremely wealthy…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Must’ve been very tough on you and your family.

    Liked by 1 person

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