Tag Archives: lymphoma

The Achilles Heel

county_frontcover-123kbYes, I am about to write about my own, but MORE IMPORTANTLY I am writing about (you should read this Op-Ed piece by Dr. David Ansell) The Achilles Heel of our human condition, and, in particular, that of American society.

Early in the summer of 2003, and with a noise loud enough to still the voices of participants and observers alike, I ruptured my Achilles tendon playing three-on-three tag football with young men less than half my age.  I wrapped my leg with an Ace bandage, took a couple OTC painkillers, applied ice packs and went to bed. I had no health insurance. In the morning I could not stand or walk – I crawled the length of house to use the bathroom. A couple days later I found a pair of old crutches and drove myself to the emergency room, it was too full to bother so I turned around and drove myself home.  I researched the optimal angle for taping my leg, stayed off it, and friends brought me food – for weeks.

What happened next illustrates what is wrong with America’s health care system and offers a shining example of humanity, compassion and of one man choosing to honor the Hippocratic Oath over pursuing personal gain.

Ten weeks later, primarily because I had to fly to Scotland for a job interview, I tried again. On this occasion there were only three people in the waiting room. I got my paperwork processed and was shown into an examination room where I waited, and waited and waited. At the hour and forty-five minute mark I got up, hopped into the hall and flagged down an attendant, informed him that ‘they’ had exactly 10 minutes to have a doctor see me or I would be walking out and they could tear up my admittance paperwork. Within twenty minutes I was in X-ray, forty minutes later referred to, and on red-cast.jpgmy way to see, an orthopedic surgeon. At the surgeon’s my X-rays sufficiently alarmed him to send me for an MRI, with a request for me to return within four hours and to have a friend drive me. At the ten week mark the MRI showed I still had a 10mm tear in my Achilles tendon. The doctor had the Buffalo Bills, American football, and Buffalo Sabres (hockey) teams as clients and couldn’t wrap his head around the pain I must have endured.  He gave me a choice of a cast or scar, but informed me that I wasn’t leaving without his caring for my leg. I was explained my lack of insurance and he replied “let’s get you healthy and then worry about that”. My leg was swathed in candy apple red a total of three times over the next two months. He made sure his physician’s assistants brought me basins of hot water at the cast changes so I could pumice my foot, loofah and shave my leg and moisturize. When my treatments were over I had to call repeatedly about my bill, when it finally arrived it was marked “Paid in Full”. I wept.

The Income Stream

Fast forward fourteen years and my friend is undergoing chemotherapy for his lymphoma in California.  In the absence of having the ‘right insurance’ he has constantly battled the system to ensure he gets the treatments he needs to live.  Jeffrey has been de-humanized, deprived of kindness, and treated as an income stream for the sole reason that dared to get sick and become a burden to profit. I find myself angry beyond reconciliation. Questions go unanswered, or are summarily dismissed on par with ‘mansplaining’ (I am sure there is a word which defines the experience of a patient being treated as an imbecile though I do not know it).

Molina’s personnel have repeatedly hung up on my friend. Amongst their many denials of treatment was coverage for an (expensive) anti-nausea medicine and the substitution of not one but two anti-psychotics (8 mg of ondansetron hcl and 5 mg of prochlorperazine) with the accompanying side effects of reducing the nausea of the chemotherapy, and a slew of other pills he must take daily. The anti-psychotics have thoroughly messed up his brain chemistry.  My hysterically funny, hyper-intellectual, highly empathetic friend, who has lived his whole life in a perpetual state of kindness to others is now a sporadically very angry man dropping expressions like “I want to stack these m*th*r*ck*rs up like cord wood.” The responsibility for this rests squarely on the desk of Molina Health’s interim CEO Joe White.

On 1 September he was able to leave Molina Health and their legendary money saving protocols behind.  Until that date (and more liberally now) their in-network doctors shared their experiences of Molina Health denying payment, and that only with persistence on the part of patients, nurses, patient advocates, and doctors will they cover drugs, care or procedures.  With his new Blue Cross and Blue Shield insurance a single anti-nausea pill which (thank goodness) has no negative impact has replaced these anti-psychotics and Jeffrey is cleansing the former out of his system now – Chia seeds in his protein shakes, lots of water – but ‘normal’ is still likely months away.

Sharing Jeffrey’s experience, even at arms’ length, I wonder if providing care (in every Pope Francissense of the word) in conjunction with treatment such as my experience of fourteen years ago can even be recaptured. Is it doomed to be the anomaly?

Senator Bernie Sanders did not cease in his commitment to universal health insurance for all when the 2016 primary election cycles left him behind.  All 330 million Americans should want, and work toward realizing, universal healthcare for themselves and their neighbors.  Are we on the threshold of monumental change, or business as usual?

If you enjoy my blog please consider ‘buying me a cup of tea’ in your currency via PayPal to livelikeadog@gmail.com and do share it with your friends on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter – I am @TeresaFritschi. To order my book, please click on the cover art of my book below, thank you! 

This is “Matt”. Matt is Every Single One of Us.


This is “Matt”. Matt is the guy down the street whose kid plays Little League with yours.  He is courteous and helpful.  So, of course, he works at getting your ‘shades of blue’ reconciled in the paint department at Lowe’s.  Matt could be your neighbor, or you.  The truth is that Matt is every single one of us.  “Matt” is actually my friend Jeffrey, an actor living in Los Angeles, a very funny comedian, an intellectual pundit (when he chooses to be) and a man with a laugh that fills rooms with joy.  Jeffrey has been diagnosed with cancer, stage 2 lymphoma to be precise, and at present he is being squeezed in the middle like a tube of toothpaste by a grossly negligent ‘system’ and the people employed by it who have zero sense of humanity. I am mad as Hell over all of it.

The name of his insurance company matters, it’s Molina Health.  With ‘our’ shareholder, profit-driven, horribly broken, healthcare system in the United States the truth is that what is happening to Jeffrey could happen to any of us and our loved ones. It also matters that his insurance company hangs up on him. It matters that the administrative staff tell him that his premium will quadruple if he ‘wants’ home care for changing the dressing on the tube sticking out of his arm (sepsis being a real possibility) where he is hooked up to receive his chemo. It matters that I escalate and help seems imminent only to have some drone of an administrative staff person deflect and say it will take two weeks. It matters that appointments are made and cancelled due to software, and human errors and then the humans charged with delivering this news are devoid of humanity. It matters because the stress of dealing with getting healthy on your own (even with a supportive tribe) is enormous. It matters that his first oncologist failed to speak a single word to him in the nine weeks immediately following his diagnosis and never prescribed anti-nausea pills with the host of others which he did prescribe.  Jeffrey’s second oncologist is amazing. Despite the fact that I am a non-relation he has taken my call to problem solve aspects related to Jeffrey’s treatment from Sweden where I am currently.

Which brings me to two components of the health insurance storyline in the United States; employer supported efforts like those which “Matt” as an employee of Lowe’s enjoys (really amazing benefits which should prompt all of you reading this to vote with your wallet and shop at your local Lowe’s ‘just because’) and the idea of a single-payer system such as our Canadian neighbors and those in the Nordics enjoy. On this day, with TrumpCare effectively dead, the reality of a single-payer health care system in the United States has risen like Fawkes in Harry Potter.

Let me remove any ambiguity, I have a couple of issues with the Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare) but neither have to do with the fact that it came to fruition under our 44th President; the first is that it didn’t go far enough and the second being its mandate to be purchased under penalty.  If we have sufficient financial resources to wage seemingly endless war across the planet then Americans of every stripe should have universal healthcare on par with what our federally elected officials enjoy. And if that can’t be done then our elected officials should have that benefit voided.

How do we get to a single-payer health care system to the universal benefit of 330 million Americans and put the United States on par with other first world nations? Well, California, where my friend Jeffrey lives, ever the ‘test the water’ state for public policy adoption has a viable solution called The Healthy California Act. Evidently this legislation has broad support on both sides of the political aisle in La-La Land but one man has blocked it from advancing, and there is a reason for that. Actually there are about 475,000 reasons in the form of contributions from the Political Action Committees of health insurance companies and their executives to Speaker of the Assembly Anthony Redon re-election campaign.  Redon is a perfect example of the systemic violation of the masses by a corrupt politician bought and paid for by the highest bidders for his favor.

SB-562 The Healthy California Act.

The passage of a single-payer system in California, or nationally, wouldn’t put insurers out of business but the resulting shifts in the market would demand agility that insurance companies are not generally known to possess. A model which offers premium coverage in lieu of, or as a supplement to, a single-payer system would still provide considerable revenue – with a healthier demographic contributing to shareholder value.  Policies which would allow customers choices in taking advantage of medical tourism opportunities around the world should also be considered. The increasing perception of health insurers places them at odds with the humankind they are supposed to be serving – essentially sentencing their policy holders to death when costs become inconvenient and expensive. When we make a conscious choice to deny protection and participation by our most vulnerable we can no longer claim to be an advanced or civil society. The costs are too high when we lose our compassion and willingness to step forward and be part of the solution rather than remain part of the problem.

Critically we need to dislodge ourselves from the ‘us vs. them’ mindset that is so pervasive in any conversation about health insurance, healthcare and providing a path forward for all of our citizens. Universal peace of mind around the most fragile aspect of living our lives fully and completely should not even be a question in 2017.

If you enjoy my blog please consider ‘buying me a cup of tea’ in your currency via PayPal to livelikeadog@gmail.com and then, please do share the blog with your friends on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter – I am @TeresaFritschiTo order my book, please click on the cover art of my book below, thank you!