Memento Mori

April 5, 2009 § 1 Comment

I just watched the 60 Minutes segment on the cancer patients in Nevada denied treatment because the legislature cut funds to the public hospital. Nevada has been hit by the economic crisis worse than most states; the tax base is narrow, focused on entertainment and real estate.

The hospital CEO, with state cuts topping 70 a million year, made the choice to cut the outpatient oncology program, rather than programs, like the Trauma center, that can’t be duplicated at other hospitals and clinics in the area. After seeing the patients whose loss of access to chemotherapy means almost certain death, one can question her decision. But it’s clear that the villain is here is not the hotel administrator.

We all know the usual villains—health insurance companies, drug companies, self-interested politicians and so forth. But the villain is more properly every one of us who fears ‘socialism’ more than the possibility of losing a job (this is a group that is shrinking fast). It’s the middle-class person who couldn’t afford the best doctors on his own, but doesn’t want to settle for what he might get if care was distributed more evenly.

I live in New York and currently have health insurance; if I got cancer or any other life-threatening illness I’ll go to the best doctors. Who wouldn’t? I already go to very good ones for situations that might become dangerous someday, and I’m thrilled and comforted that they’re good.

The patients I saw on 60 minutes may not have been getting care equal to what one gets at Sloan-Kettering. I doubt they’d complain about that. Many of these cancers have poor prognoses in the best hospitals. But to know there is a chance, but you won’t get it, to know you might live, but nobody’s going to help, to know that in the most frightening of circumstances, you’re on your own—that’s not what post-Bush, 21st America should be.

Those who think Obama should wait on health care until after the economy revives should consider how much bad luck it would take for them to lose their job, to not be able to afford Cobra or private insurance premiums. Think of the many illnesses that make you unable to work for years. Think of the sorts of accidents that happen to spouses riding in the same car. Could you raise hundreds of thousands of dollars, or a million dollars, in a crisis? Is your house worth that much? Would your siblings and friends sell all they have and live in tents to give you a 20 % chance at living? You’re not a cute 8 year old anymore.

How much would it take?

One of the patients interviewed, Roy Scales, who’d gone for five months without treatment after being diagnosed with lung cancer, was asked what would he would do if he didn’t find a doctor. “Die peacefully,” he said. I went on the CBS site to find out the exact wording of this quote and read a reader comment about Roy, posted just a little while ago.

Hello CBS – how do I get a hold of Roy Scales? He helped through some of the most difficult days of my life. When he was in Pittsburgh about 14 years ago we were both down on our luck. We worked for a temp agency called Labor World and we worked together at a plastics factory. He would let me read his copy of Our Daily Bread, so I could just get my head around the day. Please – help me reach out to him now. I don’t know what I can do for him but I have to tell him how much I appreciated what he did for me and see if there is anything I can do for him now. I couldn’t believe it when I saw him on the screen. I’ve often wondered over the years what ever became of Roy – please – let him know Renee who worked with him at Mitchells is trying to reach him. — please –


He looked like the sort of man who’d make people feel that way.


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§ One Response to Memento Mori

  • Andree says:

    Wow. A beautiful, powerful post, MK. Gave me a lump in the throat. This is a powerful piece of writing, girlfriend. Deserves to be in a widely read newspaper, or cross-posted at DailyKos, where haf a million would see it.

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