Category Archives: Soapbox

Protect and Serve

Tiffany Wright

This is something that has been bothering me for a while.

I came across this horrific story about  Tiffany Wright, a pregnant teenage girl from North Carolina who was gunned down at a bus stop. Tiffany’s adoptive mother died in January and this young girl had since been in the care of her ex-con 36-year-old foster brother. Authorities believe he was the father of her unborn child.

She had been in and out of the foster system since she was a toddler. It seems like her adoptive mother was the last person to care about her. Why on earth did they leave her with a man with a history of domestic violence and drug charges? I have had many background checks for jobs and volunteer work, and it seems like they would have done one regardless of the fact that she knew him before she went into his custody. They suspected this child (yes, CHILD) had been a victim of statutory rape at the hands of this man, and they had not yet taken him in for questioning. They “phoned him multiple times.” Yeah. Good going, Charlotte’s Finest. My debt collectors have also phoned me multiple times, and guess what? I don’t answer the phone when it’s likely to be someone I don’t want to talk to. You’re talking to a potential rapist –take appropriate action!

I have had a few bad experiences with police. My father broke the deadbolt lock when we locked him out after he got violent and threatened to kill my mother, and the cops laughed it off and let him into the house with us, anyway. We had begun filing for a restraining order, but it hadn’t been finalized.

I was once briefly detained by two police officers while I was walking home one night because they thought I “looked angry.” I was pretty annoyed because I was tired and on my way home and they got in my way and were holding me for no reason. I was let go because I had nothing illegal on me and there was no evidence to suggest that I had been participating in any illegal activities. Prior to the police approaching me, I had been at a coffee shop checking my e-mail.

When I called the cops after the repo man grabbed me around the neck in my parking lot, the officer yelled at me, made fun of me, and told me that since I hadn’t been bruised nor had I lost consciousness, it wasn’t a real problem.

Even so, I remain hesitant to badmouth cops who are just doing their job. But–the police of Charlotte really dropped the ball. This girl was poor, black, and didn’t have any “real” family. She was ignored, and now she’s dead. The baby she was carrying also died. Tiffany never had a chance. The police captain is quoted as saying “If we had felt her life was in danger … that is the barometer we use. It’s not like it was the only case they’re investigating.” Oh, her life wasn’t in danger. It’s just likely that she was getting raped by her legal guardian. Apparently that is acceptable.

Last month I came across another story about several missing or murdered prostitutes in North Carolina. The strangest thing about the story was that I hadn’t heard anything about it before. Normally when that many women go missing from one area, it’s national news. The so-called Craigslist killer received a lot of press, mostly due to the story’s “shocking” nature. But why is it shocking? Because he’s a good-looking white guy? Don’t get me wrong, the story deserved press, but not at the expense of others whose killers are still out there.

It’s been documented that crimes towards young, attractive, upper- or upper-middle-class white women will get far more publicity than crimes towards poor or minority women or men no matter their age or level of attractiveness. Call it “Missing White Woman Syndrome” or whatever you will, but it’s real. And it’s sad. The missing prostitutes were all poor and black. They weren’t high-level call girls like those targeted by the Craigslist Killer. They weren’t teenagers on vacation, they weren’t some politician’s interns, and they weren’t beauty queens. But they were people, with families and some with children. What gives?

For those of you who may believe that prostitution is a victimless crime, here are some statistics:

Borrowed from RAINN and Lightning Rod Girl (http://kristinammorgan.blogspot.com)

Borrowed from RAINN and Lightning Rod Girl (http://kristinammorgan.blogspot.com)

Those who need it most are the ones left with the least protection.

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Filed under Obstacles, Politics, Soapbox

The Kids Aren’t Alright

Damn Straight.

Damn Straight.

I have been reading a lot about President Obama’s speech scheduled for tomorrow. There is a lot of controversy surrounding this speech, and I really don’t understand why. I live in a very liberal part of the country, but even some local schools have chosen to block the speech to prevent his message from reaching the children. There was so much hullabaloo over this issue that the White House decided to release the president’s prepared remarks in advance (you can read them here.) I have now read the contents of the speech, and even though I am not the intended audience, I thought it was a nice speech and some parts of it even motivated me a little. If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that one thing I currently lack is motivation, so it says a lot that reading this speech on my computer screen woke me up, even if just a bit.

Obama points out that children often get left out in the discussions about education. Children are talked at, and about, but not to. I was lucky to have had a good education for most of my youth. I played musical instruments, I studied art, etymology, I played sports (reluctantly), I read a lot, and I had some brilliant teachers. I also spent most of my youth in expensive college preparatory schools.

From a social standpoint, my experience at those schools was a nightmare. Twelve-year-old girls are the meanest people in the world. They’re even meaner when they’re rich and pretty. That aside, my education was excellent and I carry it with me to this day. When I was an instructor at a technical college, my students (who were mostly older than I was) often asked me where I learned medical terminology or how I remembered algebra so well or why I knew so many obscure facts. The truth is, I learned most of what I taught while I was in junior high. I’m not sure what magic my teachers were conjuring, but everything I learned in those classes is still with me, especially the etymology. If I could make a living by tracing and learning about word or idiom origins, I would. Anu Garg is my hero. (Mr. Garg, if you read this –would you like an intern?)

My social difficulties at the prep school became too much to bear in addition to my home drama, and I transferred to a local public school for 11th grade. More accurately, I deliberately got expelled from the prep school because that was my only way out. I failed 10th grade so that I could leave there and go to public school like a normal kid.

I had no idea how sheltered I was. On my first day at a public high school, I met a female classmate who was showing off pictures of a toddler. I said “Oh, she’s cute. Is that your sister?” “No,” she said. “She’s my daughter.” Well, knock me over with a feather. The prep school girls just got abortions and kept quiet. You can’t go to cotillion with a baby on your hip, and it’s damn near impossible to find a maternity ball gown in the juniors’ department.

The teachers at the public school were mostly inattentive. My AP biology teacher used to type up notes and put them on the overhead projector for us to copy. We would then get a 100 just for copying the notes. Most of the curriculum covered things I had already done in 9th grade biology at the prep school. My 11th grade history teacher did nothing but yell at us and tell us to shut up, shut the hell up, and shut our damn mouths. He gave us xeroxed copies of worksheets and we just sat and filled them in during class. If he heard a single whisper, then the yelling would start. I didn’t learn a damn thing.

There were two teachers at the public school that I remember fondly, and one of them wasn’t even my teacher. I used to spend my free period in the library reading books, and there was a teacher who struck up a conversation with me one day because I was reading something-or-other by Carl Sagan. We would talk a lot about science and literature, and he would lend me books. He lent me A Brief History of Time when I was 17. I frequently wore a Sub Pop “Loser” t-shirt to school, and he would jokingly admonish me for wearing such an awful, self-deprecating shirt. Nowadays, people would think it was creepy for a male teacher to interact somewhat socially with a female student, but there was nothing sketchy about it. I suppose he just saw some potential in a wayward teen. I had pink-streaked hair and wore black nail polish, but I was clearly a geek.

Despite failing 10th grade, I was actually able to graduate high school a semester early. Don’t get impressed. The truth of the matter is that my prep school had been a year ahead of the public school, so even though I had failed the whole year, I was right on track. I went to summer school anyway, and I tested out of a couple of classes, and I set to graduate a year in advance. My mother would not let me graduate a full year in advance because she felt I was too young. I eventually was able to convince her to set me free a semester early, three months after my 17th birthday. I went to a community college for a semester before I began working on my bachelor’s.

I was an inconsistent student. I wobbled back and forth between straight-A’s and many C’s. I graduated with a 3.1, I believe, and that was with me failing classes. After my prep school experience, I had no interest in Ivy League education (unlike my brother, who fits the Ivy League stereotype in nearly every way). I wish that I had tried harder, but I also wish that my public school had the same opportunities as the prep school, just with with fewer kids being jerks. The school lacked funding, and no one on the administration appeared to take pride in the property, the supplies, or the classes. The students didn’t take pride in those things either. Worse, I think that many teachers had given up on the students (including me), causing the students to act out. This is somewhat of a trivial example, but I took art classes at both schools and my experience at the prep school was far superior. Not only was the equipment better, but the supplies were better because the students took care of them. At the public school, the students wouldn’t even clean their paintbrushes (rendering them mostly unusable once dry), and they frequently stole or destroyed other students’ art assignments. Yet another public-school wake-up call.

So, in this “controversial” post-Labor Day speech, President Obama has the following to offer:

Whatever you resolve to do, I want you to commit to it. I want you to really work at it.
I know that sometimes, you get the sense from TV that you can be rich and successful without any hard work — that your ticket to success is through rapping or basketball or being a reality TV star, when chances are, you’re not going to be any of those things.

But the truth is, being successful is hard. You won’t love every subject you study. You won’t click with every teacher. Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right this minute. And you won’t necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try.

That’s OK. Some of the most successful people in the world are the ones who’ve had the most failures. JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected twelve times before it was finally published. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, and he lost hundreds of games and missed thousands of shots during his career. But he once said, “I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

These people succeeded because they understand that you can’t let your failures define you – you have to let them teach you. You have to let them show you what to do differently next time. If you get in trouble, that doesn’t mean you’re a troublemaker, it means you need to try harder to behave. If you get a bad grade, that doesn’t mean you’re stupid, it just means you need to spend more time studying.

No one’s born being good at things, you become good at things through hard work. You’re not a varsity athlete the first time you play a new sport. You don’t hit every note the first time you sing a song. You’ve got to practice. It’s the same with your schoolwork. You might have to do a math problem a few times before you get it right, or read something a few times before you understand it, or do a few drafts of a paper before it’s good enough to hand in.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and to learn something new. So find an adult you trust – a parent, grandparent or teacher; a coach or counselor – and ask them to help you stay on track to meet your goals.

And even when you’re struggling, even when you’re discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you – don’t ever give up on yourself.

It all seems like common sense or general feel-goodery –but why didn’t anyone tell me anything like that when I was a child? Why don’t children hear that from their teachers? From parents? And what’s wrong with hearing it from the president? These are words I need to carry with myself now, and I wish they were ingrained as deeply as my generally unnecessary knowledge of Latin and Greek roots. Again, if you read this blog, you know that I never ask for help, even when I need it.

There is too great of a divide between the education and attention that the wealthy children get and what the poorer or even middle-class children get, and it doesn’t end once high school is over. One of the more heartbreaking accounts of these discrepancies is in Savage Inequalities by Jonathan Kozol. I read this book in 1998 or so, but the image of East St. Louis children walking through sewage on the way to class will stay with me forever. Children who go to school in that environment aren’t going to pull themselves up by the bootstraps and get into college. Even if they want to, the odds are against them. Part of why I am in favor of Obama’s speech is because he is not just talking to children who are likely to succeed, but all children. Of course there are problems with funding, and I hope we will make strides towards solving at least part of that problem, but there are so many other factors, and even those who are better off need to be involved.

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You Are Not Your Job (or Awkward Interviews I’ve Had, Part 2)

“You are not your job. You are not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You are not the contents of your wallet. You are not your fucking khakis. You’re the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world.” --Tyler Durden

Pardon me for invoking the over-quoted Fight Club.

All too often we’re judged not by our potential or our abilities, but by our status. Two of the worst job interviews I have had have been the result of cocky executives deciding that I must be stupid, incompetent, or worthless just because of the assortment of bad jobs I have held. My longest stint of full-time employment was at the most boring receptionist job ever. Prior to my years of poverty, I had been an instructor at a technical college. I taught basic math classes, computer skills, and medical terminology to aspiring medical and dental assistants. I quit this position to go back to school to get my dream job, but my plan completely backfired and I ended up poor. I have not had a higher-level or higher-paying job since. My career peaked when I was 24 years old.

By 27, I’d become resentful of having low-level low-pay jobs I hated. Especially since I had been job-hunting almost nonstop for three years. I am good at writing and editing, and I wanted to work in corporate communications. No one would hire me, so I saved as much money as I could and I enrolled in a yearlong certificate program for editors. I felt that this would make up for my lack of experience.

I received word that the administrative assistant in my company’s corporate communications department was quitting. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to get my foot in the door. First of all, it was an admin position, so it was barely a step up from what I had been doing. Also, it paid more. Best of all, it was in the department I wanted to work in, and I knew that once they saw me at work, they’d realize my potential and I would actually get a job on my chosen career path.  I spoke to the director of the department about it, and she encouraged me to apply and said that I would be a good fit. Unfortunately, she stepped down from her position before the hiring process was completely underway.

As the receptionist, I knew everything about every department at the company. I knew everyone’s names, I knew everyone’s jobs. I was generally among the first to find out company news because a lot of information crossed my desk each day. I thought that this would work to my advantage in applying for a corporate communications position.

I was wrong. The stink of reception work takes years to wash away.

I spoke with the admin who was quitting, and she told me a lot about the job. She was annoyed that it was strictly an admin position, and she did not have much corporate communication work to do. She told me that she had to do things like attach files to the VP’s e-mails, because he just couldn’t figure out how to do it himself.

The VP would pass by the reception desk and give me random tasks, which I assume were just to test me. He asked me to find the phone number for the CEO of a rival company. Thank you, Google. He asked me to compose a press release based on a laboratory study of one of our products. I’m comfortable with medical and scientific jargon, so this was a relatively easy task once I found information about press-release formatting. I did find the VP’s request strange because the admin said that she never once had to write a press release; the most she had to do was proofread.

After a couple of weeks of catering to his arbitrary whims, I was called in for an interview. I was so excited. I dressed up, I studied, and I printed copies of my current resume on ivory resume paper. I had worked so hard to get my resume to highlight my skills rather than my experience. One of my best friends (who is an accountant with an MBA) had helped me get my resume into a better format for highlighting relevant experience.

I walked into his office, sat down, and handed him my resume.

“So,” he said. “What is it about handing out people’s paystubs and bus passes makes you think you’re qualified for a career in corporate communications?”

Ouch.

I laughed –probably because I was nervous and offended, but I tried to play it off as casual. I mustered up some answer about how I had tutored writing for years, written and designed workshops about writing, was a talented editor, and really wanted a more challenging position.

“If you’re so interested in communications, why didn’t you get a job in the field when you were finished with college?”

Sigh. When friends ask me that question, I can answer it honestly, but I had no idea what to say in such a formal setting. How is that even a valid interview question? I don’t even remember what I said. I think I just babbled on about how I was versatile or something.

“When did you graduate college?”

“2003.”

“So I guess you’ve just been screwing around for four years.” He had that “ha-ha-I’m-making-a-joke-but-not-really” tone. I did my best to laugh it off.

Towards the end of the interview, I asked him how he got his job. He told me that he worked at a store that sold stereo equipment, and after college he got some job at a small-time newspaper and he worked his way up. He was in his early 50s, and he’d been in communications for over 30 years. He was coming from a completely different place, and he didn’t understand why I hadn’t done the same thing.

Then he dealt the final blow: “When I look at you and your resume, I think ‘this girl would make a good receptionist.'”

Triple ouch.

I was not offered the administrative assistant job. An HR representative came out and told me that I just didn’t have enough experience, and then she told me about another department in our company that needed “someone to do some filing.” I burst into tears. Later that week, the corporate communications department hired a random temp from an agency, and they paid her more than I got paid at the front desk.

I felt I had been wronged. It was as though they felt it was “cute” that the receptionist wanted a big-girl job. I was more hurt than anything else. It wasn’t even the job rejection. It was that I’d never had a chance.

I complained to my supervisor about how frustrated I was with my experience trying to get out of my stifling job. I was literally and figuratively trapped behind that desk –I wasn’t even allowed to get up and move away from the desk at any time.  I made an offhand comment that “in an ideal world, I wouldn’t be a receptionist another minute.” Two hours later I received a random voice mail from the woman at the temp agency who had placed me at that job. Three hours after that, I was fired. I was unaware at the time that I had already been replaced with a temp, hence the random call from the temp agency.

I was fired for being “unhappy.” They said that it was “risky” for the company to have someone answer the phone and greet visitors when they were so “unhappy.”

They knew I was trying to get a job in another department, and they knew why. I was bored and I never hid that fact. I was there about a year and a half, and I had been told repeatedly that I was the first receptionist to last more than six months. The boredom was excruciating; had I not been so desperate, I wouldn’t have lasted there nearly that long.

I was so bored that I invented games to play with the postage meter. I was so bored that I read the spam faxes just to look busy.

They had known for months, but when I spoke up about the way I was treated, I was “too unhappy.” They were okay with me being unhappy –just not too unhappy.

I was not unemployed for long that time around, and my next job was one that I loved. After about four weeks of unemployment, I got my very first editorial job at a big company. I was getting paid less than I had been as a receptionist, but I loved the work. Unfortunately, I got laid off.

When I found out that I was getting laid off from my first editorial job, I was understandably upset. My pay was terrible, but at least I made it through each day without wanting to bang my head through a windowpane. To avoid a lapse in employment, I applied for an associate editor job at the same company. The company had a very specific hierarchy, and the job I was applying for was one step above the position I had.

I requested an informational interview with the woman who would have been my supervisor if I were chosen for the job. I e-mailed her my resume and she sent me a meeting request for that afternoon to talk to her about the position. I wasn’t dressed for an interview because I had only heard about the position after I had arrived at work that morning, but since it was an informational interview, I was less concerned. I created a list of questions to ask and I brought them with me.

I didn’t ask a single question. The minute I walked in the door, she started grilling me job-interview style. Even though this was a job within the company where I already worked, she was completely unaware of what I was talking about when I tried to explain my job. I had signed an NDA and was not sure if I was allowed to discuss certain details outside of my department. She kept pressing it, and I answered as best as I could, though I admit I remained vague about specifics. If I was going to violate my NDA, I sure as hell wasn’t going to do it in a way that could come back to haunt me.

I failed to answer her questions about my current position to her liking. She then began to tell me that she was looking for someone with a lot of technical writing experience. The job was not a writer position, let alone a technical writer position. It was an editor position, and the job listing did not mention technical writing at all. The job listing also mentioned that all applicants would be given an editing exam. I asked her if I could take the exam. She said “we’re just evaluating people by their experience.”

I told her about my editing certificate program, and she asked me to describe specific assignments I had done. Again, I was expecting an informational interview, so I was not prepared to answer questions about classes I had taken several months or a year before.

We talked a few more minutes, and then she said “I’m not going to lead you on and pretend that we’re interested.” Direct quote.

Hanging on to whatever composure I had left, I asked her if she could think of any departments where my skills would be useful.

“No,” she said. “We don’t hire beginners here. Maybe you should try to get a job at a newspaper.”

I left. I was either going to say something vulgar or cry, so I walked out. I’m completely baffled as to why she requested this interview with me if she saw my resume beforehand. If I wasn’t what she was looking for, why did she choose to waste her time and mine? Her “we don’t hire beginners here” statement stung the most. After all, I already worked there and she knew that.

The following day I went out to lunch with a coworker, and I told him about my ordeal.

“That’s so weird!” he said. “I interviewed with her last week and she was totally nice to me.”

“What?!”

“Yeah.”

“How come she didn’t know what my job was if she interviewed you first?”

“I don’t know. She didn’t ask me too much about it.”

What. The. Hell. He and I had the exact same job on the exact same team. We were hired two months apart, and we were at a similar level of experience.

“Maybe she’s one of those women who just doesn’t like other women.”

Whatever. I’m glad I’m not working for her.  I’d have gone crazy looking at her scowly face all day. My coworker didn’t get the job either.

I’m not sure what I learned from all this, except that people can be jerks. Unfortunately, I already knew that.

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Filed under Awkward Interviews I've Had, Obstacles, Soapbox, Work

Sickness is a sticky wicket

As I mentioned in at least one other post, when I was 25 years old, I worked for a phone sex line. While I don’t regret working there, it was actually a very dark period in my life and I don’t look too fondly on the memories. I never sought out to get a job like that; I only applied for it and accepted it in a moment of desperation. I’d been looking for a job (any job) for about six months, I was living in a mold-ridden apartment with a friend, I was denied unemployment, and I was mostly living on credit cards. One day, another job-hunting friend approached me and asked “Would you ever consider working at an adult phone line?” “Sure,” I said. And that was that.

It was at that job that I began to realize that I don’t work well with the public, especially when the public is going to be both demanding and unpredictable. The job paid only commission, so I had to actively solicit men to get them to call me. I wasn’t very good at that. There was no hourly base pay, and there were no benefits. When I worked there in addition to one or two part-time jobs, I made enough money to get by, but there were long periods where my only job was at the phone sex line. During one of those long periods, I became very ill.

I don’t know what I had. It may have been strep throat; it may have just been something similar. I was in a lot of pain, I had virtually no money, and (of course) no health insurance. Despite my illness, I kept trying to go to work. I didn’t know what else to do. Day after day I showed up, and day after day the manager sent me home. There are few things less sexy than the sound of a woman’s voice when she is stricken with a sore throat, laryngitis, and phlegmy coughs. The manager would hear me answer the phone and would send me home almost immediately.

Three weeks of misery went by, and I had barely worked. That meant that I had barely been getting paid. Phone sex operators do not get paid sick days, vacation days, or personal days. If I wanted to pay rent and bills like a responsible adult, something had to change. My manager gave me some information about a free medical clinic in town, so I went.

It was winter, so it was cold and rainy in western Washington. The clinic attendants made us queue up outside and would not let us in until they were ready to see the first appointment. I had lost my voice, but that didn’t stop me from speaking to a few people in the line. Most of them had illnesses like I did, and many of them were regulars.

It was a very confusing experience. I waited, waited, and waited, and then I was able to sign in. I waited, waited, and waited some more, and then my name was called. They asked me a few questions about what I needed, and then they sent me back out to the waiting room to wait all over again. About two hours after my arrival, I got in to see the doctor.

The clinic room looked like any other clinic room. The doctor was a man in his late 40s. He asked me to sit on the examination table.

I had terrible laryngitis, a cough, and my throat was swollen and sore. The doctor looked in my mouth and said “Hmm. I don’t see anything wrong.”

I protested immediately –as best as I could with almost no voice. I told him that I could see that my throat was swollen just by opening my mouth and glancing in the mirror. He had peered into my mouth with a flashlight and a tongue depressor and then had the audacity to tell me that he didn’t see anything wrong.

He looked again. “I still don’t see anything wrong.” At that point I was furious. I was exhausted, sick, cranky, in pain, and I’d been there for hours just to have this guy tell me I was just fine when anyone could see that I wasn’t. I continued to protest –if my voice had been strong enough, I’d have been yelling. He said “I can’t get your tongue to go down at the back, so I can’t even see your throat.”

I told him “Yes, that happens every time I get sick. It gets sore and swells up back there.”

“So…what, your tongue hurts?”

I was just stunned. Was this guy a real doctor?

“No, I have a sore throat! I’ve had this exact problem many, many times in my life!”

“What has helped you get better before?” he asked.

“Antibiotics.”

“Okay, then. Let’s get you some antibiotics.”

This is the treatment poor people get. The best part of the whole experience was the “toiletry pack” they offered me on the way out. They gave me a Ziploc bag containing soap, a trial-size tube of toothpaste, a toothbrush, some dental floss, some Q-tips, and a small assortment of feminine hygiene products.

Despite the generous toiletry pack and the free antibiotics, I have since avoided free clinics. In 2008, I came down with a respiratory infection that turned into walking pneumonia, and I just waited it out for a couple of months. When I started grad school, I signed up for the student insurance, but after paying over $150 a month on the premium, I still got billed over $4000 for a battery of tests I had during a freakish lupus-like episode.

My $4000 medical bill caused me a lot of problems in grad school. Because I had the tests done at my university’s hospital, they had the power to prevent me from enrolling if I couldn’t pay my bill. I was living on student loans, and very meager ones at that, so it just wasn’t possible for me to pay much towards these bills. They also seemed to have difficulty figuring out what my insurance would or wouldn’t pay for. To this day, I have no idea what I really owe.

I grew up with two chronically ill parents, and I have spent most of my life around illness. My mother was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when I was about seven years old. She had gestational diabetes when she was pregnant with me, and two out of three women who get gestational diabetes end up with diabetes later. Type 1 diabetes is usually associated with children, but occasionally it shows up in adults, too. My mother was overweight when she was young, but she was a pretty normal 135 lbs at the time of her diagnosis. Strangely, she always hated sweet foods and never ate them.

Within about two years of her diagnosis, she had to stop driving because her vision had gotten so bad with retinopathy. At times it was like living with Mister Magoo; she once made me a peanut butter and spaghetti sauce sandwich because the spaghetti sauce was in a similar jar to the jelly. Another time she made me a pizza with green cheese because she hadn’t noticed that the mozzarella had gone bad.

Four years after her diagnosis, her kidneys failed and she was put on dialysis. I was 12 years old at the time, so this meant I had a lot more responsibility around the house. My father was diagnosed with prostate cancer the same year. My parents continued to act as though everything was normal, so it took me a long time to realize that I had a lot to contend with at age 12.

Dialysis was brutal. So were my father’s surgeries and radiation treatments. Despite living in the same home, I barely saw or spoke to my mother for three days of each week. She had dialysis very early in the morning on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Sunday was her only really “good” day because it was the longest she went without being hooked up to that horrible machine that took her blood away. She would leave for dialysis before I woke up, and come home shortly before noon. During the school year, I’d come home and she would be asleep, or at best dizzy, nauseated, and grumpy. Either way, she was hardly an attentive parent, but I hold no resentment towards her for that. During the summers, I would sometimes go with her to the dialysis center. She shared a television with a 17-year-old boy and they would watch cartoons or The Price Is Right together while on their machines.

It was difficult for my mother to travel because of dialysis. We had to make arrangements in advance every time she went out of town for a few days. During the summer of 1994, we went on a short trip to Australia. Arranging dialysis in another location was always difficult, and those difficulties multiplied while we arranged dialysis on another continent, especially prior to the age of e-mail. We were also planning to stay in one city for one week, and another city the following week, so we had to make accommodations for each one. There were a few screw-ups with her first reservation, but eventually we got her in at a nice unit near the hotel. The differences between the Australian dialysis center and the American one were astounding.

At the American center, food was not allowed on the premises. When my mother left each day, her blood sugar and blood pressure were dangerously low, which is to be expected when you’ve had your blood scrubbed clean. Not being allowed to eat until she left the building exacerbated her lightheadedness. She could not drive herself (both because of the weakness and the retinopathy) so we hired a “public chauffeur” who drove her straight home. She would come home, make herself some salty instant soup, then sleep the rest of the day.

In Australia, not only did the dialysis nurses allow food on the premises, but they served tea, crumpets, and fruit to all the patients. The equipment was visibly newer and cleaner, the staff were kind and they interacted with each patient. Best of all, my mother wasn’t a weak mess when she left each session. I spent a lot of time by myself in Australia, but I spent a lot of time with my mother as well. We did a lot of shopping together and we enjoyed many coffees and conversation at Myer, an Australian department store. She felt well and was up to far more activity than usual, and I will always remember those two weeks because I felt like I had gotten my mother back.

I was young and did not handle the finances. I have no idea how much it costs to be on dialysis. I do know, however, that once my mother got a kidney transplant, her immunosuppressant drugs cost in the neighborhood of $1000 a month, and that was over ten years ago. That was including insurance coverage, which had premiums of several hundred dollars a month, just for her. She had a pre-existing condition, so her insurance plan left much to be desired. My parents were wealthy. They could pay this. Most people wouldn’t have been able to. Although my mother did not live to average life expectancy, I can’t imagine how early she would have died had we not been able to pay for her treatment to the extent that we could. If I have the same fate as my mother, I will probably not be so lucky –and she wasn’t lucky at all.

Partly because of my mother’s condition, I have done a fair amount of volunteer work with the local branch of the National Kidney Foundation. I have a lot of sympathy for people who struggle with diabetes and kidney disease. For two years, I drove dialysis patients to and from their appointments. One of the patients I drove was a 25-year-old man. He had been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was a young child. One day, there was a complication, and he went into a coma. He woke up blind and with no kidneys.

He was no longer able to work. He had a young daughter, and was supporting her with his disability checks and miscellaneous government support. He lived in a terrible neighborhood. This kind of thing can happen to anyone, and it frequently leads to poverty and bankruptcy.

I listen to a lot of political talk radio. I was quite surprised the other day to hear a clip of President John F. Kennedy discussing healthcare back in 1962. I have long believed that the United States falls far behind every other industrialized country in the world, but I didn’t realize that others had felt that way for so long. President Kennedy had a vision for the way things should be in this country, and we’re still so far from getting there.

One of the main arguments I have heard against healthcare reform is that the government will cut us off and not give us the care we need. It appears that insurance companies are doing that now. My mother died in 2003 after a very long series of illnesses. One illness led to another, and they all fed off of each other. She broke her hip, got bedsores, and was left with blood poisoning and brain damage. She spent most of the last two years of her life in a hospital. They discharged her prematurely several times (for insurance reasons), only to have her brought back in an ambulance within 48 hours. The last time she was discharged, they weren’t able to get the ambulance fast enough.

My parents worked very hard and made a lot of money. The problem is that lots of people work very hard, but not very many people make a lot of money. I am completely content with paying higher taxes if I have the security of knowing that I won’t be expected to pay $100,000 medical bill because my insurance company dropped me when I finally got a diagnosis for my mystery illness. Of course that’s easy for me to say now because I am unemployed, but my mindset did not change when I was better off. As a person born into a family with many illnesses, I have a lot of things to worry about. I had surgery in 2006 to extract a large (benign) tumor, and the surgery would have cost me over $30,000 if I hadn’t had insurance. As it was, I only had to pay $3,000, but the whole thing could have been prevented if I had the privilege of regular, affordable healthcare at the early stages of my illness. I do not have insurance right now, and I don’t know if I’ll ever have a worthwhile insurance plan again. Preventative care is the key, and our current system does not encourage it and in some cases does not allow it. I’m willing to bet that most Americans do not know the true cost of healthcare. The security of access to the care we need far outweighs the potential cost. President Obama had better not back down.

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