posted by meowser
Part 1 is here. (And everyone who commented on that post, thank you so much, it was great to read your stories. And if you haven’t left a comment yet and want to, feel free.)
Last year, Sara Robinson posted two articles, both of which I highly recommend, on “mythbusting Canadian health care” for the site Ourfuture.org. Robinson, who has dual citizenship in Canada and the U.S. and currently lives in British Columbia, spoke of her experiences in both systems in part I; in part II, she shoots down what she considers to be the most pernicious “free marketeer” myths surrounding both Canadian and other forms of universal health care. There’s plenty of great stuff there, but there’s one passage in the first article that particularly struck me, when she was talking about Canada’s attitudes towards health versus America’s:
[T]here’s a somewhat larger awareness that stress leads to big-ticket illnesses — and a somewhat lower cultural tolerance for employers who put people in high-stress situations. Nobody wants to pick up the tab for their greed.
It got me thinking. How many health problems (of both body and mind) in this country stem from the fact that we work people to fucking death here? Because really, we do. Other than a lucky few with relatively cushy jobs, we work people to fucking death. Pretty much literally. And proudly. And anyone who can’t, or won’t, be worked to death is more or less just stood out at the curb with the broken highchairs.
Not, of course, that you have to have a full-time job (or, yikes, more than one, as many Americans must to pay for just the basics) to be worked to death. Full-time parents get worked to death — no highballs and bonbons here, you’d better be stuffing your child’s brain with learning and nurturing every damn second, or risk being royally snubbed. Ditto caregivers who are expected to be there for free to care for seriously ailing partners or family members, in addition to everything else they have to do to survive. People with disabilities get worked to death too, what with second shift for the sick and all.
Oh, and if you have a partial disability, rather than one that prevents you from working at all, you get virtually nothing but sneers for being lazy and wanting people to take care of you. It can’t possibly have anything to do with using up your spoons (or, if your disability has to do with brain function, colored spoons). No no no. If you can do something sometimes, you must be able to do it all the time, or you are a big faker! You know no one will believe you, much less give you any aid. So you try, and you try, and you try try try and try, and you still can’t make it through even half of the sixteen-hour action-packed day after day after day that’s expected of you as an American. Faker.
It’s even more festive when your particular disability doesn’t allow you to get a job with benefits OR qualify for free or reduced-cost health care, and therefore you don’t even know exactly what your disability is, much less how to manage it — only that you can’t hack it like you see everyone else doing. The only way you “deserve” health care in America is to be ready, willing, and able to be worked to death. Right now. And forever, or at least until nobody wants to employ your aging worn-out ass any longer.
That’s what happened to both of my in-laws when I was married. My FIL had a job for decades as a postal carrier, schlepping bags of mail over hill and dale, until his knees gave out for good. Did he ever have the nads to complain? Are you kidding? He thought he had it made, right up until the day when getting up for a glass of water became excruciating. My MIL had a government job that called for oodles of overtime; in theory she could have refused — or even retired, once she hit 65 — but didn’t dare. She did the OT, then rushed home to care for her sick husband, who was in the hospital every blasted week, it seemed, as a result of a septic illness that cost him 100 pounds in six months. Then she keeled over of a heart attack.
Was she, an aging fat woman, a big old drain on the health care system? Well, let’s put it this way. When the coroner first came out, he couldn’t put a cause of death on her certificate because she hadn’t received enough medical attention for anyone to know what was wrong with her. I had seen her lipid panel recently, though, and it was hella nasty (her brother had had a quadruple bypass at about the same age she was then, and both her parents had died young of heart attacks).
And she was out of breath just walking 50 feet on flat ground to her car. I begged her to go to the damn doctor. She said no, the last time she went all they did was tell her to lose weight and it would go away. My protestations that most fat people, even her age, don’t get out of breath walking to their cars unless something is really wrong with their lungs — and that therefore, her doctor’s answer was unacceptable — went unheeded. I even offered to go with her and make sure she got the attention she needed. Still no. She couldn’t. Her office needed her. Her husband needed her. Soon, though, there would be no “her” for anyone to need, and she just did not see it coming.
At her funeral, right around what would have been her 67th birthday, I cannot tell you how many people came up to me and said, “I had no idea she was under that much stress. If I did, I’d have offered to help her, maybe I could have watched her husband for her while she went to a movie or did something for herself. But she never said anything. She just smiled and pretended everything was fine.”
And these were people who had health coverage. Pretty danged decent health coverage, near as I could tell. But they were victims of the workaholic culture. Just keep pushing, pushing, pushing, pushing, pushing. Don’t let anyone know you’re breaking down even if you are. Do not whine, and do not foist any “drama” on people. (Except, of course, for the people closest to you or those beneath you at work, who you can feel free to take out your frustrations on. At which point they, too, will have to find a human dumping ground for their frustrations, and on and on and on.)
Then, of course, there are migrant workers, who live an average of 49 years — sacrificing almost three decades compared to “normal” lifespan to bring us the endless bags of veggies and fruits we demand to keep our middle-class bodies all healthy and stuff. Parasite, meet host. I swear, the next snotty yuppie who has the guff to go on and on in my presence about how “those people” (i.e. people who have the gall to earn less than $50,000 a year) Eat Soooo Much Junk is gonna get a fair trade banana stuck in hir ear. Which sie will have to go to an emergency room to remove, and thanks to down-triaging will have to sit there in the waiting room with a banana in hir ear for five hours while everyone else points and laughs. Especially migrant workers’ kids.
Then there was the matter of my having to leave a job because my officemate insisted on coming to work with every bug known to upright simians, even when everyone begged her to stay home. She said she couldn’t afford to stay home sick, even though we worked for the same company and got the same benefits and I knew nobody was allowed to cash out sick leave. This job was in a hospital complex, mind you, where we shared elevators with the patients, many of whom were little kids, or adults who were severely immune compromised. Catching a virus that seemed like nothing to her could have killed one of them. She knew. She did not care. She was convinced no one could do without her for even a day or two, that taking off work would put her in the poorhouse, and no exposure to reality would convince her otherwise. Work work work work work.
We hear all the time about lazy, lazy people — especially fatties! — who won’t get off their butts and do anything for themselves. Sure, they exist, but I think they’re pretty rare compared to all the people who are just trashed from all their responsibilities. Even the people I know with good jobs and money, especially if they have kids, they’re just wiped out nowadays. They’re in all kinds of pain. They need a four-week nap just to reset themselves, and they won’t ever get it. And the people with bad jobs and even less money are even more wiped out, by orders of magnitude.
And as Sara Robinson notes, doctors in America get worked to death too:
My doctor in California worked a 70-hour week: 35 hours seeing patients, and another 35 hours on the phone arguing with insurance companies. My Canadian doctor, on the other hand, works a 35-hour week, period. She files her invoices online, and the vast majority are simply paid — quietly, quickly, and without hassle.
Do we have it in us to change? I mean, I’m sure there are plenty of workaholics and super-double-busies in other countries too, but how many countries are there where a 35-hour a week job, with retirement at age 65, won’t ipso facto be enough to cover basic expenses? How many countries are there where, as Sara Robinson mentions, people are “working 60-hour weeks trying to hold onto a job that gives them insurance,” and therefore don’t have enough time to give their elderly relatives the attention they need? How many countries are there where people are expected to spend so much time in their cars, fuming in endless traffic jams, to get themselves and their kids where they’re going? I’m sure a lot of those people would love to live in more “walkable” communities, closer to their jobs, but we’ve made them such a scarce commodity that only the affluent can afford them.
Furthermore, in a country where being chronically sleep deprived and stressed out to the breaking point is the norm, and where fat people have the extra added stress of knowing that their bodies don’t measure up, and trying and trying and trying and failing over decades to force their weights down, getting fatter and sicker with every failure, and knowing that they will pay and pay and pay in every single area of life for falling short, how can we isolate fat alone as an independent cause of illness? If we concerned ourselves a lot less with people’s weights and a lot more with their stress levels, we’d probably all be a lot healthier, both physically and mentally. And then maybe the people who did get sick wouldn’t get so much resentment heaped upon them for “doing it to themselves.”
I got your health care cost containment and “preventative care” right here, Mr. President. Dare we all dream?