What Does Health Care Reform Really Mean to American Fatasses? Part 2: Working Us To Death

meowser-48.jpg 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?

Posted in etc.. 20 Comments »

20 Responses to “What Does Health Care Reform Really Mean to American Fatasses? Part 2: Working Us To Death”

  1. Lindsay B Says:

    Beautifully written. It’s honestly dead-on. Right now, especially, people are being strung out to their thinnest just to make ends meet, and it’s STILL not enough. So many are collapsing from the inside out, and then the big companies and yuppies sneer down on them for being poor; after all, they’d be richer if they just Tried Harder, right?

    I can’t even tell you how my manager treats me at work. I don’t have any diagnosed disability, but being on my feet even a few hours straight puts my feet in excruciating pain, the kind that sends numbing, shooting stabs up my legs and through my heels. Yet, anytime I ask for a break, I get a look like I requested the rest of the day off, then an eyeroll and a sigh. Mind you, the manager works through some tough stuff herself- everything from an injury in her knee that sometimes flares up to arthritis in her neck, and works often a whole day without eating anything.

    So of course she puts those standards on everyone else, and it FEELS like everyone but me can handle it (not true, even the assistant manager breaks down and usually uses MY time on the clock to go take her break, because I’m a lot more understanding). I’m also made to feel like I’m lazy or incompetent for not being able to pull off 4 hours straight without needing a 15 minute break.

    And the worst part is, I need more hours than I’m getting, because I’m not EVEN making ends meet. But the manager doesn’t acknowledge my excellent work performance, she only sees that I suffer on my feet, so she doesn’t recommend me for any more hours. v.v And it’s often blamed on my fat (never to my face, but I’ve overheard conversations they didn’t think I could hear).

    …Sorry… went on a bit of a rant there. But what you’re saying struck a chord with some of the frustrations I’m currently going though.

  2. wellroundedtype2 Says:

    I so appreciate what you said about parents, Meowser. Working full-time and being a mom is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, it’s guilt every direction I turn in.
    I’m finally learning (finally!) that I need time to myself, too, and so it feels like it comes out of sleep (yes, it’s 4 a.m. and I’m writing this) or some other essential aspect of life.
    I work 40 hours, give or take a few, most weeks, and I feel like a slacker compared to others who seem to put in many more hours, but I’m just one human being. I’m not about to win any workplace awards or be on the fast track for management, but I do good work and I’m reliably in the office and my brain is worth at least what they are paying me in salary and benefits. I don’t have any illusions that I’ll retire in 25 years — I know I have to pace myself.
    For me, a 32-hour work week would be just about right, with 4 weeks of vacation. I would certainly have more time to be as active as I like to be with that schedule.
    Don’t get me started on problems with childcare…

  3. Monica Says:

    I’ve been reading a lot about healthcare reform lately and I’m terrified, but I don’t have any idea how to enact change. The American government is broken. Our elected officials don’t listen to us, and they don’t do what they say they will. What can I do? (I mean, other than move to Canada, which, btw, I am seriously considering. A 35-hour work week? That’s a 7-hour day. That’s like heaven.)

    The other thing is that, at least for me, working myself to death started when I was in middle school. Kids in the academic top tier are expected to do so much to get into a good college… it’s crazy. Of course, by high school I had already had one encounter with mental illness, learned from the example my mother made of herself, and started drawing some boundaries for “me time.” I’m aware that this is mostly a middle-class (and above) issue, and that the high schoolers of poorer parents are dealing with an entirely different set of stressors, but it’s still ridiculous.

  4. Bree Says:

    The American mindset of “you must work, even if you’re sick, please don’t ask for any time off” has got to change.

    Instead of blaming fat people for driving up healthcare costs, the medical community and the government need to take a closer look at our country’s workplaces. People come into work sick when they should stay home, people have to do mandatory overtime, people forego their vacations because they’re afraid the office/factory/hospital, etc. can’t function while they’re gone…add that to homelife stress and you will have a bunch of people who will literally get ill from stress. Stress effects people of all sizes.

    Wellness and prevention shouldn’t just mean dieting and weight loss.

  5. Godless Heathen Says:

    Well you stole my thunder. I had a long rant I was trying to get organized about how physical labor is underpaid relative to the damage it does to the body, and therefore the ones underpaying are responsible for making reparations through health care. Wages remained static in the US for ten years while the cost of living rose dramatically, and during that decade many poor people lost a significant amount of their health and ability to be productive. Now the answer is apparently that it would cost too much to compensate us for what has been taken from our bodies. They begrudge us the very idea that our bodies have any value, other than what labor they can wring from us before discarding us. The middle class answer is simply that we are disposable.

    I lost 30% of my mobility working a series of minimum wage jobs, for which I have not been compensated. It was the middle and upper classes who decided that they wanted to “save money” by utilizing my physical labor without paying me enough to care for my body, it should be they who pay my health care costs now. I am owed, and by God Almighty, I mean to collect!

  6. Betherina Says:

    Another brilliant post. Thanks for doing this series.

    I am a dual-national (French/USA) and I listen to most of the chatter about US health care these days with amazement and fear. There are people out there that seriously think that what the US currently calls a “health-care system” is the best we can do??? The health care climate in France is a freakin’ PARADISE compared to the US. (My daughter even had heart surgery here. And no -no government bureauocrat stood between her and her cardiologist. No waiting list, either )

    Plus: “Wellness and prevention shouldn’t just mean dieting and weight loss”? Well said, Bree!!

  7. Godless Heathen Says:

    Oh geez, I grammar good. Lets try: “[mobility] for which I have not been compensated.” lest anyone try to argue that I said I was not being paid a wage at the time.

    To clarify, I was railroaded out of filing a workman’s comp claim for the incident that finally cost me the use of my right knee. This company did the same thing to two more of my then-coworkers, one of which never regained the full use of her right arm, and the other requires a motorized cart to get around. Whatever the motive, I was not the exception to their standard operating procedures regarding workplace injury. Our bodies had no value other than what they could “save the customer”.

  8. Tiana Says:

    I really needed to read that about the coloured spoons. Of which I hardly have any right now, so this comment will be short.

    All I can say is, everybody should read this. I am so lucky to be living in Germany, where it is relatively easy to get enough financial support to get by, as well as nearly-free healthcare, and yet I know all about the constant pressure to better yourself, to get better until you will eventually be able to work your ass off like everyone else. As if that was a good thing.

    Btw, I’m kind of disappointed that people are mostly just agreeing with each other so far …

  9. mccn Says:

    I have been sort of stunned into silence by your series here – there’s just too many intense thoughts going on in my head at once.

    But the one that I can’t get over was my initial reaction to the “35 hour work week.” When I first saw that, I just laughed. I think of myself as having a very cushy job – I really believe I do – I work only 50 hours a week, and my employer has a good vacation policy – I take about 10 days off a year, and they are very good about not minding time off to go to the doctor, et c. as not counting for vacation. I think it’s hard to imagine a better environment in America! I find it so hard to imagine a 35 hour workweek that really is limited to that amount of time – it sounds like half-time to me!

  10. HairyLegs Says:

    Thank you so much for this series and this post. You are speaking for so many of us “lazy” fatties who are running ourselves into the ground.

  11. Rosa Says:

    Meowser, thank you for these posts.

    One of my favorite frugality websites just ran one of those “take a walk on your lunch break so you won’t be fat and get diabetes!” articles that pop up continually, and it’s just ridiculous. Everyone I know uses their lunch break to manage their family, sports team, financial issues (my partners on the phone with HR right now because we got an ominous phone message about our health insurance last night), etc. And if you get an hour for lunch, they just make you stay later anyway so it’s not like you gained any time.

  12. KellyK Says:

    Good points. FYI, the colored spoons link is broken. (There’s an extra “http” in there.)

  13. Eve Says:

    I’m so freakin’ lucky I almost feel guilty. I work for a university and have a true 35-hour workweek – 8am-4pm with an hour for lunch. It’s not the most awesome pay, but the benefits are decent and I have a good amount of vacation time; it’s up to 4 weeks a year now that I have some seniority. I could get by on the pay if I had to.

    This is a little complicated by the fact that I have a 2nd job (trying to get some experience to further my career, and a little extra money to get out of debt), so my workweek is actually about 50 hours plus commute time to and between jobs. Still, I am really freakin’ lucky.

  14. Deeleigh Says:

    Just wanted to say A-fucking-men

  15. meowser Says:

    Sorry about the colored spoons link, folks, I fixed it!

  16. Blimp Says:

    Want to know why we’re overworked and underpaid, and what we can do about it? Visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xtwBp7zM1AU&feature=channel_page

  17. Emerald Says:

    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.

    God, Meowser.

    I work in the UK, but I work for a US employer. It’s kind of complicated. Anyway, at one point about five years ago, I was shifted, arbitrarily and without warning, from a quiet desk job to a very busy counter position. (I’d recently gone through eviction, an enforced house move and money troubles, and had spoken to the department boss to tell him I was having a hard time and apologies if my work hadn’t been up to its usual standard, and I thought he understood, but this was the last thing I’d expected.) I was constantly on my feet, I was trying to serve sometimes maybe 30-40 people at once, and I was covering for colleagues who had other stuff they were dashing out of the office for. A lot of days, nobody noticed if I hadn’t had lunch.

    It wasn’t long before I was not just exhausted, but had dipped into real clinical depression, of the kind I’ve suffered several times during my life (although I only got diagnosed this time round). I made a few attempts to explain to my supervisors that I wasn’t coping, but all I got was ‘You have to cope. there’s nobody else to do this job, if you don’t buck up it’ll be a disciplinary warning’. And (which is what reminded me from what you said above) I had the experience of having my immediate supervisor telling a colleague, within my hearing, that I was ‘too much drama’.

    This is an organization that prides itself on looking after its people and even runs mental health awareness courses. I know this, because I once got left to mind the counter single-handed while my colleagues watched the presentation on how to spot if one of your co-workers is feeling so bad they’re about to kill themselves.

    It took the intervention of my British trade union representative, plus HR, to sort things out and get me signed off sick and eventually, back into another, much less stressful post, which I’m still in now. I’m pleased to say I’m fully recovered, and that I’ve found that other departments are a lot less brutal to employees who are having problems. But the old department never admitted that it could have handled the situation better.

    Despite all this, believe it or not, I do actually want to live and, of necessity, work in the US, so I can only hope either that I get lucky with an employer (my current one can’t transfer me, dammit), or that there’s some kind of cultural sea-change in the whole work/life/health thing. Our NHS is great when it works but lousy when it doesn’t, and it has money problems, and there are ominous rumblings to the extent that people who ‘inflict disease on themselves’ by ‘poor lifestyle habits’ (and they don’t ever mean overwork or stress, natch) should pay their own way…and you guys know only too well what happens when insurance companies get their hands on your BMI and smell money. A public system is great in theory, but in practice we, at least (can’t speak for other countries) have lots of glitches that need ironing out before it works for us, let alone anyone else.

    I wish Obama a lot of luck with this one – I get the feeling he’s going to need it…

  18. meowser Says:

    This is an organization that prides itself on looking after its people and even runs mental health awareness courses. I know this, because I once got left to mind the counter single-handed while my colleagues watched the presentation on how to spot if one of your co-workers is feeling so bad they’re about to kill themselves.


    So yeah, let’s wait until people actually have to be hospitalized for their depression, instead of examining how we, Enlightened Company X, could possibly have a part in making our employees feel like total dogshit. Yep, that’s the kind of shit we put up with — and actually venerate — here, I’m afraid.

  19. What Does Health Care Reform Really Mean to American Fatasses? Conclusion: How Expensive Am I Really? « fat fu Says:

    […] What Does Health Care Reform Really Mean to American Fatasses? Part 2: Working Us To Death […]

  20. BADD 2010: The Total Erasure of Partial Disability « fat fu Says:

    […] for. Not enough so that we couldn’t work at all, but enough so that we couldn’t be worked to death. How did we explain this to people? How could we make them understand? Especially if we barely […]

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