To Your Poor Health by amina wadud


amina 2014 - cropped

This week I had started my blog in commemoration of Black History Month.  Alas it has sat in my computer unfinished as the deadline is well past for my bi-monthly post.  So here is why.

As I was listening to NPR one day, a man was describing the “types” of thinking developed as a consequence of the types of intellectual and physical exposure.  “Higher” thought (I hate that assessment of it, but it’s his word) he equated with things like knowledge of Shakespeare.  “Other” thought went with the days before (or current places and peoples without) access to some of our own human intellectual ventures (like Shakespeare’s plays).  What I, the abstract thinker (of course, I’m a theologian…) took away from this was that maybe I had ventured well into the realm of so-called higher thinking and as such had LOST touch with some basic thought for survival.

So I had a medical emergency. I have a hiatus hernia.  It was diagnosed just before I went to India, and medication prescribed.  I filled that prescription for over a year at my local pharmacy for about $10-$12 per 100 pills.  India is in a patents war with the US over medicine production, because they refuse to play into the over-costly game that is our US norm.  When my supply ran low I went to get a new prescription filled at my now local pharmacy.  They asked for over $300 for a 3-month supply!  Even if I only got one month it would be $169. I opted to do without altogether.  I figured my dietary adjustments, no citrus, no mint, no tomatoes no night time eating would be enough to suffice.

About a week ago, I began to experience intense pain, usually starting at night.  It would linger throughout the day but usually be gone except for a dull roar at bed times so I bore with it.  Then it began to linger longer in the day and to get more intense at night. I realized I was not going to make it just by dietary adjustments and told myself I was “worth” the cost of the medicine.  So I filled a 30 day portion.  Well, the pain got worse.

It got so bad, that after getting up and walking around each night, when I wished to return to sleep I had to prop myself up and sleep in a semi-sitting position.  Mornings were no fun, but again during the day it would abate to some extent, and each night I would fall into bed exhausted: only to wake up and try my best not to cry and not to give in.  Give in to what, you might ask?  The last time I went to the hospital for this pain, I was advised to call 911 by the on-call nurse at my doctor’s office.  Because the pain is around my heart and I have other “conditions” she said I must call them.  At the hospital they said, I must stay for at least 24 hour observation because of my age and those other conditions.  Still I would not learn I had a hiatus hernia for almost a year.

However, what I had to do in order to pay for the care I got was nothing short of a nightmare.  First the ambulance people insisted that I pay them up front and then wait for my Medicare and Medi-Cal payment to go through.  No way, I said. Once you have my money I am certain neither one of them would pay me back.  Eventually they and the ambulance people required that I go to the main office for my health care and secure a copy of the telephone transcript where it was the nurse who recommended me to call 911 (as opposed to what? me seeking some odd sort of vacation in a narrow hospital bed with over salty food?!)   It took around 6 months to finally get it all sorted out. I did not have to pay anything out of pocket.

As I lay/walked in pain each night, I philosophized the impossibility of my seeking emergency medical help since I did not wish to return to this laborious process of getting coverage.  In short, I had lost my survival skills and instead would linger in debilitating pain, exacerbated by my own thinking.  If I had not—likewise—“thought” about that NPR show I probably would not have accepted the fact that I was beyond the means of intellectually resolving this problem of inadequate health care coverage and could not deal with the pain so I should just go ahead and call 911, let the chips fall where they may.

Since I have been back in the US I have gone through all the steps to apply once again for Medi-Cal, but like all offices that deal with the “welfare” of poor people, this takes time.  Each night that I would sit up bowled over with pain I reflected far too long on the status of being poor in America and none on my own well being.  Where is my gut instinct?  Lost to the realization that to be poor in America is often more about accepting loss of dignity than it is about what you can and cannot buy; justifying but not receiving your rights to quality foods, excellent education systems for your children, clean and beautiful housing, and “affordable” health care.

Obamacare went into effect while I was away, but for the very poor, it makes no difference.  The offices that serve them are still understaffed by people who get harassed by other people who find they have not the means to afford to live without assistance, which is increasing in number with our unsustainable “minimum wages.”  I am not asking for any pity, so don’t give it to me.  This is just a reminder that every day we partake of a country which we love to describe as one of “liberty and justice for all,” but which, in reality, is one of the worst places in the world to be poor.

amina wadud is Professor Emerita of Islamic Studies, now traveling the world over seeking  answers to the questions that move many of us through our lives.  Author of Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective and Inside the Gender Jihad, she will blog on her life journey and anything that moves her about Islam, gender and justice, especially as these intersect with the rest of the universe.



Categories: Activism, General, Poverty, Reform, Spiritual Journey

Tags: , , ,

11 replies

  1. Hi Amina, my mother had that too. Thanks for a compelling reminder of why we need a single-payer health care system for all. Obama said it is fine with him if they call it Obamacare, I think this is a tragic misnomer, and not only because people have such strong feelings about Obama. The main point is that health care is a human right, it is not a right granted to us by Obama, Hillary, Nancy Pelosi, or anyone else.

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  2. Thank you Amina. I too have needed to use our “health care” system for a long time. I am disabeled. We definitely need a single payer system. I even am lucky enough to have insurance that is put before my Medicare. The system is not designed for care. It is designed to be as difficult as possible. Because the insurance companies do not want to pay for anything. Health care is a human right. But, when it gets mixed with insurance companies trying to maximize profits, for profit hospitals, for profit Pharmaceutical, and on and on, we are no longer important. It’s about money. And the poor are faced with greater obstacles to access health care. Look at all the states refusing to expand Medicaid. I always laugh through quite a bit of anger at those who hate and oppose the ACA . Most have never been through any or ongoing health problems. What a luxury.

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    • I admit, I have little confidence in what we call our attention to American’s with Disabilities. I fought that system the entire life time of my daughter, who is almost 25 and STILL she was both penalized for having a disability when she became a mom and denied Social security help at the same time. I guess you already know this, but the US fairs very low on the scale of what an advanced society does for persons with disability. Thanks for your note.

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  3. Brava. I certainly sympathize with you. I went for 30 years without any kind of medical insurance because I couldn’t afford to pay any premiums. Fortunately, I was healthy……until 2003, when I was told I had cancer. Also fortunately, a year earlier a friend had suggested I go to a local public health clinic and apply for what was probably Medicaid. I got free, 5-minute doctor visits at the clinic, where I was just about the only person whose first language was English. But bless that clinic! It paid for my surgery and follow-ups until I arrived at the age when I entered the Social Security and Medicare systems. People deserve to have affordable, competent healthcare. I hope you’re well.

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  4. Let me first off state that I consider access to affordable, good quality health care a basic human right. However, politically speaking, a single payer system is not feasible at this time in the USA electorate. “Obamacare” is essentially a Republican idea, it came out of the conservative think tank of the Heritage Foundation. (link here to the history: http://healthcarereform.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=004182)

    The Democrats tried a single-payer system under the Clintons, they couldn’t even get it through the House. The Dems under Obama thought they could get a Republican-backed idea through- and despite its conservative pro-business origins, NO Republicans voted for it (those who did were tossed out at mid-term elections).

    Is the Affordable Health Care Act perfect? No, not by a long shot. But, if it is able to save a few lives and provide better health care for some people- people who would have gotten nothing under the old system, then it gets my vote. Hopefully, it will evolve into something better. Social Security had its bumps too, but the impact it has had on the quality of living for the elderly has been tremendous.

    I’m not calling it “Obamacare” because it a) wasn’t his idea and b) is a political compromise (which STILL didn’t appease the target audience!).

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  5. Barbara: most of the people I know in the US live on the merits of their good health and without health care.

    Before I could sort out the health care options at my University I did not get coverage for my children for a year. I spent that year in constant denial that they “needed” to see anyone. I noticed intimately how different it was when we all had a reliable affordable primary care doctor, regular dental and all emergency care taken care of.

    I think it was then that I began to really see the two tracks: one for the haves and one for the have nots and never came to peace with it, even when I was on the haves track, so as I said, I work for justice in all the areas where I see a discrepancy. Like why are there no grocery stores providing fresh produce in poor neighborhoods? Why does “assisted” housing have to be so dismally ugly and utilitarian, etc. etc.

    I’m sure you know, it is not just health care that shows how little we value the life and dignity of people. But it is the health issue that brings us most clearly to the life and death awareness of it.

    They asked me in the ambulance, which hospital. So I chose the one most local (and really the only one I know of in the area). I could not believe how filthy the bathrooms were! I told my son, I had never seen anything so dirty, in an American hospital. In short, it was a medical hazard but I knew it was because it is primarily peopled by the poor.

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  6. You know the system up here in Canada is not at all perfect. There are flaws, and people fall through the gaps, but it works well for the vast majority. The working poor have the hardest time here because they do not have supplemental health care which according to your province covers more or less (usually less) dental care, prescriptions, and things like that. The poor and anyone with a job with benefits is fully covered. The rich can go to clinics and pay for “elective” treatment (extra MRI’s, etc.). I don’t know what I’m saying, Amina, I guess I am just saying I wish you were here so you could get the health care you need and the Canucks who love you could take care of you.

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  7. Amina, thank you for writing about this. Yes, this is a terrible country in which to be poor, and the healthcare options are not humane. I, too, have a disability and have stayed on federal disability in part to have healthcare coverage included. It is helpful to have others acknowledge the difficulties of all this. May our health improve and you find the help and support you need.

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