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.