“Did you hear about the boy who kissed the pig?” he asked, pausing for effect. “THE BASTARD KILLED US ALL!”
It was a cold December night in 2009 and H1N1, better known as the Swine Flu, was nearing epidemic proportions, hence the punch line. The man, a stranger to me, was cutting up with colleagues at a work party. He had no way of knowing that 13 days prior, I’d been roused from slumber by a string of missed calls and an ominous text directing me to call home immediately, that there was an emergency.
Actually, there was no emergency. There was only terrible news. My sister was dead. Just like that. Thirty-two years old, the night before she’d gone to sleep in her own bed with the flu. She never woke up.
The person that I had been 14 days prior might have chuckled to humor him. But I did not laugh. I just walked away, knowing he meant no harm.
But I will never forget that moment as long as I live.
Nikki was not the person one expects the flu to kill. She had some health issues—asthma and epilepsy, both mild, both which had presented in recent years—and, while no health guru by any stretch of the imagination, wasn’t particularly unhealthful in her habits or lifestyle. She was also young, vibrant and engaged to be married.
She was, however, a low-wage worker with no health insurance. Though skilled in computer programing, she had no degree and a job history that didn’t do her any favors in the Great Recession. To make ends meet, she had recently taken a job delivering pizzas. Hence, she was probably the sort of person whom many affluent people, consciously or subconsciously, consider undeserving of the ‘privilege’ of medical care. It is, after all, a meritocracy, no?
It would be four long months after her death, months that brought some of the worst moments of my life, that the Affordable Care Act passed and, with it, an insurance mandate.
That law did my sister no good when she went to bed on Dec. 5, 2009. It did my family no good when we woke to the news that we would never, ever see her alive again.
In the years since, I’ve wondered what might have been, had our nation been Obama-cared sooner; if the process hadn’t dragged on for months and months, would Nikki have gone to the doctor instead of to bed? Would that doctor have given her meds to keep her lungs from filling with fluid, suffocating her as she slept? Would she be alive today?
These are unproductive thoughts, I know, but when your entire life is punctuated by an event of this magnitude, wherein everything that happened prior is ‘before IT’ and everything subsequent is ‘after IT,’ these are the sorts of thoughts that will naturally torture you.
I don’t tell you this to solicit pity. I tell you this to help you understand why I believe: 1) Obamacare was and is a piece-of-shit legislation; 2) piece-of-shit or not, it’s better than nothing; and 3) universal healthcare, aka socialized medicine, will save millions of families just like mine from grieving over unnecessary, avoidable deaths.
I’ve heard all the arguments against universal healthcare. It’s expensive. It standardizes healthcare by giving everyone substandard care. The wait times are long. It lets the state make medical decisions for you.
None of these arguments outweighs the value of a loved one’s life, or justifies people dying because they can’t afford healthcare. Even for some ‘blessed’ with insurance, the copays are so high they don’t go to the doctor unless it’s an emergency.
This is at least partially to blame for Americans’ life expectancy declining in both 2016 and 2017. Do you know where the United States ranks in life expectancy, according to our own CIA? Forty-third.
What do the vast majority of the countries with longer life expectancies than ours have in common? Gold star if you guessed universal healthcare.
I’m not going to lie to you: Socialized medicine is expensive. And I do understand that some people would rather keep more of their earnings than subsidize healthcare for others. But if you are unmoved to pay higher taxes, even to save strangers’ lives, if you are more moved by economics than empathy or sympathy, consider the cost of each unnecessary, avoidable death, of the contributions that a 32-year-old woman would have made to the economy in her remaining years—48 of them, on average (at least for now).
If that doesn’t convince you, do me a favor and just own your selfishness. Don’t couch it in weasel words and entitlement nonsense, just admit it: You don’t care about the Nikkis of the world, not when there’s a Tesla on the line. The least you can be is honest.