uninsured in america

Uninsured in America: Broken Bone Morality

Two years ago, I was uninsured in America. All my efforts to find work had failed, so medical care was closed to me. One afternoon I tripped on a porch step and broke my ankle. The pain was overwhelming, but even worse was the realization that I would have to treat it myself.

A Visit to My Parent’s House

When we left Oregon, homeless and financially broken after years of trying to find work, we began the journey that eventually brought us to Minnesota. We made a stop at my parent’s house in Missouri.

They asked us to pray for my sister who was in the hospital with a mysterious illness. She had a good job, good insurance, and good doctors, but she was getting worse. We went to her bedside and prayed. Yahweh said he would heal her. She was released two days later.

“Praise God she has insurance,” my dad said. “If she hadn’t, the hospital might have turned her away.”

In a short while, I wouldn’t be so lucky.

Broken Leg No Insurance

Two days after my sister was released, the pleasant early summer weather beckoned me outside. I decided to visit the park with my husband and son.

We didn’t make it far. I stepped into a hidden hole at the bottom of the porch step. The violent twist of my ankle shot lightning bolts of pain up my leg that left me sobbing in the grass. The cloudless sky spun in dizzying flashes around me as the pain nauseated me, overwhelmed my senses. I have sprained my ankles many times, and I have broken several bones.

I knew that pain.

I knew my ankle was broken.

My mom and dad came outside because of the commotion. My husband was kneeling down to help me. My dad stepped over and talked sharply. “Get up and walk inside. It’s probably only a little sprain.”

Frightened by his tone, and my body pumping adrenaline from pain, I clutched the strong arm of my husband and somehow found the strength to hobble inside. My parents brought me ice and pain medicine.

Uninsured in America

I thought about going to the emergency room, but the injury was not life threatening, and without insurance or a cash deposit, I knew there was little chance they would treat me.

American law only requires hospitals to stabilize life threatening conditions of the uninsured, not to treat them. This is almost certainly why Thomas Eric Duncan (ABC News) was sent home from a Dallas emergency room, stable but seriously ill. He spent two days at home, in excruciating pain, shedding infectious Ebola virus to his family and community, before being admitted to the hospital two days later where he died of his condition. Duncan was also, tragically, uninsured in America. Broken medical system, broken morality. I have written more about him here. Eric Duncan, Ebola, and lack of insurance.

I knew the hospital most likely would not treat me, and I could never pay the thousand-dollar-plus bill if they did, so I begged to go to the far more accessible urgent care. My dad said there was no need to seek medical care for a “little sprain.” My mom laughed. She said it was my fault for not having a job, for not having any money for the urgent care $150 fee.

She laughed at me for being uninsured in America. Her broken morality crushed my spirit.

Self-rehabilitating My Broken Ankle

Past walking into the house, I couldn’t bear any weight on my ankle. The slightest brush of my toe against the ground sent mind-numbing pain through my leg. Fortunately, I had crutches and a walking boot from a surgery on my other ankle several years before (when I did have insurance). I used those to immobilize my ankle and settled in for the daunting process of rehabilitating my broken leg without the help of a doctor or modern medicine.

After a couple of days on the couch, I got into a religious argument with my parents. My husband called a televangelist phone number on a television program and told the call center to stop swindling people’s money. I thought it was funny, but my parents were not amused. We argued about works versus faith and the “cheap” American gospel. They kicked us out of the house.

For the next several weeks we slept on friend’s couches and in the car, our two-year-old in his car seat, my ankle throbbing from the cramped space. After about six weeks I was able to stretch my ankle and start walking again, painfully.

We moved to Minnesota and found housing and work. We got health insurance and I had x-rays showing the (healed) fracture line. Physical therapy helped some, but even now, over two years later, I limp and have pain in that ankle. The doctor thinks I have torn ligaments or tendons and I need surgery.

Surgery that would never have been necessary if I had not been a victim of society’s broken morality to refuse to take care of the poor, the weak, the sick, the uninsured in America.

Sprained Ankle and the Affordable Care Act

This week I fell over a pothole I didn’t see in a parking lot. I sprained my ankle, again, badly enough to have to take a week off work. Doctor visit, ankle brace, crutches. Maybe physical therapy again, I’ll find out in the next few weeks of healing again.

At least this time I have medical insurance, partially thanks to the Affordable Care Act, which made my family eligible for Medicaid. This legislation is imperfect, but it has helped millions (but not all) of the uninsured in America to access treatment from broken legs to cancer.

This legislation is constantly under attack. We need more Americans with the courage and morality to stand up for the pool, the uninsured. Medical care is a human right.

I share my story of pain in hopes of change.

America, repent, seek the kingdom of holy justice, heal the broken legs and broken hearts of the oppressed. Provide medical access for the uninsured. That is exactly what Jesus did. Seek God’s face, pray for holy justice, and heal the broken morality in America.

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