Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life

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Donna Smith

Donna Smith, American SiCKO, is executive director of the Health Care for All Colorado Foundation

May 24th, 2012 9:47 AM

Today I Pray, As Many American Patients Do

I admit it.  I pray.  I know there are intellectuals who are above such frivolity and for whom the showing of any belief in a power greater than one’s self and one’s intellect is the ultimate sign of weakness and inferiority.  I don’t care.  I am not weak, and just because I am not in the economic or intellectual class as some have identified that class does not mean my brain is inferior to anyone else’s. 

I think a lot about cruelty and the power that the profit-making gods have over people in America today.  And I work every day to support efforts to make the healthcare system less profit-driven and more humane.  To do the work I do, I educated myself and have worked at least as hard intellectually and professionally as any of the elite class who hold so much power over the rest of us – not because they have earned that power, but because they have purchased it with cash, with cruelty and with blind ambition to control the lives of others. 

Today, I pray.  And for many American patients, prayer is one of the ways we try to steal ourselves against the traumas of an inhumane healthcare system run by the same profit-driven forces that control nearly every aspect of our lives every day.  My insurance company has made my most recent cancer journey hell for me.  For the past two months, the diagnostic efforts and now my treatment options have been second-guessed and delayed.  But nothing else in life is delayed.  So I pray.  I pray my doctors have the wisdom and skill to work around Aetna’s demands (I am sure you could easily substitute your own insurance company’s name here), and I pray I can dance fast enough around all the other issues in life to keep everything steady through this process.

A few weeks ago I wrote that if this cancer ends up requiring some long, expensive fight for care and I will likely not be OK anyway, I will not spend the rest of my life fighting with an insurance company and begging for mercy.  That has not changed.  But I am not even yet to the point where I can make that decision – the insurance company has questioned every single test and every procedure though I have faithfully used their “preferred providers.” 

I pray today, as many Americans patients do, that I wake up this afternoon and hear a good result, but that I won’t be left with hundreds or thousands in bills somehow.  I pray, as many American patients do, that I won’t be seen in the wider world as damaged goods and unable to fulfill my other responsibilities.  I pray, as many American patients do, not that I won’t hurt or die but that I won’t make others suffer because I couldn’t navigate the cruel system well enough even as I felt ill and needed help but didn’t dare ask for it.

Would this all be different if we had an improved, expanded, Medicare for all, for life, system?  Of course it would.  I would still pray.  But I could stop praying for everything external to my healing and begin focusing all of my emotional, spiritual, and physical energy on fighting for health and well-being.  And what a gift that would be. 

After today, I am looking forward to a summer filled with joy and challenge.  I am speaking in Colorado in June, and I hope to be part of a Medicare for all tour in California.  SiCKO turns five, and we’ll be celebrating all the work we’ve done at an event in Philadelphia on June 30.  Then I get to be part of the incredible “Nataline’s Fashion Legacy” to honor the memory of young Nataline Sarkisyan  who died at 17 when her insurance company, CIGNA, denied her liver transplant until it was too late to save her.  And then it’s on the AIDs mobilization in DC on July 24, and helping make sure that call for the Robin Hood Tax is heard as part of every event where people hope to bring some common sense to our tax policy and begin to heal our economic woes.   Finally, in the middle of all this amazing and meaningful work, my first book will be released, and I cannot wait to share more details about that with the wider world.

So, you bet I pray today.  I pray Aetna, cancer and those who think I am weak just get the hell out of the way.  I pray for my doctors to help me heal, and I pray to just get on with my work.   Oh, and I pray for small bills and that I’ll keep having the income I need to pay them.  If we had Medicare for all for life, I’d be praying for strength and health.  Simple prayers.  Not too intellectual.  Just me and my god, without interference from Aetna.  Amen.

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