I grew up without health care. My parents did not have money for health insurance, and with their strong opposition to accepting special help from the government, we simply went without health care even during times when we qualified for State programs. My father would tell us children that we believed in “assurance” rather than “insurance” and that God would provide for us.
In reality, God’s provision came in the form of my father creating an anti-health care philosophy. Drawn by something only a bit more philosophical than pure sour grapes, my parents read books against modern medical care and considered only alternative medicines which happened to be inexpensive.
My parents went through one of their poorest times when my mother was pregnant with her sixth child. It was at that point that they decided to have a home birth with no prenatal visits and no attendant other than my father. Everything went well, and so my parents continued their practice of unattended home births for five more babies, including myself. By the time I was old enough to be aware that most babies were born in hospitals, my father’s mantra was “only those who were there at conception should be there at birth.” It was years before I understood what he meant, and even more years before I realized that it was a view that my father had chosen only once there was insufficient money to pay for medical care.
When I was around ten years old my older brother and I played a fabulous game which involved doing somersaults over the backs of the living room chairs and landing on pillows. The game stopped when I landed incorrectly and broke my nose. It never occurred to me to go to my parents for help. It was not that I thought that I would get in trouble, but what were my parents going to do? Offer me ice to put on it? They certainly weren’t going to take me to the hospital for a hurt nose! My nose is now only slightly crooked.
My mother had very firm ideas about when medical intervention was helpful. I suffered through chronic ear infections and bronchitis as a child with only garlic and steam for treatment. But when I was 16 and was coughing up blood with strep throat, she contacted a physician friend for a children’s prescription of penicillin. It worked immediately, and I began to appreciate the wonder of properly utilized medicine.
When I went to college I was legally required to have health insurance, and so I paid for it myself along with all of my other expenses. It took me a year to learn to try seeking help from the college health center, even though the cost was already covered. When I finally did go, I learned that there was some truth to parents claims about the poor quality of modern medical care. The first nurse I sought for help with severe menstrual cramps told me that my options were to either go on the Pill, or else return to running enough to cause anovulation. I was quite certain that was not good advice for a 19-year-old, so I left without doing anything.
My older sister had to lecture me on “being just like our parents!” before I was willing to reconsider and pursue help for a series of health issues. Eventually I learned that half the nurses would be useless but the other half could provide me with both knowledge and useful options for treatment. Once I got a referral out to a real hospital I was struck by how different the medical world was. I could take my knowledge, get the doctor’s opinion, and then choose my own treatment. It was shockingly wonderful to have health care.
These days I worry most for my 19-year-old sister. My mother does not think that my sister needs testing for a thyroid problem, because she has all the symptoms. And what is the point of testing if you already know the diagnosis and will not seek treatment? My sister would at least talk to a doctor about diagnosis and treatment options if she had health insurance. But she does not, and with a limited income and profound concern for the suffering of others, she continues in the path that our parents chose for us and receives no health care.
I know that it is my time to lecture her, but since she does not have health insurance, I bite my tongue. It is difficult, but I have much practice after spending years listening to people talk about how the quality of their health care would suffer if all Americans were offered health insurance.