Monday, November 17, 2008

Cranky Old Lady (me)

Big sigh.  Life is okay.

It's funny how even a routine exam is tense.  I went to the optometrist this morning, and I just kept thinking, "Please, don't let her see anything weird."  An eye exam, for crying out loud.  And yes, it was fine.  I have a dentist's appointment next month.  And my annual check-up on Wednesday.  I don't want to go to these appointments, but I will. So I think I might have a slight phobia of doctor's appointments.  But I still have my head on straight; I still go to the doctor when I should.

My physical recovery is a bit more frustrating than I had anticipated.  My right shoulder, neck, and pec area is all knotted up from scar tissue and bad posture from overcompensating.  I have this weird twitch and sensation where my abs used to be--kinda feels like a baby moving 'cept I'm pretty sure there ain't no baby in there! And the fatigue...and the chemo brain.  But I'm moving as best as I can.  I go to massage therapy and acupuncture.  At least I don't have to spend an arm and a leg to pay for this stuff.

I've gotten a bit of a response from my last post regarding the health care systems in U.S. and in Canada.  It's been an interesting and healthy (no pun intended) discussion, I think.  But all in all, I remain pretty firm in my stance that the U.S. health care system is pretty shitty.  My disclaimer is that this is my opinion based on my 29 years in the U.S. and the past few years here in Vancouver.  (ie., I'm not a doctor; I'm not an insurance agent--I am a patient and a human being who needs health care.) The matters of choice in health care, the way doctors diagnose patients, how insurance companies operate, etc.--all that has been brought to my attention by a number of people in both the medical and insurance fields.  Still, none of that flies with me.  I'll pay the high taxes here in Canada and be happy about that because I know that the taxes are for the most part going to good use.  I think that because I haven't been shafted by companies or governments that want to profit from illness, I feel more compelled to actually donate time and money to organizations, like the Cancer Agency or the Breast Cancer Foundation.  However, if I were forced to spend my efforts, while ill, on fighting insurance companies about claims, I probably wouldn't think to be as generous.

Yes, in the U.S. you have choice.  For example, just this weekend, I spoke with my father.  He was in the midst of helping my grandparents select a new insurance company because their premiums were going up.  I suppose you could say they have a choice in doing this.  But seriously, who wants to be thinking about that, especially when you're over 80 years old?  I dunno--I don't want to think that shopping for health care is like shopping around for a tv--where can you get the best deal?

Anyway, just my two cents, people!  Life and health should not be a commodity--socialism or not.

Monday, November 10, 2008

I'm Brandy the Ex-Pat

The election is over. Those of us who have been holding our breath, waiting for change to come, can finally exhale. There's so much promise in what has happened, and even yesterday, as I was watching the kids play, it dawned on me that the first president they will remember will be a young black man named Barack Obama. That is our world now--certainly not the same world I grew up in, where I myself was teased because of the color of my skin, because my mother was someone different from the rest of the small town, being Vietnamese and Buddhist. This is a new world.

Yet this realization is coupled with another that I had last week. As I sat here in Canada, listening to everything going on south of the border and in particular, the debate over the health care system, I had so many emotions. There was even one woman being interviewed on CNN, who was a cancer survivor, saying that she opposes universal health care. Her fear was that if health care were available to everyone, then she wouldn't be able to get treatment and other appointments for her cancer because everyone would be flooding doctor's offices. I was so angry hearing this woman say this that I wanted to throw something at the tv. But then again, I didn't want to bust my tv, so I didn't. And then I just felt sad--very very sad--that because of corporation and government interests and greed, that people have come to believe such utter nonsense about health care access. So I thought about this a lot--I've been thinking about that woman and about the other common folk whom I've seen on tv, their eyes wide with fear of a "government-run health care system," their mouths saying that *they* want to have control over their health care. All the while, no one in the U.S. has control over the health care because insurance companies have such a death grip on the situation. And so then I think about myself, my situation, my story, my experiences both here in Canada and in the U.S.--and it dawned on me so very clearly: I can never go back to my motherland to live.

We heard this phrase a lot during the election: "pre-existing condition." We don't say words like that here in Canada. You get sick, you're diagnosed, you get treatment. It's true that it's many times not as clear cut and simple as that--the diagnosis part is the hurdle because health care professionals here just can't send everyone who's sick to get an MRI, x-ray, ultrasound, etc. That's the consequence of having health care for everyone--unless it's clear you need urgent care, you have to wait your turn. But soon enough, your turn will come, and you will get care and not have to worry about where the money to pay for it is coming from.

When I was diagnosed, my treatment at the cancer agency started almost immediately. When my white blood cell count dropped to dangerously low levels during chemo, I was put on Neupogen, a $200 injection that I gave myself every other day. If we had not had the extended health coverage that we do through my husband's employer, there was assistance in helping to pay for that injection, so that in any case, we never had to pay anything for that prescription. Never. Granted, we do have what is called the Cadillac of extended health coverage here (there are two kinds of coverage; the basic coverage which is granted to everyone, but which doesn't cover all medical costs, depending on the level of necessity of treatment; and extended health care, which employers can give out as a benefit, and which will cover many of the costs the basic doesn't take care of). But even without the extended, we wouldn't have had to pay for much. Our basic coverage took care of the surgery entirely, and my entire hospital stay was $500, but only because I opted for a private room. And even then, our extended health care picked up the tab.

So here I am in Canada--and while people are suffering in the U.S., struggling to get the care they need, I don't. People often ask us why we chose to live here instead of going back to LA. The choice was clear once I was diagnosed--we wouldn't be able to afford living in the U.S. with my cancer. And now, with my pre-existing condition, we can never go back to live there. There's no insurance company in the world that would take me on. No freakin' way.

So this is what universal health care is, folks. People get to live. Simple as that. This system is not some scary entity that takes over your life and tells you what to do with your health and takes away your say in the matter. We get to choose doctors like anyone else. We get to have our prescriptions that heal us; we get to have the surgeries we need. But we don't have to worry about not being able to pay for that. Those of you living in the U.S.--can you imagine that? If you can't, ask me about it, and don't listen to all this bullshit about how the government will control your lives through your health care.

I have so many friends and family in the U.S. who have had at one point or another suffered because of how things are, whether they be small struggles or large ones. It's just inhumane and not right.

The next time you think about your health care or you hear someone say something about universal health care access being dangerous, think of me. If you haven't experienced it, it's just an abstract. I've experienced it all--it's all real to me. What's scary is how things are now, and how much worse they could become if things don't change.

Don't get me wrong--I love living here. I feel so fortunate that when we had to make this decision, that living here in a Canada was a real option for us. We never had to stress about my treatment; all our focus was on me getting better so I can be here for my family, so I can be here for my children most of all. In the U.S., this is a luxury. In Canada, this is a basic human right. To be able to live and not worry about how to pay for living.