Who�s got a ticket to live?
By Jerry Mazza
Online Journal Associate Editor

Aug 26, 2009, 00:21

I was killing time until the Boston/Yankee game on Sunday Night. It was the rubber game of the slugfest, in which Yankees won 20 to 11 over the Sox in the first game and the Sox beat back the Yanks 13 to 2 in the second game. Now, which way would the third, rubber game bounce? You could never tell with these two teams, never tell with baseball, or with life for that matter. After all the program that had gripped my attention until the game went on was Bill Moyers Critical Condition, a documentary of a significant handful of cases from the 47 million uninsured in America who are battling death and the medical/insurance system. Somehow, that game seemed fixed from the get-go.

For instance, the first couple was named Joe and Dale Stornaiuolo who had been together for 22 years. They were both overweight, but seemingly having a great time with their grandkids, putting ribbons on a small Christmas tree. When one of the kids asked Grandpa Joe what he wanted for Christmas, he said �my health. That�s what I would wish for,� smiling. It seemed Joe was first diagnosed with liver disease. Then his bosses felt he couldn�t continue his 15-year long employment as a doorman any more. So Joe was terminated. Right after that, they stopped his health insurance. And now it�s like, where would Joe go to get back his ticket for life?

The doctor told Joe, �Well, you know that you have this underlying liver disease. It�s not related to alcohol use or to hepatitis virus. It�s just really from liver um . . . the liver not working right and then it develops cirrhosis. And that really is the main reason that you�ve got all this swelling in the legs. The diabetes is sort of a separate issue but it still, still complicates things dramatically. So how often are you taking insulin?�

Joe said, �I take it once a day.�

The doctor said, �You should be probably taking that three times a day.� Joe replied, �But we skip because the tabs are expensive.� It seems like Joe had a double whammy, the cirrhosis strike of abnormal liver against him plus the strike of lacking the funds for proper drugs. And his third strike was that these two factors would compound themselves into a hopeless finish.

Yet the sympathetic doctor, like an onlooking baseball announcer, said, �This really is a tough thing to deal with, not being able to get the medicines that you need or that we think you need . . . It makes it all, all the more tough for you. Especially for your liver disease. These diuretics, I consider these life-saving medications the way I would with the insulin. We have some samples of the insulin. We didn�t have much, unfortunately. Okay?� He handed Joe the package like a gift, like tickets for one more season of life. And Joe said �Okay. Dr. McWilliams, thank you again. I appreciate your time.� And it is time for Joe which he has been gifted, as well as the good doctor�s attention.

As the doctor leaves, Joe tells his wife, �I don�t want to live like this. I mean, can�t get Social Security, I�m too young. Can�t get welfare, make a little too much. In the meantime, I�ve got 50, 60 thousand dollars in doctor bills.� His wife says, �So you need to stop worrying about those collection agencies and the medical bills that we�re getting.� Joe answers, �Well, I�m dying anyway, put me in collection.� His wife chides him, �Joe, I�ll be damned if I�m going to let you sit there and give up.�

Joe reminds her, �Oh without a liver, I�m not going to get better. Liver transplant costs about 150 to 200 thousand dollars. If you�re broke, you could get the medicine, you could get the hospital, everything else. But you work hard all your life you get nothing.�

In voiceover, his wife tells us, �Things will work out. If Joe had insurance, he would never [have] had to skimp on his medication. He would never have used the same needle six to nine times. So yeah, you cut medical corners. It�s like playing Russian roulette with your life.�

This is a deadly game some 47 million Americans are playing with their lives and the odds every day of their lives.

At that point, Joe having taken his insulin count said, �It�s 452.� His wife answers, �Oh, my God, Normal is 120.� Joe says, �Is that more bills.� Dale says, �Yes, Lehigh Valley, physicians� business center. Oh, my goodness. This from when you were in the hospital the last time. Please call our collection department. Joe, I don�t want to go into collection anymore.� She fears this like a season in hell.

Joe looks at the bills and says, �Here. $28 thousand dollars.� Dale says, �I can�t believe they think we can pay that.� Joe answers �I can�t believe they charge so much.� His wife says, �Ridiculous. But when we went in, we go in honest and we say that is what we have and we have nothing and you can�t get blood from a stone.�

Joe looks up at his wife and puts a puts a smile on his face: �Maybe I could win the lottery.� She smiles: �Ah, you never know.� It could well as be titled like a Sam Shepherd�s play, The Curse of the Insuranceless Class.

It was very hard to go on and listen to the next two intertwining stories, the couple whose wife had ovarian cancer, while her husband tried to hold it all together on a two-job, $14,000 a year income. And then there was the Hispanic man who had shrunk nearly six inches in size, morphing into a small hunchback, constantly in pain from a rare bone disease. With all his pain, he still worked as a chef for $45,000 a year. But he had had to give up his insurance premiums to feed his family. Of the two men, Joe would die ironically two days before he received Medicaid. The other, the small cook gained four inches, lost his pain, after a priceless operation done for free by the local physicians and hospital. Yet what would that soft lump that had suddenly appeared on his chest bring if left untreated -- as it was.

There were tears in my eyes watching all this pain when my wife walked in the bedroom, looked at me, took a look at the screen action, and said, �Maybe you should watch the game for a while.� Feeling like a coward, I did. Though I woke the next morning and read the entire transcript of the show. Somehow just reading the words, not seeing the real people again, their expressions and nuances of hope and despair was easier for me. In fact, by reading the text of �Critical Condition� what popped my mind was Who Gets A Ticket To Live? Who of those 47 million will win or lose next against incredible odds of lost jobs. lost savings, medical bills that run to four, five or six figure figures?

And who will have to live not only with the pain but the humiliation of being hounded by collection agencies for hospitals� and doctors� fees, even those doctors and institutions with good intentions, but whose own economics carry compassion only so far. So, who gets the ticket to live, to click the tuner for a while to the other reality of ballgames, thousands cheering, hugging each other, eating, drinking, almost from another world or reality, with smiling or sleepy-headed children looking on. And who would dare take a ticket for life from one of those children who happen to be among the 47 million without insurance. Why death itself.

And back there on the other channel, in the land of television, after we�ve been entertained with a win or loss, after we shut off the TV, we return to those dark thoughts in sleep that we could be any of those people who have lost their insurance, for whatever reason, and now stand to lose our ticket to life. That is the nightmare that will or should disturb any American�s dreams. Yet are we addressing it, really?

Or are the crackpots in Washington continuing their internecine wars, spreading fear and disinformation to a confused public? Part of that confusion, as the Washington Post reported, was about Journalists, Left out of the Debate -- Few Americans Seem to Hear Health Care Facts. What a scandal was that? That even journalists couldn�t get at the real truth.

But the other truth is that we�ve spent so much on wars, on defense budgets, on under-taxing the high incomes, from over-bearing on the poor, the aged, the ill, that some awful judgment seems waiting in the wings for all of us. So much so that we can�t agree on anything. And everything has decayed into a brawl of ignorant egos, few of whom understand the reality that healthcare should not be a for profit business. And the question �who gets a ticket to live� should never get asked, and no human being should have to hear it told to him or her. �Yes it will be you. You won�t get the ticket. Sorry, but that�s how it goes. There are just so many tickets in the house.�

Yet it is only the government ultimately that has the power to finance or not finance this war or that war, that number of bombs and planes, this pledge of billions to allies to kill other allies, to purchase chemicals that will numb certain races of people, to weaponize viruses to kill whomever a fraction of the elites of this earth want gone. Those really are the politics, the deepest politic of all, of who gets a ticket to live or not. That�s what this �awful game� is all about -- and why single-payer care is labeled �socialist� and anathema to America. When, in fact, America is paying twice the cost of any established nation to get the worst healthcare of them all. It�s an undying corruption that feeds a perverse life to this system. For, in the long run, single-payer healthcare is the only proven affordable universal healthcare system.

And think about all the Joes and Dales of this world who just wanted to gather around their modest Christmas trees one more time with their families and experience this truest of pleasures. Think about your own family mourning you. Remember, 47 million people now face that reality every day. If unemployment continues to rise, those numbers can easily rise to embrace any of us. In fact, 47 million is more than one in every six Americans. If that number, if those odds, sound too high for you, perhaps we are cutting the wrong things from the budget, like healthcare, and keeping too many of the wrong things in the budget. It�s not rocket science. It�s really just a matter of putting life first. Please, give that a second thought if you haven�t already.

Jerry Mazza is a freelance writer living in New York City. Reach him at His new book, State Of Shock: Poems from 9/11 on� is available at, Amazon or

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