This is a story of a big, strong, healthy, hardworking man whom I admired. This story is centered on my childhood. I grew up spending much of my time with my Aunt Betty and Uncle Eddie James who lived across the street from my family and me. I would watch him work outside his house. Often, he would allow me to hand him a tool or two from what I thought was a “big truck” with the sign that said “Acme Plumbing”. My uncle was a self-employed plumber for over 20 years. While working on a job he tripped over a pipe, fell and injured leg. He was self-employed and my aunt was a homemaker, and they did not have any health insurance. They believed in paying cash whenever they saw the doctor.
My uncle (Uncle Ed) saw his primary care doctor for his injury and then a chiropractor for several months, paying cash for each visit. His injury did not get any better although he continued seeing the doctor and the chiropractor. Uncle Ed decided to get a second opinion from another doctor, with that second opinion, he received some bad news. Although he had ongoing treatment for the leg injury, the leg was the least of his worries according to his new doctor. It appeared the reason Uncle Ed’s leg injury did not get any better was because he had major heart disease. He was told his heart was not pumping as efficiently as it should. His heart disease was so severe that he needed surgery immediately, and it could not be done at the local hospital. He needed quadruple bypass surgery in order to survive. The local heart doctor referred him to one of the premiere institutions in the home state because of the severity of his disease.
Remember, Uncle Ed is self employed and always paid cash whenever he saw a doctor, but now he has to have major surgery without any healthcare insurance. Not only is he worried about the surgery, but now he has to wonder how was he to afford the type of surgery he needed? A complete physical from the doctor at the premiere institution, revealed that Uncle Ed not only has heart disease, but now he has been told he is a diabetic and hypertensive. An eye exam indicated he was loosing his eyesight due to diabetic macular degeneration. I imagine Uncle Ed is thinking he has only a slight leg injury, which will get better with medicine and therapy one day, and then the next finds out his health is failing. He must be thinking often, “How will I pay the bills”. All the while Uncle Ed does not have any health insurance coverage for himself or his wife.
I watched Uncle Ed go through heart surgery, only to loose his eyesight to the macular degeneration, and also be diagnosed with diabetic neuropathy. He now had no sensations in his hands and feet now. His wife of forty years now became his caregiver. He spent months recuperating. While recuperating, he was diagnosed with kidney disease and his kidneys failed because of the diabetes. Uncle Ed had to start dialysis in order to live and dialysis presented another set of problems, including infection after infection and more hospitalizations.
Uncle Ed underwent the bypass surgery over 10 years ago. He now spends much of his time just sitting in his chair waiting for someone to bring him his meals. He waits for someone to bring him water to drink. He waits for a ride to dialysis three days a week. He waits for help with personal care. He waits on others to come and help him.
I imagine the scenario of my uncle choosing to buy health insurance rather than just pay cash to see the doctor when needed. My uncle probably would have gone for an annual physical and gotten regular check ups and lab work where it would have been discovered he was hypertensive and diabetic. He would have taken medicine to lower his blood sugar and medicine to low his blood pressure. This would have possibly prevented the heart disease, and the quadruple bypass heart surgery, the diabetic macular degeneration, the diabetic neuropathy and the renal dialysis.
I watched my uncle go from a big, tall, strong, hardworking man to deteriorate to a frail human being primarily because he did not have health insurance. As I reflect on the events that plagued my Uncle Ed, I wonder what would have happened if he had chosen to buy health insurance? For this one reason, my uncle’s health is why insurance is important to me.
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