On today’s timely episode, we talk to a Black RN. We talked back in March where he walks us through his new nursing assignment to an ICU Covid floor. I’m happy to report that since recording and posting this episode, him and his entire family remain Covid Free. Thanks to our special guest, for joining us and giving us a first-person account of what’s it’s like to be an essential, healthcare worker during a pandemic. Stay Safe and remember Masks Work!
Let me preface this, I don’t know the WHOLE truth about loss. Frankly, I’m not even entirely sure what MY truth about loss is but I’ve been spending the last few weeks really trying to figure it out. On June 21st, 2019, I lost something that was so much a part of me that I’m pretty sure a part of me left with him and since then, time has flown by but seemingly stood still. I’ve drafted so many different explanations and justifications for what I was feeling and how I was coping so that my friends, my family and everyone else could understand me. But, despite all these drafts, I haven’t finished any of them. The thing is I haven’t been able to get to the ending. I haven’t been able to write the conclusion, to tie it up in a nice little bow, and although I’ve heard it doesn’t always have to end that way, I can’t figure out how to stop writing without it.
Let me start at the beginning and throw it back to about eleven years ago. I was a few weeks from 21, living on the 4th floor of a Chicago flat with three of my college girlfriends and I decided I was getting a dog. Our lease specifically said “no dogs,” but I got him anyway. See, from the moment I saw the goofy brindle puppy that wasn’t quick enough to keep up with his brothers and sisters, tripping over his own paws and wanted nothing to do with me, I was hooked. What can I say? Me gusta la mala vida. I knew the clumsy, not into people, would rather be alone, pup was made for me. And if there’s one thing I know the real truth about
–it’s that he was in fact made for me, by science, evolution or whatever God you believe in, me and him were meant to find each other.
Through undergrad, law school, the bar and my first years of practice he remained my loyal constant. One house and 5 apartments later, he didn’t care if it was acres of grass to run freely or an apartment with no air conditioning, he was with me as long as I was with him.
He listened faithfully to my early 20’s drama and my late 20’s fears and constant second-guessing. He never walked away or chose someone else and always met me excitedly when I got home. I had no idea what I was doing and made most things up as we went, but he trusted I’d figure it out–and if he ever doubted me, he never let on.
I taught him to nap like your life depended on it, and he reminded me to get up, get some fresh air and have a meal and some water. He inherited my hate for the cold and the rain and refused to leave the house if there was even a threat of precipitation, I admired his commitment. He taught me patience and the importance of finding the ray of sun shining through the curtains even on the rainiest of days, and I tried to remember to embrace that point of view. I showed him the importance of a warm bath and a good towel dry, he made the shower his favorite spot when he needed some alone time. I moved, he came with. I was scared to jump, he reminded me I wasn’t alone. I was nervous about moving to a new neighborhood–5 different times–he never let me walk alone. I told him all of my secrets and he saw all of my mistakes and short-comings and chose me anyway. I wasn’t sure if my boyfriend would fit in with our life, he showed me you’re never too old to make a new friend. I was always afraid I’d end up alone, he stayed with me until he made sure I wasn’t. He got sick and we tried to get him better, really hard. He showed me he couldn’t do it and about 2 months ago, we all said goodbye.
I don’t know the truth about loss, but I know that losing him was the rock bottom of a place I haven’t seen in a while. I’m not sure what your truth about loss is, but I know mine makes everything a shade of grey, sounds like Charlie Brown’s teacher and feels numb and outrageously heavy all at the same time. I know mine makes it hard for me to feel anything that doesn’t drag me down and I know that I’ve never gotten through mine without my buddy by my side.
I know that this time it feels heavier, darker and more hopeless than before. I know that it feels scary and unsteady and makes me question every thought and decision. I know that it feels terribly lonely when I open the door, walk to my bed or remember there’s no one at home waiting for a walk. I know that I work more, drag out my days and avoid being home alone as much as I can. I know I feel cheated and lonely that I can’t share my day with my friend. I know that no matter how many examples I write or stories I tell, that no one will ever understand the emptiness I feel. I don’t know about you, but the truth about my loss is that it’s still very much here.
I know he was more than a companion or a friend. I know he was more than a pet and I his owner. I know now that I don’t have to justify this undefinable connection to anyone. I know the truth about him was, that I’d do it all over again. I know that he was the only decision 21 year-old me made that 31 year-old me doesn’t regret.
I don’t know the truth about your loss, and I guess I don’t know the real truth about loss either. I know my truth. I know it’s heavy and dark and sometimes feels like quicksand if I let myself be still for too long. I know I’ll always expect to hear your paws when I open a door. I’ll expect to see you staring back at me from across the room. I’ll always expect to see you sitting patiently waiting for your food. I’ll always anticipate you jumping up between my legs to find the perfect spot like you were still 10 weeks old. I know I’ll miss the one that taught me to be selfless, the one who taught me what true, unconditional love was, the one that always found the ray of sunshine peaking through everyday.
As you can see, I have been getting to know the truth about my loss pretty well. I know it was hidden in 70 pounds of brindle fur, a line of chalk on the wet pavement that was his forehead to his nose, a hearty dash of patience for kids, a sprinkle of protectiveness, a healthy scoop of love of a warm shower and equal amounts addiction to the filet your dog dad would make for dinner. My loss manifested when the one who always followed me to bed, never walked too far ahead and never missed a Saturday Snooze suddenly up and left.
I’m not sure what the truth about loss is. I don’t know how long it lasts, if it gets better, easier, more forgettable, less painful, brighter, less numb, more open, lighter, less suffocating, more smiley, and less randomly cry-y. I know it’s made me question a million times over if I made the right decision at the right time. I know I’m not sure if you appreciated or hated the effort in the end and I can’t stop asking myself if you heard all of the things I was thanking you for in my head when I held you as you passed.
Truthfully, I only know things about MY loss. The truth is I’m not sure if I’ll ever find the place to put the perfectly tied bow to wrap up your story. But I think that’s fitting, because your life will live on in me because without you, I wouldn’t be 31 year-old me. As I told you for 11 years, “If there’s a life after this one, I promise I will find you there too,” because the truth about my loss is that my heart will always look for you and hanging on to that piece of hope is going to have to be the perfectly, tied bow.
Every year I get the Birthday Blues. It never fails. I know some people get so hype and litty every year when their birthdays roll around, but me I get the birthday blues. It’s a combination of anxiety and nervousness of having everyone LOOKING at me and engaging with me that gives me a dread that I can only describe as such, the ol’ Birthday Blues.
Over the years I think I narrowed the reason why birthdays get me down: a new year for me always marks looking back on the year before and constantly comparing myself to, myself. What did I do? What did I accomplish? Am I where I wanted to be? Did I achieve the goals I set out for myself last year? Normally, the answer is no or not quite. And every year, like clock work, I have to re-set those goals, re-evaluate why I didn’t get to where I wanted to be and come face to face with some failures–eesh even writing that sentence gave me anxiety… Then, just like I always do, I set some new goals, re-set some old ones and try to remind myself I’m not a complete waste of space for having to re-set the old ones I didn’t accomplish. A constant comparison with myself and everyone else who has ever turned my age before me. So yeah, I guess it’s safe to say I get the Birthday Blues.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love birthdays, my best friends’, my family members’, my partner’s-I love to celebrate them. Even preparing for mine is fun it’s just THAT day, the day of reckoning or celebration (as some may call it), the day of the party, the actual day when all the attention is on me, is overwhelming. But, this year I didn’t quite get the same feelings of dread. Maybe because I was too busy doing 1 million other things, but I didn’t feel that same “oh god I have to sit down and look at all my failures again,” feeling and for once the only thing that gave me anxiety was that I was going to be 31 and how I hoped that no one would make the restaurant staff sing to me at dinner this week…
I realized that all these years I’ve been constantly competing with myself. Every year I set the bar higher, do more, do better, be more efficient, work, volunteer, write, research, find my passion, pay off my debts, let go of the weights in my past, love harder, be kinder but remain steadfast. It’s like me and my goals are flying around in space rotating around the perfect “BGT” trying to get sucked into her gravitational pull to find some kind of order… So, naturally every year, I let myself down when I don’t achieve all of these crazy benchmarks, and me and my crazy goals are spiraling out of control in space, but not this year.
See this year, I realized I’m the Sun. Me, this BGT is the Sun, and I’m not waiting to join anyone’s imaginary gravitational pull, because it turns out, I am the pull. This year I am praising myself for every single accomplishment and failure and I’m equally proud of them all. I am happy to be in love with someone who only expects love in return. I am lucky to have dog that’s 11 but is confused for 5. I am privileged to have a family that loves and supports me despite my flaws. This year, I am walking into 31 leaving behind a past that I thought would have it’s grasp on me forever. I feel lighter than any goal weight I’ve ever set for myself. I found my voice and wasn’t embarrassed to share it with anyone and everyone who was willing (or not) to listen or read it. I am working everyday to find my passion and enjoying some laughs along the way. I am using new found time at home to write and research more and I’ve never felt more invigorated to work towards change of all kinds. Every day, I’m trying really, really hard to be kinder while maintaining my passion and steadfastness and hey I have a little less debt than last year too… I guess that’s what happens when you turn 31 and realize you are the Sun. 🙂
I go through these phases where I feel SUPER in control of myself, my emotions, my reactions, my surroundings etc and then phases when I feel completely powerless. The best way to describe it is like I’m trying scream or run in a dream–like where you’re screaming and running as fast as you can but you’re actually silent and standing still. As a woman I think it’s probably standard of us to feel like maybe our opinions, work, thoughts, etc. aren’t as important as our male counterparts. As a woman of color I think this is even more so the case–especially lately. It’s like we’re used to be brushed off, and not having our ideas validated until a dude repeats them as their own.
The latest political thing that gave me that familiar powerless feeling is this healthcare bill. Now if you’ve been watching the news and keeping up with the media, you’ve probably seen that there was this crazy photo going around that is basically a group of white dudes deciding whether or not prenatal healthcare (and other women’s healthcare issues) should have been covered in the first Health Care Bill to repeal and replace the ACA. It’s like you would never see a group of women deciding on a bill for men’s healthcare. Why? I don’t know probably because a group of women would want to consult men for issues that are of central importance to men and also we’re not animals. I think logic just tells you that you should maybe consult at least one woman when you’re making major decisions about women’s healthcare, right? That first one didn’t pass but it still freaked me out pretty good, mostly because I’m a human and also because I’m a human who can bare children and would like to someday. Even more so because I don’t think I should be punished for being biologically different which requires different/more healthcare than my male counter-parts. I heard the argument, “I don’t know about you but I’ve never needed prenatal care, why should we have to pay for it,” by a man, who was in Congress. I was pretty shocked considering he’s a human, a father, a husband and a representative of constituents in what is supposed to be the Greatest Country on Earth. Also I was concerned. Didn’t he have the same type of scientific education as me? He knows babies can only be made by us ladies, right? Without us there would be no babies, yes even boy babies. So maybe if you value life, which I think that’s why most Republicans don’t support abortion, you would want to support prenatal care and women’s healthcare in general? I don’t know, I guess that could be far-fetched, reasonable, logical, whatever…
A few weeks have passed since then and it seemed like they were going to leave the ACA alone and our vaginas and breasts (among other things) would be safe but throughout this last week they started talking about a new bill again. This one wouldn’t be so bad, it wouldn’t say pre-existing conditions aren’t covered, it would give states the option to have them covered (or not) AND it would allocate funding for the states to create high-risk pools, you know just in case they decided to exclude pre-existing conditions from insurance market place requirements. JUST IN CASE GUYS!
So yeah I read this and the normal shit starts to happen I start to have trouble sleeping, staying asleep, falling asleep once I’m woken up, I’m getting anxiety reading the news, watching the news, I have a sudden urgency to see my doctor to double check I am in fact healthy, debate getting an IUD, etc. Why am I so shook? Well here’s my pre-existing condition story. When I was 19 I had an abnomal pap smear, I had cells in my cervix which my gynecologist said weren’t cancer–yet; but, she wanted to get rid of them if they didn’t go away in 6 months. Fast forward 6 months, the cells are still there and I have to have those cells removed. It was a pretty simple procedure, my mom came with me for moral support and I was in and out in less than 45 minutes and about 30 days later I got hit with a bill for like 25k. I had insurance for the first time during this period–my entire life I was uninsured–but, because I was in college and my school required you to have health insurance so I got the cheapest plan they offered. I had never used insurance before and I was paying out of pocket. My insurance denied my claim for this procedure because they said it wasn’t medically necessary since I didn’t actually have cancer it was an elective, preventive procedure. I think they paid like $300 for the exam part and denied the rest. After a 6 month battle with my doctor’s office and me vs. my insurance company my doctor told me that she wrote off my bill because she was so pissed off at my insurer and the fact I as a 19 year old college kid that couldn’t afford to pay the bill. Shout out to doctor’s who give a fuck about their patients and take these sacrifices! Currently, I’m not on the regular check up plan as most people with vaginas because I have this pre-existing condition of abnormal cervical cells and the first time I got a full time job that offered healthcare I immediately called my insurer to make sure that my extra visits that are required by my doctor for this issue were covered. At that time pap smears were covered once every two years instead of once a year, presently it’s once every three I think. I have to get one every year and if it’s even the slightest bit off I have to get them every 3 months for 1 year until they’re normal for 1 year. It’s a lot of vaginas and a lot of speculums. I honestly cannot say with 100% certainty that if my insurance would have said “no those extra visits won’t be covered” that I would have followed through with my doctors course of care. I was barely making enough money to pay rent and eat at the same time, I would have probably rolled the dice. But, I didn’t have to. Thanks to the ACA that had passed a few years before it guaranteed that my new insurer would have to cover me even if this was pre-existing and even if I had to have 4 pap smears in a year. My insurer did in fact cover me because my doctor verified that it was medically necessary for me. After today’s vote, I am seriously concerned again. Will I find another insurer to take me? Will I be able to afford coverage? Will it be better to save a crazy amount of money just in case I get cervical cancer and have to undergo treatment because I’m going to be capped anyway? Should I just roll the dice? It’s like standing in the center of a million diverging roads all filled with varying degrees of quick sand traps, land mines, alligators, shark infested waters and ground covered in lava and if you make it past all of those obstacles your prize is that you live. You might be broke, jobless and uninsurable, but you live. Why is that a decision that I am forced to make about my healthcare? Healthcare and treatment, that let me remind you, is only an issue because biologically I am built differently. I feel powerless, I feel like instead of taking the risk and choosing a road my safest bet is to stand still right at the center because I’m too afraid to move.
I am not the worst effected though, I am probably OK. I have a good job that offers good insurance and that coverage likely won’t change. But I COULD be and there are millions of women and men (and any variation thereof) that WILL BE effected if this is passed. I could bury my head in the sand and say this isn’t my problem–because it probably won’t be–but I am so much better than that. I care about the fire, even when it’s not burning me. See I don’t just think of myself when I feel powerless. I think of my mom, who is over 50 and has to get mammograms. I think of my aunt who had her arm practically taken off in a freak, work accident and is now worried that this bill will make it so no insurer will have to take her because she has a pre-existing injury. I think of my dad who is “pre-diabetic” and has to check his sugar everyday and see a doctor every 6 months to make sure everything is normal. I think of the moms I know who were brave enough to address their postpartum depression and now their care and services will be limited if this bill passes the Senate. I think of the injured clients I represented who were in accidents, to no fault of their own, and who now have permanent injuries for which they will be labeled “too risky to insure.” I think of my significant other who lives with a chronic illness like the bad ass he is and now has to worry about his treatment not being covered or becoming too expensive. The most ridiculous part of all of this is that there is one thing in common here, these conditions aren’t through any fault of our own. I didn’t do anything to make myself have abnormal cells in my cervix. My mom didn’t decide to have mammary glands which increase her risk for breast cancer warranting mammograms. My SO didn’t ask to develop a chronic illness that no doctor can tell you who or why it picks who it picks.
But we are lucky. We have good health insurance, for now. We have good jobs, we don’t have to live pay check to pay check and if something happened we would probably be OK. But, there are so many people who won’t be who simply cannot be. They will be forced to make a decision between paying a bill or paying for their healthcare. There will be people who aren’t covered because through no fault of their own they are now a part of a pool where the cost-benefit analysis just doesn’t make sense to buy into coverage.
I guess the pre-existing issue is something most people have come to enjoy as a luxury since the ACA passed, but I’d just like to remind everyone that having healthcare isn’t a luxury and having healthcare that is affordable, accessible, quality and covers pre-existing conditions, isn’t a luxury–it’s a necessity because we are humans who get sick. It’s that simple. It’s the same reason we have to have car insurance, because we drive cars on streets and inevitably get into accidents. I mean it’s just logic…
I know, I’m liberal. I’m VERY liberal. I know people who are conservatives and VERY conservative. But one commonality we mostly share is that we still think humans are humans and they deserve to be treated with respect. This bill, is an embarrassment to its citizens and point blank disrespectful. I don’t know anyone who thinks that profits are worth this much more than people and think this bill is OK. I know that they exist though, I mean 217 of them voted for this bill after all.
I really don’t have anything positive to end this one and I know I haven’t even touched on all the pre-existing conditions that are potentially nixed. Women, men, transpeople, straight, gay, bisexual and those suffering from mental illness are all effected–I think anyone reading this falls into one of these groups. But I guess I can say this one thing. I have seen social media blow up with people talking about their disagreement and disgust regarding this bill. I have seen people post “I don’t normally talk about politics but…” instructions on how to call senators and representatives, and messages of unity. So that made me feel good. I saw some assholes too but I won’t spend too much time talking about them because they’re just that. It’s going to be a tough 4 years; so everyone, stay motivated, stay educated and keep resisting.