Sunday, October 04, 2009

"You Are Protesting My Health, M'am!"

By Lisa Gillespie

I am reading on the subway as we pull up to L’Enfant Plaza in Washington DC, when a yellow-shirted, middle-aged, slightly over-weight woman with a sparkly home-made visor files in with her husband. She is holding a sign that says, “Hitler gave great speeches, too,” with a picture of Obama and a mustache. Her husband holds a sign comparing the proposed health care reform to socialism. She starts asking the woman next to her, an overweight woman in a similar visor and a wheelchair, where she is from. As I hear they are both from North Carolina, I cringe. They get excited. My home state is represented by the conservative protestors marching on the Capitol.

The woman looks at me, I imagine she sees a young woman, just out of college, white and blond hair, reading. She smiles warmly. I imagine being pulled into this woman’s bosom, just like one of my aunts would do after her niece arrives from the big city. But I cannot smile back at this woman. My mouth twists and my eyes narrow. How can she smile at me.

I do not have health insurance.

I work three part-time jobs.

I do not know when and if I will get a full-time job, which would provide the insurance so that I could go to the doctor.

Last week I had a toothache. It lasted for a week. I called my mother crying one night because of the pain, but, more because of worry caused by that pain. My mind was spinning with the thoughts of the potential decay, my gums and teeth would eventually rot out of my head. Usually, I just do not think about what if something were to happen to me. But I could not avoid it on this evening.

I know I am not alone.

I would like to be taken care of.

But, because I cannot find a full-time job, I am not.

There are logistics to health care, money involved. But the idea that giving care to people is protestable, it angers me. I am one of these people. And so many people at my part-time restaurant job. And so many people I interview.

I do not know if universal health care will go through; it is not within my frame of reference right now to think so, or to even hope so. Because I wake up every day with the hope that I do not get sick, because the small sickness might lead to something bigger. I know I would have resources. I could move home. My parents and the aunts with the bosoms would help. But some people do not have family.

I feel a little guilty for not smiling back at the lady on the train. But, I do not think she feels guilty. So I will try not to either.

Lisa Gillespie is interim editor of Street Sense, a newspaper about homelessness and poverty published in Washington, D.C. Proceeds from the sales of Street Sense support the homeless vendors who sell the paper on the streets. This piece ran in the September 18th issue of the paper. Donations to Street Sense are always welcome, go to


Anonymous said...

Such is the plight of so many young, well-educated people today. I am sick over it. My college graduate son has no health insurance at 25. He has not had any since graduating from college. He needs wisdom teeth removed. His barely more than minimum wage job with hours kept just under full-time to avoid having to provide health insurance doesn't cover "extras" such as dental care. He's too proud to accept money from his parents. I can only hope that there are enough parents and young people out there living this nightmare to make changes in our very sick health care system.

Claudia R said...

Dear Anonymous, your son's situation is all too common, and it is heartbreaking! Why is it that a nation as wealthy as ours cannot find resources to provide "medicare" for its young people, who are our future! Your son, and all our children, deserve this! Thank you for writing! Claudia Ricci, editor