January 15, 2017 0 Comments Personal

My Father Died Because He Didn’t Have Insurance

My father was my everything.  He was my mother, my father, my best friend.  While we grew closer after my Mom and brother both died in 1992, from the very beginning I was a Daddy’s girl.  My earliest memories are of us on adventures together – fishing, camping, him teaching me about the world.  Few days would go by as a kid that I don’t remember my Dad pointing out some kind of plant and explaining to me what it was and all about its purpose.  While my brother would run away from most things in nature, I would be the one found picking up crabs, holding opossums and petting porcupines under my Dad’s watchful eye (yes, you can pet them if they aren’t scared).

In the summer of 2005 my Dad starting getting a few strange symptoms.  Nothing major but also things that niggle at you and, if you were insured, something you would have probably sought treatment at a doctor’s office for.  However, my Dad was an electrician and his union had some really goofy rules and he wasn’t eligible for the insurance because he hadn’t worked enough hours that year due to layoffs to qualify for their insurance.  He scoffed it off and just hoped things would get better.  The sore throat was probably just sinus drainage after all and the aches and pains were just age.

By the spring of 2006 his symptoms had come and gone but whenever they returned they were much, much worse.  However, this coincided with my future niece coming to the house while having strep throat so again, my Dad wrote it off and just hoped it wasn’t strep and didn’t get worse.  By late May he was sweating when he ate and sleeping more and I finally told him he HAD to see a doctor.

It’s easier said than done though – turns out most doctors won’t even see you if you don’t have insurance.  Eventually I called my doctor and begged him to take my father.  He agreed and we went the next day.  However, the news was not good.  I was brought back and Dr. Davis looked at me and said that my Dad asked him to tell me because he couldn’t.  My Dad had cancer, it was likely terminal and he didn’t have long to live.  He had a tumor in his throat about the size of a grapefruit and it was likely to only grow in size cutting off his airway and killing him.

Needless to say, I teared up even though I KNEW it wasn’t good and he let us have a moment.  Dad couldn’t stop apologizing and kept saying that he knew it wasn’t good but he didn’t think it was that bad.  He kept saying he wished he’d had insurance so he had gone sooner.  It was too far gone for treatment at that point but even IF we wanted to, we were told that now my Dad couldn’t likely get insurance due to the cancer now being pre-existing.  Even though he had money, as many know, treatment for cancer doesn’t come cheap and it’s unlikely he’d have been able to even afford the scans to get to treatment.

My doctor took pity on us and called in some favors.  We were able to see an ear, nose and throat specialist for the office fee only who ordered scans and tests of my Dad.  Those scans were written off.  They confirmed what we knew – he had tonsillar cancer (primary) which had spread to his brain, liver and lungs.  From there he was admitted into hospice (again, for free as a favor) where he was able to get weekly visits from a nurse and pain medication to see him through the rest of his life.

If it wasn’t for my wonderful doctor, none of the very little that was able to be done for my Dad would have happened because he was without insurance.

My father died 2 months after diagnosis.  We were told had it been caught in the early “sore throat” phase he would have likely lived.  They remove the tonsil/s that are infected and if it had progressed a round of chemo.  Even if he’d caught it a month or two earlier, he still may have lived.  Instead the fear of costs he couldn’t afford and the lack of healthcare options for the uninsured left him home and hoping it was just a cold.

I plead and beg of anyone reading to take a moment and think of the amazing man I lost due to the lack of healthcare before the ACA.  This is currently a thing of the past and I’ve read hundreds of stories online about people who were able to live because of the ACA.  It may not be perfect but it’s saving LIVES and that, my friends, is a big deal that shouldn’t be tossed to the wayside just because it needs improved.