By now, most reasonable Americans are raging with anger over the new American Health Care Act passed by a pusillanimous House that will put health care our of reach for tens of thousands. In reality, even before this legislative fiasco, health and class in the US have been tragically linked. Even myself as a middle class Protestant pastor has not been exempt from the vagaries of the system.
Last year, through a series of bureaucratic errors and personal misunderstandings as I entered into the status of senior citizen, I had the misfortune of falling out of my system for awhile. Long enough ( a few months) to have to make a special appeal to be let back in despite over 40 years in the program. Thankfully, grace prevailed and I am now insured. Well, with two glaring exceptions.
Several years ago, I was diagnosed with depression and ADHD. I was lucky enough to get in to the premier ADD clinic in the US. Even with its ever rising fees, I stayed with them for my med psych needs with 50% reimbursement from my program as an “out of network provider.” But in my senior program, that is no longer possible so I have been off my meds for awhile.
Then for an issue that really enrages me, there is no more dental coverage offered, It is infuriating that in this country teeth are a class privilege. The wealthy have teeth. The rest, dentures if we are lucky. With a history of peril disease and tooth loss, I am aware of imminent problems that will for the first time be visible, and for me, humiliating. And I have no extra money, savings or credit.
So I Asked my friends. Some have plans, Some go to dental schools. Some go to the Philippines. Or Mexico, I go to Google in search of free clinics and come up with one not too far away in Harlem. Nevertheless, as the day and time approach, I am increasingly anxious. Is it wrong for me to go to clinic? An I taking someone’s place? That’s the altruistic side. The other side is less noble, as in will I be embarrassed to walk into a clinic? Ultimately necessity sends me on my way.
The clinic is at the Episcopal Church of St. Mary’s, long a beacon of hope in the Manhattanville section. A church where I have spoken, heard Hilary Clinton and met with mourning union members after 9-11. They have an interfaith urban food garden. And a full service clinic.
I walk in and my anxiety quickly disappears. It is bright and cheerful. Open with many round tables for consultations and conversations. The intake volunteers are welcoming and respectful of each person’s privacy and dignity, I discover that not only can I get my teeth looked at but get a psych eval as well.
After a short wait, I’m taken in by a team of two dental students and a supervisor. They take a close look and leave me with a sense of hope. My hope to avoid noticeable gaps is possible. And even affordable. Preserving most of the teeth I still have is also possible. Though I will need to go to a higher level facility for that work. They leave me with a list of affordable options near where I live. There’s more work ahead for me, but I do feel hope.
After a few more minutes waiting time, two attractive and warm young psychiatric medical students sit with me at a table and do a full psych eval. I’m amazed at how easy it is to talk with them. I can even smile sometimes talking about depression. My critical and philosophical thoughts about suicide. They ask if my faith helps me in those moments. And I describe how its more not wanting to hurt my family or burden then with having to clean up all the messes I’ve left. I’m aware of how anger ultimately overtakes the sadness. (Not sure what I’d feel if I was alone.) I remember my architect friend of years who leaped off the George Washington Bridge. And my love of how people get through struggles, The beauty and courage if that. Eventually I turn to humor. Here are surprisin tests like naming presidents. Or counting backwards by 7. They go off to consult with their supervisor. And return with my prescription. And an invitation to return. I am very satisfied.
I learn that while not an official program of Columbia University Medical School, all the volunteers and supervisors are from Columbia. They are all fresh and eager to help and make you feel good about this experience and they are the future cream of the crop of doctors and dentists.
I walk home feeling relieved. Happy that such a program exists, ready to recommend it to to friends who may need to recommend a member. Or even go themselves. Like me. And I am still enraged that my health has ultimately to depend ton the altruism of volunteers, not the obligation of the society I live in. We have a difficult road ahead of us.
For more info go to : http://chhmp.org/