Rants and realizations

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It took some newly discovered other mothers to get me past the apoplexy of a news story while I still should have been basking in the glow of the holidays. The journal Science published a Harvard study about the effect of expanded Medicaid benefits on the frequency of emergency room visits among a select group of Portlandians.

My ears perked up at the mention of Portland – we’d just visited for my grandmother’s 90th birthday. But quickly those ears began to burn. The report was sloppily characterized to condemn “Obamacare” as a failure because the study subjects visited emergency rooms more frequently once they had access to Medicaid coverage than before they did. The tone of the story was one of condemnation and “we told you so” – as though these lower-income people were at once greedy, ignorant and hypocritical.

I say my ears burned, because those of you who’ve read “The Other Mother: a rememoir” now know, I was raised in trailer-park economic conditions in the backwoods of Oregon. My parents were “guilty” of relying on emergency rooms whenever my sister and I got hurt or sick and for their own, irregular health care. I never had a family doctor or preventative anything, and it wasn’t because my parents were lazy or on welfare. They both worked outside the home – my father left the house at 4am and didn’t return until after dark from his low-paying, unregulated, unsafe job as a truck driver.

Which is why my parents relied on emergency rooms. Ear infections, epileptic seizures, heart murmurs, strep throat, dislocated thumbs… off we went to the nearest hospital. There were no doctor’s offices open when my parents could take us – even had my father been able to afford insurance. Neither of my parents’ jobs offered paid sick leave so if they had to stay home because of an illness we were short that month on rent or groceries.

So to hear the Harvard researchers blithely attribute the results of the Portland study to “limited education” about what constitutes emergencies made me dash off an emotional post on Facebook. It wasn’t fair to knock Medicaid and give lousy employers a pass. I know of no poor person who wouldn’t rather sit in a nice comfortable doctor’s office watching cable cooking shows and thumbing through Oprah magazine than wait, sometimes for hours, in an understaffed ER.

Here’s where my newly discovered Other Mothers came in.  It turns out Byrne Miller isn’t the only woman with patience, understanding and a different world view to share. Even though they (mostly) agreed with me, these women (and a few men) gently prodded me to dig deeper into all sides of this issue that had become so emotional.

One book-loving Other Mother is an artist who holds out hope that as Obamacare rolls out, other health care providers will figure out how to make non-critical care more accessible.

“The future holds opportunities for a new type of healthcare industry utilizing technology, and career opportunities for yet to be named professions. There will be those smart enough to capitalize on this, routine tests, immunizations, and treatment for simple accidents etc., will be done in shopping malls, convenience centers etc.”

But another Other Mother is a nurse, and she warned of an impending shortage of well-trained health care providers.

“Healthcare insurance availability is but one aspect of “the system,” and increasing those able to afford/obtain insurance is a plus. However, issues of “enough” medical personnel and systems designed to be truly “patient-centered,” are huge. … MD’s, Nurse Practitioners, Pharm.D, are, and will remain, “critical” to providing comprehensive care as they are prepared to assess the “big picture,” rather than just ” give the shot.”

I realized that my initial reaction was mightily influenced by my own life experiences.  Valuable as those are, I needed a reminder of how important the insights of Other Mothers are – we are never too old to see a different point of view, especially when its shared by someone who really “gets” us.  And we are never too young to pay it forward and become the other mother someone else will need and cherish. 

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