It’s hard to imagine the courage it takes to tell a personal story like this. Chelle deserves a great deal of credit. She also deserves affordable access to health insurance. So do 78,000 Idahoans who, like Chelle, fall in the coverage gap, a gap created by conservatives in the Idaho Legislature.
I woke this morning with half my face swollen and throbbing–another bad tooth.
I sat in the bathroom with an icepack pressed to my face and bawled. Not because of the pain but because of sheer frustration. I knew the tooth was going. I’d even managed to set aside $150 for the dentist over the last six months but it was far from the $650 the dentist needs for the root canal and crown.
Once again, I’d lose a body part to poverty.
It had only been a month since I’d lost the use of my little toe, on my right foot. I’d stubbed the hell out of it on my piano bench and though that toe had been broken before the pain was so intense I’d thought it best to get it x-rayed. The x-ray showed a mess of splintered, fragmented bones and the tendons torn away from their anchor points.
The doctor referred me to an orthopedic surgeon who reviewed my x-rays and said, “It’s a real mess in there. I’d like to schedule you for surgery.”
He continued on telling me how the bones pieces would need to be removed from my toe and a rod would be their replacement. He warned me that taking no action would result in the toes becoming increasingly painful and arthritic.
“Can I schedule you for next week?” he asked earnestly.
“Ummm…doctor how much will this cost?”
“Not much, about five thousand dollars. I have openings in the surgical schedule for next Thursday….” He sat there looking at me waiting for my consent. The paper cover I sat on crinkled loudly in the silence.
I dropped my head and said, “I cannot afford that. I have no medical insurance. And that is more than I paid for my truck.
“Oh,” replied. “In that case I wouldn’t worry about it too much. The circulation is good. It will never work again but there is no danger of infection.”
He shook my hand and left the room.
I hobbled back out to my truck and cried for an hour. The loss of a toe, in the grand scheme of things, isn’t that awful. I could still walk and hike for now.…but someday soon it was going to start hurting and it would never stop; constant and continuous pain.
I’d had enough pain already to last me a lifetime.
Over the years, I’ve lost about ten teeth, a finger, and a few toes to poverty. I try to rationalize—it’s not that bad, it is just one tiny body part.
But–it is that bad. These are only the injuries that people can see.
A lifetime of stress induced by poverty has stooped my back, given me a nervous stomach that makes me throw up when my stress is too high and induces days of stomach churning diarrhea, and causes migraines so bad that sometimes I am confined to a bed for a whole day, often much longer. I lost my uterus in the same manner I lost my toe—years of battling scar tissue and severe pain resulted in a doctor telling me it would be far cheaper in the long run to remove these “parts.”
What choice does a person with no resources have?
These are the injuries others don’t see. They don’t see the hopelessness I feel. They don’t see the what-if fear that resides constantly in my heart. They don’t’ see my anger—why doesn’t my body have any value to society? They don’t see my self-worth plummeting with the loss of each little part—why doesn’t anyone care? These are the injuries that stack up and make it even harder for me to escape poverty.
Someday, I’ll have no more body parts left to lose.
Living in poverty is a slow death sentence.
I wash the tears from my face with cold water, brush my hair, and paste a half-assed smile on my swollen face. It’s time for work.