The Carpet Bagger's Journal — moving from NYC to Mississippi

March 19, 2011

Health Care Is a Right in Mississippi — why the Affordable Care Act Matters Around Here

When I was an activist with ACT UP in New York, we would often chant, “Health care is a right!” while picketing government official‘s fundraisers who refused to help men and women dying of AIDS or even acknowledge them with a comment more civilized than “good riddance.”  The thought that health care might indeed be a government-acknowledged right, not just a universal necessity, was relatively new in American discourse.

However, a year ago this week, I watched the congressional roll call on CSPAN on the vote for The Affordable Care Act, sometimes called pejoratively Obamacare, as if “care” were somehow a dirty word, and I remembered my dozens of friends who died from AIDS in the 1980s, sweet, young  gay men who might have been by now honest bankers, elected officials, scientists on the way  to important discoveries, and tenured faculty members.  I cried imagining how different their lives would have been if only there had been such a bill in place for them when they were in crisis.

But this isn’t New York — this is Mississippi, where I live now.  ACT UP is a distant memory.  The people around here, not activists, not fabulous urban gay men in the big Northeastern Cities, but ordinary working folks with families — they are the ones who are being told by the new Republican congress that the Affordable Healthcare Act is unnecessary, an invasion of their privacy and a stripping of their freedoms.  Can this be so?

Not according to a Mississippian named Kelly, who was kind enough to show me a  photo of her lovely family and  to allow me to tell a bit of their story in relation to this wonderful piece of landmark legislation.  Let me share with you Kelly’s family photograph right here  — a shout out to the Jacobs family, who are — Chase, Graham, Paul, the one the folks lovingly call “Mamasita,” Jennifer, and  Kelly herself :

The Jacobs family needs the Affordable Care Act passed by congress last year -- don't we all?

This typical, American heartland, apple pie family has benefited, Kelly tells me, from the Affordable Care Act in the following ways:

  • First, Paul, the fifty-something guy in the beige hat and sun glasses wearing a pretty hip t-shirt for a guy his age — he works full-time and has insurance, but he suffers from Lupus, which if untreated might end his life.  The so-called Obamacare has made him able to stay active and working because he has not had the Lupus called a “pre-existing condition” by an insurance company, and as such, he can afford medication and doctor’s visits that might otherwise be out of reach.
  • The despised Obamacare has also allowed him to have the kind of humane security we all need — to know that if we ever need to or want to leave a job, we can take our insurance with us or find other insurance in a manner that we can afford, even if we have suffered in that job change a drop in income.  This goes for Jenny and Kelly, too, of course.
  • Mamista, the lady next to Paul who looks beamingly proud of her tribe, holding the family kitty cat, she is still covered under her Medicare benefits — despite the rumors to the contrary fueled by insurance company activists, who see this law as a loss in profits, nothing at all has been taken away from her, and she has the peace of mind of knowing that these people who are literally surrounding her in love, her support group through her golden years, won’t have to give up their own health to take care of her in years to come.
  • Chase and Graham, both college students at the top of the photo, looking young and rowdy — their momma doesn’t have to worry — they can be covered on her insurance because the Affordable Care Act makes it so they can stay on her insurance until they are 26 , whether or not they are in school.  That means that the Jacobs family, which is doubtless making significant sacrifices to have two sons in college right now — Kelly didn’t tell me this, but that’s surely only because people from down here in Mississippi are a whole lot less whiny than they are in Brooklyn where I used to whine — they can better afford to pay tuition and college-related expenses and don’t have to worry about Chase breaking his arm on the hockey team (honestly, I don’t know if Chase plays hockey) or Graham slipping on an icy stairwell and hurting his knee because GOD FORBID these things should happen, they can see a doctor and get treated as needed.
  • Jenny is able to know that she can work freelance if she wants to and still buy into a community pool insurance, a whole lot cheaper than trying to buy insurance as an individual in the pre-ACA days, where a woman of childbearing years might as well have tried to insure a luxury yacht moored in pirate-infested waters near Somalia as buy herself some regular, don’t-make-me-lose-my-home-and-car-if-I-need-an-MRI health insurance.

Many people on the Left were hoping for a single-payer plan in the mix  of Obamacare — I know I was.  Many people on the Right have not fully absorbed the idea that — chant it with me — health care is a right, health care is a right — but ALL of us benefit from a healthy America, one where people don’ t go to the emergency room with a stroke because they didn’t have insurance to afford, say, cholesterol drugs.  We were the only developed country on the planet that had no particular governmental plan to handle this universal need, and now we do.

It is an important part of our evolution as a nation that Americans can get treated for ailments without losing the family farm now, and we have the Obama administration and the Democrats in Congress (like my rep, who is just fabulous, The Hon. Bennie Thompson, D-MS) to thank for it.

I remember my friends who died of AIDS fighting for an evolution in our thinking about healthcare with a particular wistfulness this week, but I am glad that the law that has come about does not just benefit an urban gay male population — rather it is for every one of us, whoever we are, whether we would have picketed as I did or not.

Chant it again, and call your Senators and remind them — health care is a right, health care is a right.

October 22, 2010

The Dental War of Northern Aggression

My smile is a Yankee/Confederate battleground

The first shot was fired by the South — I’m not talking about Fort Sumter; I’m talking about my mouth.  Normally, I’m the one that shoots my own mouth off, but I specifically blame the South for firing the first shot in what has become a dental battle, perhaps the first dental battle between the states.  However, as this blog entry will attest, it was a war of Northern Aggression from that point onward.

My tooth fell out when I was chewing on something fried.  I refuse to blame a history of poor dental hygiene for my tooth’s demise.  I blame the hash browns and the mysterious atmosphere that makes people have buck teeth or gap teeth in hick towns in the American heartland.

It didn’t happen at Waffle House, but it might have — Kathy Griffin called Waffle House a “tooth-optional restaurant” in one of her stand-up routines.  I love Waffle House, and I must say, one does see a few grins with gaps in them there.

My friend, Lauretta Hannon, author of The Cracker Queen told me, “The initiation is complete: you are now officially a Cracker Queen.”

What is it about the gravitational pull below the Mason-Dixon Line that makes women’s teeth fall out with more frequency?  Why was the Earth demanding I return my teeth to her?  Won’t my bones be powdered in a grave some day?  Can’t the Earth wait until then?

I found my way to Dr. Steve Wooten, DDS, of Oxford Mississippi.  His website included a variety of scary grimace “before” pictures and movie-star smile “after” pictures, and nothing about him in his photo looked truly menacing, even if I squinted and imagined him armed with a tiny pick and a mirrored rod.  Although, because of the photo’s background — a bunch of trees, I wondered if Mississippi dental work was generally performed outside:

He looks harmless, but look at the photo background -- is his dental practice outside?

Dr. Wooten and his staff — Sam, a very pretty receptionist with a sweet, high voice, and Valerie, his dental hygienist, who is also quite sweet and gracious, in fact, work indoors, not outdoors, in a brightly lit office not far from the University of Missisippi.  Everyone there is sweet as pie, except that pie might cause cavities, which they, of course, try to prevent.   Dr. Wooten managed to successfully reattach my tooth to itself using a technique rather more sophisticated than the one that I used in second grade when I glued macaroni bits onto a piece of construction paper.  I would recommend him and his practice to anyone.

Even though I am a big scaredy cat when it comes to dentistry — I’m always afraid of getting hurt, and I’m like my dog Oscar, who never likes it when somebody sticks a finger in his mouth that he can’t bite on with impunity — Sam, Valerie, and Dr. Wooten were kind, gentle, patient, and many of the other things that it says to do in 1 Corinthians 13 when someone has a dental appointment.

Very reasonably, as Dr. Wooten is, in fact, a reasonable man, he wanted to see my old X-rays, which were taken in a dental practice in Brooklyn.

The people there, as I did indeed remember, were nowhere as sweet as Valerie and Sam.  If I imagine Valerie and Sam wearing other clothes than scrubs, I imagine them wearing dresses, headed off to church with family members.  The receptionist and the hygienist of my Brooklyn dental office, if I imagine them out of scrubs, they were more like a pair of tag-team wrestlers — “Lady Destruction” and “The Scowler,” perhaps, wearing studded masks.

I remember fear walking into the office of my dentist in Brooklyn.  She herself was nice enough, but perhaps I found her more so in contrast to her support staff, who poked me with sharp tools and told me to bite down on things that cut my gums while I wore a lead apron.  I remember drooling and bleeding, but other details are foggy.

Sam, back in Mississippi, who does not look like she makes anybody bleed, very appropriately called my dental office in Brooklyn, where she said to me, very politely and respectfully about my homeland, that she just “wasn’t quite sure” she had understood them or that they could understand her Southern drawl.

In the end, they told her they weren’t going to send my x-rays and slammed the phone down on her.  The Scowler could hear, surely, the meekness and deference in Sam’s voice, and in Brooklyn, nobody gets my x-rays, apparently, unless they are willing to attempt several holds in the ring.  If the Scowler slaps the mat, then another office can see my bicuspids from the inside out.

Everything, in fact, in Brooklyn, is more like tag-team wrestling than it is here.  People and their stuff get shuffled around, and while many people are lovely in Brooklyn, they rarely feel they have the time to acknowledge the humanity of a stranger or stop to smell the roses.  Smelling the coffee is more like it, and the stronger the better, because the pace is break-neck.  “The break-neck,” as I recall, was one of the holds my Brooklyn dentist used on me to get to my back molars.

Dr. Wooten looked at my current X-rays, the ones he took.  He pointed on the screen in his office to a back molar of mine and shook his head.  I asked him if I had been the victim of dimestore dentistry.  He told me that he could think of a word to call what he saw, but he didn’t know me well enough to say it to me, not to mention I’m a lady, and not Lady Destruction, either.

Was I the victim of dental abuse?

The good news:  I know the boss of Lady Destruction and The Scowler, and because they fear the wrath of upper management, I’m sure Dr. Wooten will get to look at my teeth from back in the day, for what it’s worth to him.

The bad news: Clearly, The War Between the States is still ongoing.  The University of Mississippi ordered a giant telescope from up North right before hostilities broke out, and so it was never delivered, and they have an observatory without a tool for observation to this day on campus.  Down the street, my new dentist, Dr. Wooten, is waiting for delivery of diagnostic imaging — and today, no train car is required, only a digital image and an e-mail click, and yet I sit here, mouth agape, not drooling, but ready to spit.

 

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