“You aren’t going to Vegas.”
I’d been planning to attend a five-day communications conference this week, had for months anticipated being up in the air after so long. I’d been craving a short respite so that I could forget the tension and stress of the past three months, and to steady myself for the next eighteen.
I’m not a huge fan of the city itself, but being away for a few days was to be my solace, despite the work event. Of course the last trip I’d taken to Vegas was caused by sudden death, as my sisters and I converged on the city to bring my father back.
In my life, death has always been sudden. I’ve not endured long goodbyes with the people I love. They’ve been there and then they haven’t. I’ve wondered for many years whether that’s been a blessing.
For the most part, I’m a healthy middle-aged man. I don’t smoke or drink, I don’t abuse drugs. I eat relatively okay and my weight, despite my complaints, is in what the American Medical Association considers a healthy range. Despite how little I exercise, I am not a collection of maladies.
I track my health statistics, obsessively. Sleep hours, weight trends, calories consumed, macro nutrient breakdown, steps taken; my god the steps each day like a report card you just know will be poor. I tell myself it’s to help guide daily choices, but the reality is that it’s motivation to always be better.
And I take lots of tests. All the time. Blood tests, DNA tests, gut biome tests, all to figure out where the booby traps might be as I move from one age bracket to another.
I’ve told people that I want to live forever; that despite how messed up the world can seem sometimes, the point was to live long enough to see humanity reach its potential, to see it better than it was when we were young. All the tests and data and statistics are there to help me do that, to help me avoid a sudden end to the journey.
So to see the blood work results last week, to see that my organ function had dropped by 40% since the previous test six months ago was, put mildly, alarming. That even by the most generous of standards, it was functioning as if I were seventy years old. It was heart stopping.
“We’re going to have to run some tests, get some scans,” my doctor had said last Friday.
“But I’m supposed to leave first thing Monday morning. I have a conference in Las Vegas.”
“Yeah. You aren’t going to Vegas.”
I wish I could understand when helping others became such a controversial thing.
If you know anything about me you know that I’m a pessimist in the short run and an optimist in the long. It keeps me focused on doing what must be done now, today, tomorrow. It drives me to make things better, always.
So after I got through the initial shock, sitting in my car at the hospital, when I was through thinking about all the worst case scenarios, I realized how privileged I am. That I don’t have to choose whether I can or should get the tests and scans and specialist referrals my doctor had ordered. That I don’t have to choose between saving my life and not.
I’m fortunate to have health insurance at all, fortunate that I have a job that pays $600 a month on my behalf for it; fortunate to have lived my whole life in a state where — if you work 20 hours a week for 4 consecutive weeks — you’re guaranteed coverage provided by your employer. Fortunate that I can ignore the thousands of dollars in costs to come.
Many are not so lucky.
As I lay there on the scanning bed yesterday, my body bisected by a massive, spinning marvel of high tech, as my insides were bombarded by invisible energy to create a picture of what ails me, the sum of all my fears started to rise. It was taking too long. The technicians, both of whom had been joking relentlessly with me when I’d first arrived, were silent.
It was ludicrous of me to be so scared, I thought. Even if the news was bad, I’d have the tools to fight. That I was in that machine at all was proof of that.
Whatever fears I might have about the results paled in comparison to the fear that those who can’t afford insurance, who can’t afford to go to the doctor when they’re sick or injured, must face every day. My fear of being alone inside the scanner was insignificant next to the absolute fear of those who are sick and have absolutely no way to learn with certainty what’s wrong, who would trade my fear for theirs in a heartbeat.
Then there are those who have insurance but are now sitting in fear that whatever semblance of security they have will be stripped away in some pathetic Washington power play to overturn Obamacare. Millions who aren’t risky with their health but who, like me, could suddenly find themselves needing the comfort and the security their insurance provides. Millions now fearful that their lives are in jeopardy because of America’s tribal politics.
A good friend recently said to me that it’s possible to love those who support politicians that do horrible things. I understand where he’s coming from; love the sinner, hate the sin sort of thing, I guess.
But it baffles me that threatening to take away health insurance, the very thing that may save my life and millions of others, is a blood sport and a game to some people. That because you hate Democrats or hate Obama or hate ‘socialism’ or just simply because you hate, that it’s okay to play with people’s life and death.
I wish someone could explain it to me so that my blood doesn’t boil. I wish I could understand this casual cruelty towards others that seems to be so acceptable. I wish I could understand when helping others became such a controversial thing.
I wish that the fears I’m facing are the worst that anybody would ever have to endure. I wish people wouldn’t have to choose between life and death. I wish that maybe I’d done more to make that so.
No matter the results, I realize that despite only experiencing half of it, I’ve lived a full life. This second act has been a good one, a redemption arc of Universal design to balance out my karma. I’ve made some films that have provided light amid the darkness. I’ve worked to improve the health of our communities and have advocated for those who have less. I finally finished a novel.
I’ve tried to be a giving, reliable friend, and a loving partner.
And I’ve helped raise three kids, hopefully instilling in them a sense of what it means to be kinder and gentler in the world, showing them by example that when we keep our heads clear and our hearts true, we can always make this a better world.
Perhaps that’s how I get to live forever, after all.