Every Father’s Day for the past 11 years, without fail, I think back to the morning I found out my dad had cancer. It was February 13th, 2005, my oldest brother’s birthday. I was getting dressed for school, and my mom called me into my parents' bedroom. My dad sat slumped on his side of the bed. “I have lung cancer.”
A few months prior, my dad came home from a business trip complaining of pain in his calf. A trip to the doctor found the cause to be blood clots from constantly sitting on planes and other tight spaces for work, a lack of exercise, and - most importantly - a decades-long smoking habit.
Most of my childhood was spent with my brothers playing a fantastically original game called “Hide Daddy’s Cigs.” We’d stuff his cigarettes in cereal boxes and behind things we knew he'd never touch, like frozen spinach in our freezer. Once I hid his car keys so he wouldn’t drive to the store and buy some more, but that only became an incentive for him to exercise, eventually walking to Quik Trip to re-up. Yet despite my familiarity with this strange addiction, the cancer news rocked me. When my senses returned, I only had one question. “So what happens now?”
The next several months saw a flurry of consultations with healthcare professionals and cancer specialists. More and more questions sprouted from our lips, in the worst version of Jeopardy ever.
“How much time do we have?”
“Should he get chemotherapy, radiation, or both?”
And most importantly, “Is this covered by insurance?”
Fortunately, my parents’ employers agreed to keep providing insurance despite the fact my dad could no longer work. We didn’t have to worry about the $10k a pop chemo sessions and the even more costly radiation. And when my father decided he couldn’t take the strain of either treatment - basically announcing he was ready to die - insurance covered the hospice care that would make whatever time he had left comfortable.
A year to the day after I learned of his illness, he passed. My mother and I got the call from the hospice center around 4 am. I’d fallen asleep the night before in her bed; we’d stayed up late talking about throwing him a surprise Valentine’s Day party a day early. I learned very quickly that if you have something to say to the person you love, it’s OK if it’s not on schedule.
At the hospice center, the staff still hadn’t moved my father’s body. In the hospital-style bed, it looked like he was sleeping. The TV in his room was on to SportsCenter. ESPN and Food Network was all he watched at that point; ESPN to imagine how he could never move again and Food Network to fantasize about what he no longer had the appetite to eat. As the late Stuart Scott ran down the top ten plays, I sat in the visitor’s chair beside the bed while my mom called the crematorium. My dad had always been wary of Jesus and his ability to resurrect us in the great reckoning and didn't like the idea of maggots digging through his rotting corpse. That was his decision for the end of his life. He had a choice.
No matter how sad his death made me - still makes me - I’m thankful that he had control over his healthcare and the end of his life. It is a choice many Americans will be denied if the GOP-crafted American Health Care Act (AHCA) passes the Senate. Republicans have billed the AHCA as an answer to the high-costs of ACA/Obamacare for those in the upper tax brackets and the regular schmegular degular middle class. They claim that the AHCA allows for more freedom in choosing insurance plans.
Yet with all of their attempts to brand this new law as the best thing for America, they’ve yet to release the full bill for anyone to read and have public debates on its contents. Instead, they meet in secret, drafting this mysterious piece of legislation until they believe they have enough votes to rush through a passing. President Trump, the bill's biggest champion, will no doubt sign it into law, and there's probably not enough votes to veto it. Although it's not clear whether Trump will be impeached for obstruction of justice before the AHCA becomes law, it is clear to me, as it should be to everyone else, that they do this because they know the truth. Many Americans currently eligible for insurance under Obamacare will lose coverage. Those who receive employer-sponsored insurance, folks like my parents, may also be negatively impacted. People will get sick. People will die. And they want to keep blood off their hands when the executioner’s axe drops on millions of Americans.
Generally, I loathe going to doomsday comparisons for things, especially things as imperfect as Obamacare. Yet even though I wish it’d been a universal, single-payer program, I cannot deny how much this bill allowed many Americans to get general care, finally get the life-saving surgery they’d been putting off. Or simply ending their lives with the peace and dignity my father was allowed to have. Americans should not have to choose between sickness and death because it isn’t really a choice at all. It is a resignation that freedom is a myth.
But I am not resigned, and you shouldn't be either. Call, e-mail, or send a pigeon messenger to your representatives.