I have nothing to say that is truly politically charged. Instead, I offer these two anecdotes.
In 1978, I was a 13 year old going to school in Scotland, my mother’s country. During my time overseas, I became ill with the second of what would ultimately become yearly bouts of laryngitis. My mother, then a British citizen, was not concerned about doctor’s bills, even though I was an American? Why? Because in Britain, when you’re on the islands, you get healthcare. Automatically. For free. Regardless of who you are.
I remember walking up the hills toward the doctors office, sicker than a dog, grateful for the medicine that I knew would make me better. I stayed home for two days and then went back to school.
I’m sure that the young backpacker I saw hit by a car in 2004 felt exactly the same as I did, except more so.
Right now, in 2013, in Iowa, I have a student from China who has been sick since September 3rd. He conscientiously called me during the first week he was off, and then he came back to school and bumbled through his routine, obviously still chalky and under energy.
“Have you been to the doctor?” I asked.
“No, I think I’m getting better.”
“I think you need to go. You look pretty bad. You have insurance. I know all overseas students have to get it. You should go.”
“I don’t think I can afford it. I’ll rest.”
And then he was gone another week, and he came back yesterday, worse. Chalky, pale. I made him talk to the International Adviser, who ordered him to the doctor. He got on the bus, fell asleep, and missed his stop. Then, he came to see me the next day to talk about his classes.
“What about the doctor?” I asked. “Have you gone?”
He told me the bus story. I told him that he had to go. That he could have serious infection, or that he might have mono by now, or something else besides the cold could be going on. He agreed.
Today he was in my class, sleeping on and off. I told him I would take him to the doctor myself on Monday if he didn’t go soon. He promised me he would go today.
I don’t know if it’s money that’s influencing this kid’s decision entirely, but I know initially he was concerned about it.
I wonder why we continue to think that healthcare should only happen for a privileged few, and I’m embarrassed that I was treated so well as a guest in another country, and we can’t return the favor to travelers in my own.