Last week CNN repeatedly aired video of a woman dragging her son through a drug store. The woman told the investigating police officers that the reason she couldn't pick up her pre-schooler and carry him was because she was too weak to do so. Apparently, she has the autoimmune disorder, lupus, a health issue, which had been further compounded by a bout of pneumonia. She was in the drugstore picking up prescriptions because she had no one to do it for her, and her son had refused to cooperate, insisting, as children often do, to be carried; rather than leave him alone in the car for ten minutes, which would have just as likely landed her in the same hot water, she took him into the store, and ended up dragging him by his back-pack strap. She now faces felony charges.
This woman is my hero, but not because she was dragging a child around on a tether, although I doubt if any honest parent could claim to have never harbored such a fantasy. She is my hero because she's fighting a battle every day, one in which the enemy is ever-present and invincible. One she also appears to be fighting alone. Being a parent today is hard enough, fighting a chronic disorder that is incurable makes it that much harder, but living in a society which fails to guarantee access to affordable medical care and prescription drugs has the ability to make a parent feel the deepest despair. And yet, so many of them keep on trying.
I find it disturbing that rather than ask this woman if she needed any assistance--and we now know that she absolutely did--some 'helpful' bystander instead flipped out a video-enabled cell phone and immediately went to work recording the 'crime' so they could 'helpfully' and immediately upload it to CNN and YouTube. What kind of world are we living in when those we share our stores, schools, and communities with find greater pleasure in humiliating one another than in offering help? For me, this incident not only underscores what millions of single, healthy mothers (and too many married ones) have to deal with in their day-to-day lives as they struggle alone to care for their families, because single parents have always been my heroes, but after last week have amended my position: chronically ill mothers are my new heroes.
It astonishes me that our country, which has placed its future ability to remain competitive in the global market on the shoulders of upcoming generations, insists parents and non-parents alike remember that the education, health, and welfare of all children is to be the express problem of the parent who gives birth. This, despite the fact that society expects to benefit from any well-raised, educated, physically and mentally healthy children. It now seems clear given the recent healthcare agenda and its attendant hostility during congressional hometown meetings that many Americans don't like the idea of contributing to a social structure in which children are treasured and valued and cared for, including the certainty of having parents healthy enough to care for them.
A parent's healthcare access has been historically considered, not the problem of society, but of the individual, a point I find illogical to the extreme, being particularly obtuse when you consider, for example, the woman in the news with lupus: It's through no fault of her own. If she stumbles or to the extent she 'fails' her child because of her medical issue--and her problem will be compounded by an inability to afford the necessary medical treatment or drugs--and the child fails to achieve his potential, it is our fault, not hers. Consider that it could just as easily be your sister, or mine, next month, or a wife, a best friend or daughter next year. We could all be that women through no fault of our own. Any of us could easily find ourselves compromised under the current system of medical delivery.
Autoimmune-related disorders, which include multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis affect approximately one in six Americans, and in many instances, as in the case of lupus, it predominately strikes women in their child-bearing years; of course not all of them are divorced, or without insurance, some may even have a milder form of the disease, but what is important to remember is how quickly healthcare costs have accelerated over the last decade, how much further out of reach they will become if we don't do something now, and how much more quickly a mild or controlled form of any chronic illness can accelerate into disability or death without proper treatment. These mothers and families aren't facing a one-time hit with an acute illness or accident, which is tragic enough, but a lifetime of expensive treatment including medical tests, specialists, and drug costs over decades for incurable disorders.
Why should we care? Because the true cost to society is incalculable. We are failing to consider the cost of not making certain that healthcare is guaranteed, and therefore guaranteeing a parent's ability to function and care for their children. It must be accessible to all families, all women, all children--even with proper medical care the battle to succeed can be overwhelming. It's hard to find a person who will admit out loud that they are against guaranteeing access to medical care for all children, but they don't want to help ensure it is paid for; and yet even that isn't enough if a parent is ill and unable to afford treatment. If a single parent loses access to medical care because they become critically or chronically ill, it profoundly affects her children's lives.
I would hope that as we all cash in on the government programs that are currently enabling many of us to pick at the Cash-Cow Carcass our government has become lately, that we consider extending a helping hand or giving back by enacting some form of gratitude by finding a way to help single parents who struggle with a chronic illness. If you don't know of any, ask around, they may be hard to find but that's because they have a hard enough time finding the energy and strength to retrieve their prescriptions from the drug store, to have the time and energy for picketing town hall meetings or organizing community action committees.
Causes Deborah Monahan Supports
American Autoimmune Related Disorders, American Myositis Association, The City of Hope, ASPCA