Note: I am posting this here and in my other blog, Letters from the Left, because I am so appalled at the reactions to my son's story by the people attending the Mitt Romney event in Asheville yesterday.
I couldn't stay away from the Civic Center yesterday. Mitt Romney was coming to speak and I had to be there to counter his "the emergency room works fine" lie.
See, Mitt believes people can get the care they need at the emergency room and that they won't get a bill.
Wrong and wrong, Mitt.
My son's story is proof.
Mike was born with a birth defect that left him vulnerable to colon cancer -- a pre-existing condition. Since no company would sell him health insurance at any price, he was left to fend for himself. It wasn't a matter of wrong choices as those on the Right would like to believe; it was a matter of no choices for him.
He tried the emergency room four times. But they don't have to find the cause of your problems, they only have to address the symptoms, in Mike's case, pain and constipation. So Mike was sent home with the wrong medications and a bill four times. By the time anyone was willing to do anything for him, the cancer had spread and it was too late to save his life.
People need to know Mitt Romney is wrong, especially since he's been repeating the emergency room lie a lot lately.
So, I stood with other protesters across from the line of people waiting to get in. One man jeeringly asked me what emergency room had turned my son away, so I told him. It was Memorial Health Center in Savannah, Ga. He sneered at me and turned away, so I went closer to the line. A police officer started to step in front of me and I told him I had no plans to cause trouble.
"Excuse me," I said to the man. "I see you have a son. You need to know that the emergency room only has to stabilize someone. It's not a solution."
He sneered at me again and turned away.
"I do what I do so your child won't die the way mine did," I said as he walked away.
One woman read my sign and looked me in the eye.
"Do you have children?" I asked.
"I do," she said. "But I take care of them."
Does she really think my son died because I failed to take care of him? I wanted to tell her how desperately I tried to get help for him and how deep into debt I went doing it. I wanted to tell her how much I loved him and how pissed off I was when his heart stopped and mine didn't. I wanted to tell her how I still cry almost every day because my heart is still so shattered.
But I just stood there, shocked at her answer, as she walked away.
Several people laughed at me. They looked at my sign and laughed. I asked a few of them why they would laugh.
"What about this is funny?" I asked. But they walked away.
A reporter asked me how I felt as he watched it happen.
"It comes from fear, I think," I said.
Very few of the people in line yesterday are more than six months away from poverty. What if they lost their jobs and could only find part-time work that didn't have health benefits? Then what would happen if they got sick? If it's true that the emergency room isn't the solution, then what happens to them?
So, as a self-defense mechanism, they have to believe it can only happen to people who make "wrong choices." Looking at my son's photo and hearing his story bursts that bubble unless you dismiss it with a nervous laugh and walk away.
Then there was the woman who caused me to lose my cool.
"You need to read your Bible," she hollered, pointing at me.
"I do read it," I said.
"You're a liar!" she jeered.
"Who would Jesus deny?" I yelled back. The police officer in front of me stepped away as though he was hoping I'd slap her miserable face.
"Do you think God let him die because I didn't pray enough?" I yelled. "Tell me! Who would Jesus deny?"
I took a deep breath and stepped back in among the protesters, ashamed that I had allowed someone to get to me like that.
Getting angry at mean, spiteful, self-righteous, ignorant people doesn't do the cause of health care for everyone and justice.
But she got to me. How dare she think that I didn't care enough about my son to do all I could? How dare she judge my level of religious faith?
Looking back on it, though, I have to believe she is one scared, ignorant and helpless-feeling human being. I don't believe anyone can be that mean without some fear and helplessness mixed in.
I almost choked when I heard Mitt Romney is using the emergency room lie.
You see, that's what George Bush said after my son had been diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer.
People can go to the emergency room.
Indeed they can, but they won't get what they need unless they have a simple infection that responds to common antibiotic, or a simple fracture that can be put in a cast and pretty much heal on its own, or a heart attack.
Emergency rooms are for emergencies. That's why they're called emergency rooms.
By law, emergency rooms have to accept everyone who comes in, but they don't have to offer expensive tests, like colonoscopies; they only have to address the symptoms and stabilize the patient.
So, when Mike went to the ER with abdominal pain, they told him he had gastroenteritis, billed him for the visit and sent him home.
When he went the second time, it was diagnosed as an ulcer. He went home and was billed for the visit and the medicine.
The third time, they said it was severe constipation, sold him some super-laxative and sent him home with the bill.
The fourth time, they said it must be diverticulitis. He was sent home with the bill.
He didn't get the colonoscopy he needed because the emergency room isn't there to do that. They exist to address the immediate problem and move along to the next patient.
So, do I blame the doctors in the ER that tried to address Mike's symptoms?
I blame the people who perpetuate the myth that the emergency room is access to quality care.
I remember when George Bush said it, and now Mitt Romney. Neither has ever needed care and not been able to get it. Neither understands what it's like to be sick and be denied care.
I understand because I watched my son die from it. I wouldn't wish the same on them, although I might like to have them live with their only access to care being the emergency room, just for a little while.