SM3 Francis Toche, ca. 1961, La Maddalena
That scan is of a faded and worn photograph of my father, drunk as hell on liberty. It’s one of the few photographs that I have of him. He was born on the second of December, 1942, in New Orleans, Louisiana. He later moved with his family to Biloxi, Mississippi, and, after leaving high school before graduation, he joined the Navy. He did a four-year hitch, including serving as part of the “quarantine” around Cuba in 1962. He got out, went home, and worked for a few years. He drank pretty heavily at that time, and, of course, he was always smoking. After a few years of that, he met the woman who he would marry. Because of her, he quit drinking, and he worked his ass off for his family. He was a carpenter, and a hell of a carpenter, at that. Given time and tools, he could make damn near anything out of wood.
He was also dirt poor. It turns out that living in Mississippi is not the best thing you can do for your earnings. There are no unions for skilled trades, and, as such, wages are just what you’d expect: Shit. Naturally, health insurance didn’t figure into the picture. When you’re spending every nickel you make on food and rent, there’s no question of paying for any kind of insurance. Other than the time he spent in the military, my father probably didn’t have health insurance for more than five or six years of his life. And the insurance he would have had, through his employer, would have been as shitty as insurance could be.
Six years ago, I got a phone call on a Friday morning, six days before Thanksgiving. It was my older brother, telling me that the old man had died. Massive heart attack. He was 60 years old. His wife, my mother, had died 13 months prior at age 55.
Why do I bring all of this up? For this reason: If he’d had regular access to medical care throughout his life, he would probably still be alive today. My mother probably would be, as well.
I’m not saying this to garner sympathy. Far from it.
I’m saying this because we, as a country, do not have health care for every single person here. That fact has consequences. Those consequences include millions of graves that are filled earlier than they should be. They also include an incalculable amount of misery due to illness, pain, and stress.
That’s right, stress. I can’t imagine the burden that my mom and pop had to bear, knowing that if he got sick there wouldn’t be any food. Or that if any of us were seriously ill, that there was no way to pay for the treatment. I mean, damn. We worked, hard, and we were poor. I myself never saw a dentist until I went off to boot camp.
These consequences are borne by everyone. Obviously, as always, the burden falls heaviest on those who can least afford it. It doesn’t matter how hard you work, or how fervently you believe in Jesus (my mother, though this may surprise you, was as devout as anyone you will ever meet); the poor get the shaft. But everyone else pays, too. If I had come down with scarlet fever or some such shit as a kid, I would eventually have been taken to the emergency room. My parents would never have been able to pay that bill. So those costs would have been passed on to other patients, who would have already had enough to pay for. In a larger sense, anyone who dies an early death due to lack of preventative care represents someone who isn’t working and paying taxes, or raising children, or any of the millions of other things that comprise a productive life is someone who isn’t fully contributing to society as a whole. I realize that that’s a bloodless, actuarial way to put it, but those calculations matter. Not only is there a moral imperative for providing health care to everyone, but it’s fucking cheaper in the long run to do so.
So: How the fuck is this even an issue? I know that the insurance industry is dead-set against anything that might interfere with their parasitic free ride, but c’mon. Sometimes, shit is justright. And you can either choose right, or you can choose wrong. It’s that simple. Nobody–nobody should have to go through what my parents did. It’s a fucking crime.
We can afford it. We’ve sent people to the goddamn moon*. We have billion-dollar invisible airplanes that were designed to penetrate Soviet airspace and deliver nuclear weapons within yards of predetermined targets. We have plenty of resources. What we (and by “we,” I mean “those fucking corporate whores in Washington”) lack is the will. We lack the will to say “You know, we’ve spent enough fucking money figuring out creative ways to kill people. Let’s take some of that and keep people alive.”
It’s just that simple.
*My father went to high school down in Biloxi with Fred Haise, who was one of the Apollo 13 astronauts. I’d like to afford all due respect to Mr. Haise, who I’m sure is a fine human being. But my father referred to him as “a real dick.”