An Ugly Truth
For those of you keeping score at home, it’s been about 5 years and around 3 months since I was asked by the doctor not to return to work. After endless tests and no shortage of hardships I was told quite officially that I was disabled now. It wasn’t something I ever wanted to hear nor did I accept it without a generous helping of decreased self-worth. For what value does a man have for himself when he finds that he can no longer provide for his family?
Well, time passed and truth be told I came to accept the matter to a point. I even eventually came to terms with my own decision to forgo ever driving again. But you know what? One of the things I was both terrified of and regretted was the fact that I had to apply for disability. For one I was still a young man, I was sure there was no way they would ever take me seriously. Especially when I had to answer questions with phrases like ‘can’t stay awake,’ or ‘constantly too drowsy to think straight.’ I was sure that I would be one of those applicants that prompted a few chuckles from clerks before being stamped ‘DENIED.’
But you know something? I was approved the first try. To this day it has always been a daily fear I live with that at any time I’ll get the call that it has all been a mistake and the only thing keeping my head above water will be yanked away. It’s the honest truth, contrary to what some folks seem to think living on Social Security is anything but pleasant.
I have never been able to fathom where anyone can get the idea that any such lifestyle is glamorous or comfortable. Every month I have to make a judgment call between whether or not we can just squeak by with the toilet paper we have or if we can afford to buy more soap. Now let me stop right there to set the record straight on a fundamental matter. This is in no way shape of form me complaining about things. Far from it, in reality I am nothing but grateful to the blessing and support that I have received. Without it my family and I would, well, I shudder to even contemplate the matter.
The problem is quite simply one that has been bothering me tremendously of late. And it spans from two separate events recently that keep managing to pick at me like an irritating sibling on a long trip. One of them is the sudden appearance in the mail that my disability case is being renewed (remember that fear I mentioned?) and the other is that the Department of Defense is going to be staging some disaster relief training in our town to provide free medical help.
Now at first glace the two might not seem related. And in a way you might be right, however for me they both somehow have teamed up to tug at my thoughts. You see even when I was working I was never fortunate enough to have a job that would provide insurance. So I haven’t seen anything resembling a dentist in about 13 years. I only just last year saw an eye doctor for the first time in about 8 years.
The general consensus among most folks seems to be that since I am suckling the social teat as it were, that I should be able to just march in and have all manner of medical things done just willy-nilly. But when all the cards are placed on the table it turns out that it isn’t the case. Even with some subsidized help from the state for being low income and what not doesn’t allow me to do most of the things people think I can.
For example; I cannot even set foot in a dentist’s office. Won’t pay a lick for anything, not a single cent, I puzzle over where people get these bizarre ideas from. But let’s skip past some of these more standard notions and look at something far more basic. Take for instance something as basic as a commonly prescribed generic medication that compared to others is about as cheap as they come. Something like say Ritalin for example. Now it is a cheap enough medication, one that for a long while I had to pay for it myself and it cost me around $30-40 a month. A lot of other people with Narcolepsy have to take medications that run in the $1-2000 range I am not about to even estimate what that would do to anyone’s finances.
Even something as simple as Ritalin, which for me is lifeline to consciousness, is something that I have had to fight to even be able to keep taking. Taking it on a regular basis has allowed me to find a tedious balancing point in my life where I can maintain some notion of a normal life. If I have to wrestle and worry with them over even a cheap prescription that I have had to simply pay for myself then the whole idea of being handed everything on a silver platter goes way out the window.
So, where was I? Oh yeah, sorry I think I might have allowed myself to get worked up enough to bring a wave of drowsiness to disrupt my train of thought. There is going to be a medical clinic in my town as a training exercise for the military. Which is a Godsend for my wife and I, who is our sole driver and yet we cannot afford to even consider replacing her glasses so that she can see well enough to do so. Our expectations aren’t high by any means, she just wants to be able to see clear enough to safely read road signs and could care less what her glasses look like as long as she can do so. And me; well I just want to patch up enough of my teeth that I can maintain what I still have without an endless cascade of dental dominos making my life miserable. Neither of us is asking for anything fashionable or even a complete fix of any kind. We both just hope to find some solution that might ease our burden if even slightly.
Is that too much to ask? Does that make us a monumental drain on society? I don’t think so; in fact I honestly believe that the idea that our only hope is to attend a chaotic clinic and pray we are fortunate enough to make it to being seen is a pitiful shame. I can understand being denied treatment for outlandish or unnecessary things. But it is far cheaper to provide basic maintenance on a person just as it is a machine than it is to have to deal with the costs of it breaking down. Instead of fleecing the system as it stands those of us struggling with needs are left to suffer through them. And then we find ourselves living in fear each waking moment that someone somewhere is going to finally make the decision that keeping money in one pocket is worth more than helping those who can no longer do for themselves.
I worked for years, where every drive to and from work, let alone while I worked was a gamble that could easily have seen me removed from my loved ones. I could have fell asleep behind the wheel and cost myself or some one else their life. The fact that I am around to help raise my children at all is a miracle.
In my meandering minds way I suppose this has gotten a bit bendy, and for that I apologize. But the point I guess I am trying to make here is this; the truth is an ugly one. For the broad painted picture of people living it up on social programs is not altogether a reality. I am sure there are those who take advantage of the situation overly so. But for those who do not we find ourselves living month to month and juggling what can be sacrificed and what cannot. There is no savings account to fall back on and no real safety net of any kind. We live in a trailer with more than its share of problems, and our vehicle is a hand me down one that our family was kind enough to sell us. Without the compassion and charity of loved ones we wouldn’t have a home to live in or much of what we do. And without the aid of programs like Social Security my children wouldn’t be able to grow up and get an education to one day join the workforce themselves. Where I paid in if only briefly to such programs perhaps they will contribute enough to return some portion of the help we have received.
But I have lived through the stigma of shame associated with receiving the help that I have, and now I have to deal with the fear that without it everything I know will fall apart. My only hope is that some day things will get fixed for the better and some measure of truth will be understood about those living in these situations. If we have the ability to help those in need then we have the moral obligation to do so, don’t we? Honestly it is terrifying how many people seem to think the answer is simply not to, or that they receive way too much as it is.