The Weakest Link
By Maxwell Rabb
The winding hills of Clifton Road felt as though they never ended. The end of the road must not exist and this bike ride embodied all I felt during this purgatorial state. The sun beat down on my back but I persevered and pedaled forward. After I reached the top of the highest hill, I would set my bike down and lie on the sidewalk, thinking to myself that maybe I couldn’t make it this time. I focused on my wheezing breath and wiped the sweat from my forehead. I would question every day, every single time I started on the daring bike ride, why I didn’t spend my money on a new bike. Maybe I found some solace in believing that the size of my bike wouldn’t matter because the reason I needed to complete this hellish bike ride would disappear and never bother me again. The bike rides stopped but the reason would never disappear.
Almost an entire hour passed by before I reached my destination. Rolling up to Emory Hospital, I felt my heart drop as I locked my bike up across from the ICU. As a thirteen year old boy, I never risked exposing that fear and held my tears until I left the hospital. The doctors, nurses and adults glanced at me and caught a glimpse of the despair I felt, but even if they displayed sympathy with their looks, they averted their eyes and forgot about me.
The double doors that guarded the waiting room from the ICU scared me from the first day I visited to the last. My fear aside, I waited patiently, drenched in sweat and anxiety, until my father came out of the glooming double doors and led me to my mom’s room.
For the most part, it’s difficult to remember her exact features, what she looked like, how conscious she was and how she looked at me in the moments she was awake, but I can remember the heartbreak I felt and that I could see on my dad’s face.
My dad plays in a pool league on Tuesdays and Thursday. Since he owns a bar and plays a pool league, he stopped taking my mom on dates, stopped spending time at home in the evening and started staying at the restaurant until he was certain that everything was in pristine shape. My mom, Melanie, decided she would not stand for this and made the executive decision to go to pool on Tuesday and spend the much needed time with my dad.
The circumstances appeared perfect as they enjoyed a night out together, away from stress and finally distancing themselves from their normal and seemingly restrictive schedules. However, in the midst of their night, my mom suddenly couldn’t stand. At the very moment she lost motor and physical control, a brain aneurysm bursted and left her medically unstable for months and will label her with a preexisting condition for the rest of her life.
Along with millions of other people, my mom relies on regular medical attention in order ensure the efficacy of her life-saving operation. To repeat the explanation provided by her surgeon, the brain aneurysms resembled balloons that emerged from the walls of her veins and continuously expanded as the blood was diverted into the pockets. Eventually, those balloons burst and normally result in death or expansive brain damage, but the surgery blocked the pathways to the balloon and stopped the expanding. The successful surgery relieved my family from the initial despair but did not prepare us for the consequences.
My mom talks about how she wishes she could just give up. She explained to me that without Obamacare, no insurance company would cover her. Not a single insurance agency deems her worthy to survive without patient protections in place. I tried to figure out how politicians systematically discriminate based on socioeconomic position and health while masking their otherwise obvious prejudices to the public, but I failed to find any rationalization other than greed.
A week before my mom told me this, I watched Paul Ryan criticize and devalue the importance of the Affordable Care Act. I wondered how he could speak to the world and tell them that he can put a price on their lives. It seemed to me that the people denouncing the ACA and the idea of universal healthcare couldn’t imagine the lives of people who would suffer and the lives of people who will be lost with this change in policy. I watch Paul Ryan continue to scrutinize affordable healthcare, without mentioning an alternative, and I only think about my mom saying that she will have to rely on luck instead of medical attention. It’s hard to remain calm when politician classify millions, including my mom, as the weakest link: too liable to protect.
The house felt abandoned. My brother and I sat together during the days and tried to keep each other smiling. I suddenly transformed into an adult, or at least I thought I did. Between work and the hospital, my dad only made visits to the house. He checked on the dogs, my brother and I and, occasionally, would take my brother to the hospital to see my mom. The afternoon after the aneurysm, my brother asked my dad and I “where mommy was.” I realized then that without another chance, the last time my brother would’ve spoken to my mom would have been the day before around seven. I realize now that without insurance that it could’ve been the last time.
Family friends, family and people I didn’t know came to my house to bring food, gifts and to deliver condolences. I didn’t know how to process it, but I lived day by day thinking about my mom in the hospital and hoping that my brother would stop worrying. I calloused myself because I believed that the problem could be solved indefinitely. Maturity accelerates during tragedy. Over night, I became an essential part of taking care of my family, rapidly becoming more responsible for my brother, my family and myself. Medical disasters negatively impact millions of families, most of which rely heavily on government funding, and without any assistance from those in power and those with the means to
support people without the economic capabilities, thousands of people will unnecessarily experience tragedy.
“We do feel the need to act quickly, because, again, this thing is collapsing,”
At this point, I can hear Ryan’s voice dehumanizing my mom. I can hear him explain to the world that their physically and mentally unhealthy loved ones are not worth defending. I listen to the Trump administration slander Obamacare without providing another viable solution to protect the lives of people that rely on the medical security ensured by the program and I feel the hope and security I felt when I was 13 shatter.
I imagine Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump biking down Clifton Road, crying because all they feel is dehydration and fear. Their actions reflect a distressing lack of empathy, which exposes their egomaniacal hearts. The heartless politicians and their supporters would rather label my mom as uninsurable; as the weakest link than figuring out that their pitiless, apathetic actions endanger and dehumanize millions of human beings — and my mom.