Of Leeches and Heroes

I get a lot of emails. Especially now that I’ve gone public with my illness and the hardship it has brought on my family.

Some emails lift my spirits in ways I can’t explain. Others who understand how difficult it is to manage a chronic illness and a family, yet keep on laughing

Some emails break my heart. The stories upon stories of just what getting sick can do to one household. It is why I fight so hard for Obamacare. It is why I make sure I scream from the rooftops that those of us who need things like assurances that our pre-existing conditions won’t be taken into account when we apply for insurance are heard.

Because it’s not a joke when we say it really is a matter of life and death. It is not rhetoric. 

We worked hard to turn the Affordable Care Act into law. No, it’s not perfect. It is a start. We will NOT turn back. The current debate in Congress over Food Stamps? We’re not turning back there either, because in case you haven’t noticed…many of us who have gotten sick now need help due to the absolute disaster of a healthcare system we have in this country. We are drowning in medical debt at my house and we have great insurance.

This is just one of the many emails, just one of the many stories. This is your neighbor, your friend, your family.

Read what was sent to me below and then go to HealthCare.Gov to learn more.

You will not DEFUND ME. You will not DEFUND US.

-Erin

I Am a Leech

by Anonymous 

I may have an auto-immune disease. I am a woman. I am also poor. My insurance is supplied by the state. I have five children – they are also using state funded insurance. I get food stamps. According to the GOP, I and my family are leeches.

Let me tell you a little something about living as a leech.

For years I worked as a nurse aide, then after an injury at work I began working as a freelance writer and blogger. My husband worked in the rental industry and worked other jobs. His last job involved leaving home before six in the morning and getting back after eleven in the evening. I was pregnant with our first son. We did not have a lot. We made due, like everyone else. Our oldest daughter has autism and we worked to place her in the best programs possible.

My husband was injured on the job while working in the rental industry, but he kept working until jobs began to dry up during the Great Recession. I kept writing, bringing in extra to try to make those ends meet. He worked with a friend painting homes, then one day he came home with his injured knee swollen and something bulging from the side. That was the end of being able to walk without pain or swelling for him.

I took on as much work as possible. Trying to make ends meet when clients want to pay you one dollar for five hundred words? That burns you out. Non-paying clients, low paying clients, and then advertisements that end up being a spam scam? Yeah.

For years we made due with very little. We refused to ask for food stamps, no matter how low the pantry was. He and I went without eating to ensure the children always ate. One day I began falling ill with mysterious symptoms. The day I couldn’t lift my fingers to type was the day I went to the emergency room. The doctor there told me she believed I could have Lupus.

At the time I had no insurance. No primary doctor to fall back on. No tests to go for. Nothing. We saved our tax return and moved out of the city, I hoped living in the country would help my symptoms and give my children a better place to grow. After almost a year we decided we would need to apply for at least Medicaid and food stamps (SNAP). We qualified.

Let me tell you, if you think that SNAP recipients are just handed a huge amount, you’re wrong. We qualified for $450 a month. That is for seven people. We utilize meals plans, careful shopping, and coupons in order to make it last. This leeching family spends more time ensuring that our benefits are well spent than most people ever imagined. Processed food? No thank you. Our meals are made from scratch. If my children eat cookies and cinnamon rolls, they’re homemade.

It bothers me to accept assistance. Even though I’ve paid taxes and should be thankful for this safety net. It bothers me to the point that I hide my EBT card in a way that it cannot be seen when paying for food. Even though our cart is full of nutritious food for our children. Because no matter what you do, you’re bad when buying with food stamps.

Don’t believe me? Look at arguments online. If a food stamp user spends money on ‘junk’, they’re bad. Anything that is considered sugary or processed is wrong. But wait, if you spend your benefits on natural, healthy foods like fruit and vegetables, you’re still shoving your benefits in people’s faces by buying what they can’t or won’t. Honest – I could buy nothing but flour, sugar, vegetables, and everything else to make meals from scratch but the moment someone saw the one six pack of Pepsi in my cart? I’m a Food Stamp Queen.

What does my health have to do with this? Well, we applied because I was having a hard time writing. Heck, I was having a hard time walking from my bedroom to the kitchen for morning coffee. I was in severe pain. Imagine your bones burning. Literally burning away inside of you. Your muscles weak and shaking from the sheer exhaustion just getting out of bed caused. Typos all over your articles because lifting your fingers was too much.

That’s why we have these ‘benefits’. I’m smiling as I write the word benefit because, really, there are people that believe there is a benefit to being sick and poor. The reality is that when you have state insurance your doctor runs only the basic tests. If those tests show nothing severe, you’re not sick. You’re sent home and told to take some ibuprofen and cut your stress levels. Have a knee with severe dislocation and torn, deteriorated cartilage? Bone worn down until the grinding is audible to anyone listening?

Go home and take some ibuprofen.

This is my benefit. This is my husband’s benefit. Being stared at as if we are criminals, made to feel ashamed for making sure our children are fed. Not allowed more extensive tests to help us get better so we can get off of the system. To top that off, because we stooped to ask for help, there are many that would deny us the right to health care at all. Thanks to ObamaCare we can have the most basic of care, but there are those that would deny us this. Why? Because the sick and poor do not deserve to exist. My benefits do not pay my bills fully, because of this my propane company is pocketing a big $87 a month that they refuse to put toward out back bill and won’t deliver anything else until all $1800 is paid. This is after paying them faithfully every month for a year – they misquoted us on the full amount, but it’s still our problem.

We don’t have a car, social services refuses to help with transportation, even though that’s the law. Shortage of funds in our county. The bus route in our rural area was cut, so that’s out of the question. Without transportation to social service mandated tests or reporting, we will be ‘sanctioned’. Even with all of these so-called ‘benefits’ we are worse off than before. We can’t afford to pull out of the system but we can’t afford to stay in it. The stress from it causes my symptoms to rear their ugly head and that causes more stress until I can’t work.

Every time my body decides to flare up symptoms, some part of my body is being attacked. It is being damaged. Without the tests and care to determine the cause, the damage progresses. Without medication to control this, I will die early. My family will be left without a mother. A mother that loves them enough to work through the pain, the exhaustion, and to bite back her pride enough to apply for assistance. My husband will still be disabled and without me, he will need to find a way to supply their needs, even if that means being a prisoner of the system. Being shamed for swallowing his own pride.

We are sick. We are poor. We are leeches. Yet still, we fight. We fight to find work. To keep our family above water. We will continue to do so until our bodies are broken. Why? Because that is what an American does. Regardless of your party – you fight to survive. If that means asking for help when you’re broken, so be it.

I am a leech. But, I will live until I die whether anyone likes it or not.

Comments

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