08-04-09_02 – The County Clinic 01

09_02 09_03

Years ago I went to the county clinic for my health care for a few years when I was  poor enough to go.  When I started making a little more money, I didn’t qualify for county assistance anymore but still I was not even within striking distance of being able to buy health insurance.  Perhaps I might have been able to get insurance if I was willing to sacrifice living in a safe neighborhood or driving a car that wouldn’t leave me or my wife stranded.  We had a 1999 Honda with 100,000 miles on the ticker.  We still have it.   Any insurance we could afford was kind that doesn’t really cover anything when you need it most

The the county clinic  is not a nice place to be sick.  It’s full of loud, scared, sick poor people.  The clinic is, for many, their last stop before oblivion.  The lines are long.  It’s so crowded.   I saw so many sad and disturbing things that I would just cry sometimes.  The patients shout and sometimes shove, but the people that work there are surprisingly sunny and upbeat.  There are rules posted everywhere but it doesn’t matter because they are the old rules and new signs haven’t been made yet.  But the reason the clinic isn’t nice, the reason it’s crowded and unpleasant and confusing is because poor people use it.  And frankly, our culture doesn’t give a damn about poor people.

My right-wing friends at the time always tried to characterize people at the county clinic as lazy and thus unworthy of our compassion but, man – every time I had to go to the clinic I was amazed at how worn-down and utterly spent everyone looked.  Hands were calloused and curled from some awful and endless task.  Ankles and feet  swollen and beat-down from hours and hours pushing a mop or carrying drywall.  I saw maid ponchos, fast-food hats, coveralls, and workboots.  So many had bibles and religious magazines, studied, circled and highlighted.  More than once some old woman would come right up to me and touch my long blond hair or even my beard.  “You look just like Jesus,” they would say.  No shit.

Okay, sure.  Not everyone there worked.  Some were too old or too crazy.  Lots of crazy.  Some patients were handcuffed to an armed Marshall or Texas Trooper.  Prisoners automatically get health care.

The health care “debate”, if you can call it that, in this country is controlled by people who already have (or think they already have) adequate health care.  Many of them enjoy government-run healthcare.  Those many people who have no insurance or have crappy insurance  (or desire to help those in that situation) are called unfit or Nazis.  The uninsured are never shown on TV.  Right now I have decent insurance but not too long ago I did not.  I’m definitely not a Nazi.

I really believe the reason so many of the well-off white people oppose any kind of  health reform is because they are afraid they will have to get their health care right along side poor people or worse, non-whites.  If you really think there isn’t a racist thread running though the current health-care tug-of-war, you are dreaming.  There are many people that think the government can’t or shouldn’t help poor sick people.  The logic goes, “people are poor is because they just haven’t suffered enough.”  As if throwing a drowning man a sack of bricks will  make him a better swimmer.

But if you are poor, that is exactly what happens when it comes to health.  Good food is expensive.  Poverty is incredibly stressful.  You sometimes have to live in a dangerous neighborhood.  Your car, if you have one, is crap.  You might have to hold down more than one job and end up getting very little sleep.  And even though you can’t afford $500 a month for insurance, you are expected to come up with thousands and thousands  of dollars to cover an emergency-room visit.

I still don’t know what I want to say.  I went to the county clinic  when I was sick or injured, and they helped me.  I went to the county clinic and the rest of you can go fuck yourselves.

Text and images © Andrew Auten – All Rights Reserved.