Monday, April 23, 2012

Walking Selfishly

This is not a post about money or class privilege or social structure but those things frame it. I am not poor, not right now, anyway. I'm about to marry a man who, in two years, earns about what I've done in my lifetime (admittedly, I've not earned much, having been a stay-at-home mom for much of it). We have a nice house in a safe neighborhood. Last year, however, I did not have many options. I'd been laid off from my job and with my divorce lost my health insurance and my home. I was scraping by on $880 a month in unemployment benefits and lived in a spare room of a friend's house with my youngest son. Life was challenging and sometimes required some creative accounting ("Peter? Paul? Who gets paid this month?").

Ever hear of a Standardized Patient? A SP is a person who is hired and trained by a medical school to present specific symptoms to medical students who are learning how to do patient interviewing, examinations and diagnosing. I worked as an SP at Meharry a few years ago and last October, applied to do the same at Vanderbilt. The type of SP gig I was applying to do what much more specialized than general SP work and I was asked to get an exam by the end of the week as the training was to start shortly thereafter.

By this time I'd been without health insurance and unemployed for six months and hadn't an extra cent to my name so went to the only sliding scale clinic that could fit me in quickly: Planned Parenthood (cost $125 and I wound up paying late because I didn't have that much in my bank account at the time). The exam went fine, no problems, but the result from a test came back indicating a potential problem. The next step was to undergo a test which showed a moderate not-serious-now-but-very-serious-if-not-dealt-with condition. Unfortunately, PP doesn't have the resources to treat this condition so I was referred to The Center for Women's Healthcare at Meharry.

Meharry Medical College serves the people in Nashville who don't have health insurance. In many ways, I'm sure they do the best they can with the meager resources they have. I will say that they could do a whole lot better at training their intake staff. It took 5 months to get this procedure scheduled and during that time my records were lost, I was spoken to rudely and hung up on when I tried to find out who I needed to speak with about scheduling. I've been shocked at how unprofessional some of the administrative and support staff have been. I am able to advocate for myself, I can't imagine what it must be like for someone with fewer resources.

A week ago last Friday, I went in for my pre-procedure consultation. Anticipating further administrative problems, I got to registration early and checked in. I was told to wait in the lobby and would be called when they were ready. Again my paperwork was lost in the shuffle and I was left waiting for quite a long while. As I sat, increasingly miffed, looking at the other people sitting around me, I found myself thinking, "I don't belong here." I looked around at the other people, the young Hispanic mama with her beautiful, chubby children, the woman in the K-mart sweater with a thick Appalachian accent, the colorfully dressed middle aged man with highly polished pointy-toed alligator shoes, the older couple both wearing NASCAR t-shirts, the young tough with the tattooed neck and shaved head, all of whom were there for the same reason I was-lack of other options-and had the horrible impulse that I am better than them therefore I shouldn't have to be in that environment, treated with such apathy.

I, of course, did not see my own snobbery and bigotry then, I was too caught up with indignation. It wasn't until a few days later that I recalled the feeling of superiority and disdain I had. I've been wrestling with it since. The system sucks but the individuals are not the system, they suffer in it as I do, probably a whole lot more (for instance, I create my own work schedule so can take time off for appointments and not lose income). "...walk cheerfully answering that of God in every one." Hardly. I certainly wasn't aware of the presence of the living God while sitting there seething last Friday. I wasn't rude to anyone but I certainly wasn't a loving example either.
I don't anticipate having to deal with our societal inequalities nor my own inner ugliness again for a while. I pray, though, that the next time I do, I'll be aware of God with me rather than paying all my attention to poor, pitiful me.