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When I recently introduced a friend from college, who also spent formative years in our nation’s capital, to my politically involved husband, it was not long until the conversation turned to recent political events, leading to perhaps the best idea I have heard yet about how to solve the current strife. Someone suggested that we build a dorm for the legislators to live in while out of their states and districts. They would save money, and people from different parties would live together, and even share a bathroom! There is nothing more equalizing than sharing a bathroom, one suggested. Perhaps then we could get the health care issue resolved!

Since I will be teaching Health Care Economics this year, I have been paying close attention to the debate on this issue. While I don’t have an answer to solving the issues that affect citizens as we wrestle with the goal of assuring all Americans access to good, affordable health care, I wanted to take a second to repeat my story, first told in the book “Mama, Ph.D.”, which led to this column. I think that it highlights some of the issues that must be resolved by people much smarter than myself. My aim is to put a human face on the economic forces that determine the quality of life for many of us.

When I packed up my hatchback and drove West on the Mass Pike in 1990, I brought with me some unexpected baggage. Over my years in graduate school I had gradually developed difficulty with balance and had also lost my sense of smell. Both changes had appeared so slowly that I hardly gave them any thought.  I found myself thinking “I need to get a new head band, as this old one is giving me headaches,” while a dentist suggested that braces would cure my often week long headaches. Not knowing what awaited me in Cleveland, I set off for what I thought was my dream job, which became, unfortunately, only my first job.

It was the first day of classes at that first tenure track job when I woke up and didn’t know where I was. Not sure what to do, I called my parents’ number, where my visiting sister answered. “You are in Cleveland, where do you think you are?” she told me. “Oh, I forgot for a second.” I then hung up the phone and got sick to my stomach, a twist that may have saved my financial future.

Two days later, still not feeling right, I went to an urgent care center with my strange symptoms. There, the doctor focused only on the fact that I had gotten sick, ignoring the fact that I had bitten my tongue in the process, and kept asking me “what test do you want me to run?” I am sure that he expected me to say “a pregnancy test,” and I will always regret not replying with something like “this is a place for the nonparametric chi-square.”  When my sister heard details of what had happened, she remembered her Neurology class, and told me that I need to get to a neurologist, as I had experienced a seizure. It was August 30th of 1990, and the Labor Day weekend lay before us; the soonest I could get an appointment with a neurologist was September 4th. On that day, in 1990, I was one of 42 million Americans who had no health insurance, as my (new) health insurance began on September 1st. My sister had saved my life.

When I did get to the right kind of doctor, they quickly found a very large brain tumor. As Cleveland has multiple world-class hospitals, it is one of the best cities in the country to be sick in. It was therefore not long until the tumor was removed and I was recovering. However, one should not have to rely on doctors being incompetent to prevent medical bankruptcy. I am not sure how, but I do know that, as a country, we can do better than that!

                My thoughts and prayers go out to Senator John McCain and his family as he begins his battle with a (much more serious) brain tumor. We are counting on you to get well soon!

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