Friday Night in Family Land


It’s Friday evening and I’m in Edmonds, Washington, just north of Seattle, with my Mom and my brother Joe’s family. I got to meet my nephew Zev for the first time! He’s about 7 months old and likes to have the dogs lick his face. (ick) I also haven’t seen my niece Sorelle since she was 4 months old and now she’s 2 years. She’s strong-willed–that’s the German side of the family. My nephew Gage is 6 and in kindergarten at St. Thomas More Catholic school. He got home from school around 3 p.m. and looks great in his navy blue uniform (that was appropriately covered with his light-up Spiderman hoodie). They had Mass today, he told me. There was a lot of  “get down and get up,” he said.

This trip was unexpected. At the end of August, our family got a bit of a scare when my sister-in-law found a fairly large tumor in her right lung. It was detected by her chiropractor during a routine spine X-ray. The first tests revealed a very grim diagnosis. But subsequent tests revealed kidney cancer that had metasticized to her lung from a cancerous kidney that she’d had removed when she was 15 years old. We went from a fairly dire prognosis to a very positive one. But in the meantime she has had to undergo major surgery to remove a portion of her lung, to be followed up by chemo therapy. She’s got a long road to recovery. But she’s very strong and very strong-willed with a great desire to get well. Every day she’s getting stronger and is giving all of her energy to healing.

In the meantime, an amazing circle of friends have kicked into gear to help take care of the kids and provide meals. None of our family live near Seattle, so we are staging our visits to stay with the kids and give the circle of friends a break.

Thanks be to God, in all likelihood my sister-in-law will recover from this scare and with several months of healing will be back to her old self.

Like so many Americans dealing with health issues, this one hangs by a thread. My brother works as a glazier in downtown Seattle (our joke is that he actually DID install windows for Microsoft because he worked on the new MS office building). Their health insurance depends completely on him. If he loses his job, they lose insurance. So, much to his despair, he hasn’t taken a day off from work during all of this family crisis. He’s left early at times–sometimes paid, sometimes not. But he couldn’t risk getting laid off. “If I show up, they’ll keep me on,” he says. Otherwise, probably not. Right now my sister-in-law has 100% coverage (because Zev is still under a year old). On December 31, her coverage drops to 80%. I’m not sure what they will do then. Like most couples raising three kids on one salary, there is absolutely nothing left at the end of the month.

A recent study found that 62 percent of all bankruptcies filed in 2007 were linked to medical expenses. Of those who filed for bankruptcy, nearly 80 percent had some kind of health insurance. I would guess, like most American families, we’ll all share our resources as best we can to cover the additional expenses. But this is the kind of situation that can and does financially devastate families for years.

Right now, Congress has gotten farther on health-care reform than it’s ever gotten in 50 years. The House bill is probably the one that will help the most people the most. Let’s just get it done–and deal with the tweaks later.

Now … back to playing “Indiana Jones” with Gage on his DS (whatever THAT is!)

Good-bye ‘Norma Rae,’ Sorry About the Health Care

crystal_lee_suttonCrystal Lee Sutton, the textile worker and union organizer from Burlington, North Carolina, who was the inspiration for the 1979 Academy Award-winning film Norma Rae, died last month from cancer.

Norma Rae was a ground-breaking film for the American labor movement and also launched Sally Field, who played the lead, in her film career.

“Crystal Lee Sutton was a remarkable woman whose brave struggles have left a lasting impact on this country and without doubt, on me personally,” Field said in a statement responding to the news of Sutton’s death. “Portraying Crystal Lee in Norma Rae, however loosely based, not only elevated me as an actress, but as a human being.”

NormaRae fieldLinda Meric,  executive director of 9 to 5, the national association of working women, has a sobering post over at Facing South on Sutton’s death as it connects to delayed coverage from her health insurance company. Meric writes:

Crystal Lee Sutton, the woman whose life inspired the 1979 film Norma Rae, about a brave union organizer, died of cancer on Sept. 11, 2009,  after struggling in 2008 with her health insurance company.

Her insurer delayed her treatment by two months, initially by denying coverage of her medications, according to an article published last year in North Carolina’s Burlington Times News.

Her untimely passing at age 68 speaks powerfully to the continuing debate over health care reform.

Read Linda Meric’s full post here.

Substantive health-care reform includes 1) a publicly funded option for obtaining health insurance, 2) provides accessible and affordable insurance for everyone who is uninsured or under-insured, including legal and undocumented immigrants, and 3) contains clear “conscience clauses” around the issues that are morally sensitive.

Without it, we will continue to lose our heroes–known and unknown.