Personal Responsibility III: June 26, 2017

Dear Mr. VP,

Here I am again, ready to talk to you about personal responsibility. Is it clear yet that this has made me angrier than most anything else you’ve said lately? And that’s saying something.

Yesterday we paused at the moment I had a c-section and forever became a pre-existing condition. Today I’d like to talk to you about the first few days of my kid’s life, which had we not been insured, would have cost us thousands and thousands of dollars on top of my ginormous bill for surgical birth. And let me be clear: we faced nothing in comparison to some of my friends, who had week- and month-long NICU stays, and who would be bankrupt, potentially unable to afford insurance because their babies were born with pre-existing conditions, and now, already at four, could be facing the real possibility of reaching a lifetime cap on care. (And yet you accuse the Democrats of “death panels” while you champion a bill that decides when someone has become too expensive to keep alive.)

On G’s second day, they ran some tests and some elevated levels of something (please excuse my lack of specificity, but I’ve honestly blocked out much of my time in the hospital because it is so upsetting to remember) indicated he might have sepsis. A doctor who came in to check me nonchalantly said something like, “Oh, when they come to take your baby to the NICU…” and I must have responded with a blank stare, which is when he realized I hadn’t been told yet. I don’t remember the moment they came to wheel my newborn baby away to another part of the hospital, or what my reaction was. I don’t remember of I was worried or scared or angry, though I was probably all three. I don’t even remember asking what was wrong with him; I gathered most of it from the hospital discharge paperwork. I was probably just numb.

I do remember my first visit to the totally sterile Continuous Care Nursery. I visited every two hours for the day he was there so that I could nurse him; someone had to wheel me down the hallway because I couldn’t walk after major abdominal surgery. You had to wash your hands for a full minute before you were let in. There was an indicator light to tell you when you were done, and I don’t think I’d ever realized how long a minute really was until I was washing my hands at 2 a.m. You couldn’t bring your phone into the space because apparently phones are just Petri dishes, so I have no pictures of him there. He was the biggest baby in the entire room, in a little bassinet towards the back. When I got to him it looked like he was wearing a little cap on his head: it was actually an IV taped onto his head, where they’d found a vein to use for an antibiotic drip. He had small pinpricks all over his ankles, where I realized they’d probably tried and failed to find a suitable vein. It’s almost four years later, and I still can’t think about this without crying; my new baby, without his mom or dad, being poked with needles repeatedly to find a vein. I can’t believe I wasn’t there to hold and comfort him.

I’d like you to tell me, please, how this all fits into your narrative of personal responsibility. What if I’d not had insurance and left the hospital with tens of thousands of dollars of medical bills? How would that have set me up to succeed as a parent? Saddling already traumatized parents with tens to hundreds of thousands of medical bills to figure out doesn’t exactly seem pro-life.

Yes — you can be “responsible” and save the money you think will be necessary to pay for the birth of your baby, but virtually no one expects a complicated birth and a NICU stay, and those dollars add up fast. Was it irresponsible of me to not have prepared for all outcomes? Or was it irresponsible of my baby to have a potentially deadly septic infection? How exactly does that work?

Here’s my irresponsible baby, out of the NICU but still with the IV line attached to his scalp.

Or, are you suggesting that only people who can afford the most expensive of birth outcomes should have children? It doesn’t sound great when you boil it down to that, does it.


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