My eighty-year-old mother fell and broke her hip for the second time in three years. It was partly my fault. Last month we both went to my cousin’s daughter’s birthday party. It was flu season. There were a lot of children, and the rented hall turned out to be a germ sink. I was flat on my back for a week with a 102 degree fever. It got so bad I had to put an ice pack on my head so I could sleep, but I’m strong and fit and managed to recover. My mother wasn’t so lucky. She came down with the same flu, a lung infection, and then contracted pneumonia. She complained that she was suffering from an illness worse than the flu, but I didn’t believe her.
Neither did her doctor.
Ten days ago, I drove her to her regular doctor, who she likes and trusts. He assumed the same thing I did, that she was simply recovering from the flu. In retrospect I should have insisted that he send her to the hospital, or at least proscribe her antibiotics, but who am I to question to question a specialist in geriatric medicine. By the time the nor’easter hit this past Tuesday, she had contracted pneumonia. I went outside to shovel the driveway and sidewalk, both of which are fairly large, and wound up spending almost six hours chopping my way through the wet, heavy snow. I broke two shovels and nearly broke both my wrists, and by the end of the day I was in a foul mood and not inclined to believe that she indeed had contracted pneumonia. It’s just the flu, I, like her doctor insisted. You just need to sleep more and drink more fluids. You also need to stop overheating the house. It dries out your mucus membranes. Early Wednesday morning she fell and broke her hip. Fortunately I was close enough to call the paramedics, who put her on a stretcher and took her to a local emergency room – it used to be a hospital but got converted into an medical office building – and then a local hospital. At long last, someone believed her. They put her on antibiotics and scheduled her for hip surgery. The surgery went well, but since her lungs have been weakened by the pneumonia, she needed a breathing tube, and had to spend the night in intensive care. That’s where it stands now.
Fortunately, Medicare will pay for her stay at the hospital, as well as her time in an assisted living center if it turns out that’s what she needs. Single payer healthcare just works. It works in Canada. It works in Taiwan. Single payer healthcare, or a single payer hybrid works in every democracy in Western Europe. There’s no need for the scam that is Obamacare – coercing private citizens into buying private insurance – or the sadistic scam that will be Trump, Ryancare. Sadly, the United States, the first democratic republic, the country that fought a bloody civil war to end slavery, is no longer a democratic republic. We are an inverted totalitarian oligarchy run for the benefit of the tiny group of billionaires who control our corrupt political system. I don’t know why Bill Gates or Warren Buffett need one hundred thousand times the income that would provide them with a comfortably affluent lifestyle. I don’t know why Hillary Clinton need half a million dollars for a five minute speech on Wall Street. I don’t know why Donald Trump even wanted to be President. I suppose, like most of us, they’ve deluded themselves into thinking that the richer they are, the richer the average American will be. Trickle down economics is a powerful drug. In any event, that’s just the way it is. We are a country of the rich, by the rich, for the rich.
There will be no Medicare when I turn eighty.
I am a fifth generation American. I know no other culture. I speak a little Spanish and a lot of French, but I have not traveled extensively. I am under no illusions about the the American working class and the American middle-class. We are not capable of what the Korean people accomplished last week, of removing a corrupt, authoritarian President. This is not because Americans are more cowardly than Koreans or because our culture is inferior to theirs, but simply because the United States is the imperial center, and Korea is not. Working-class and middle-class class Americans identify with their elites in a way not even classically imperialist peoples like the French or British do. The American ruling class never faces consequences for its mistakes. In the late 1990s, Rudy Giuliani put New York City’s Emergency Operations Center right in the World Trade Center complex, insuring that there would be no central coordination on the day of the attack. That, along with the way the fire department and police departments used walkie talkies that worked on different frequencies, got hundreds of police officers and firemen killed when the towers came down. Nevertheless, 9/11 made him a hero, a status he managed to parley into a highly profitable private security agency. George W. Bush colluded with the corporate media to trick the American people into supporting his invasion of Iraq. He’s now a respected elder statesman who does guest appearances on daytime TV. Nine years ago, Wall Street destroyed the American economy, and plunged the country into the “Great Recession.” They got bailed out out by newly elected President Barack Obama, who owed his presence in the White House largely because the ruling class decided he would be a better man to sell the bailout than John McCain.
Coincidentally, the day after my mother broke her hip, our new President Donald J. Trump along with his mini-me in Congress Paul Ryan passed a sadistic new budget that eliminates, among other things, the “Meals on Wheels” program. My family is middle-class. None of our elderly depend on Meals on Wheels, but a surprising number of people do. I am not a young man. It’s been two decades since I lost my hair when I turned thirty. I’m fifty one years old. Nevertheless, mainly thanks to my father’s abuse – I was a fat kid and he was a United States Marine and he mocked me until I started running and lost the extra weight – and my mother’s puritanism, I’m strong, fit, and height-weight proportional. I don’t drink or do drugs. I’m five feet eleven and a half inches tall, and weight one hundred and seventy eight pounds. I’m probably in better physical condition now than I was when I was twenty three. Back then, I didn’t know how to take care of myself. I had a mouthful of cavities and a beer gut. My good health won’t last. I’m already middle-age. If I’m lucky enough to reach my eighties I will, like my mother, be fragile, elderly, and weak. A case of the flu could kill me. A careless step on a slippery floor could mean a broken hip as well as a broken ego.
I’m always a little amazed at the number of sickly people still in their twenties, people who could have rich lives if they only lived in a sane country like Canada or Finland, and had access to a good public healthcare system, but who instead have to put up “crowd sourcing” appeals on the Internet just to stay alive, diabetics who have to pay for insulin or people who get cancer at an early age. I’m never amazed at the people in their forties and fifties who are already dying from mental illness and drug addiction. Like them, I’m a member of Generation X. I grew up in the 1980s, when drugs, alcohol, and casual sex were requirements to be “cool.” It’s only going to get worse when my generation enters their sixties and seventies. So how will we survive in the coming hellscape. I won’t. When I turn eighty, I will be alone. I’m not a likeable person. I don’t make friends easily, or connect with women. I will never have children or an extended family. My brother and I have never liked each other and will almost certainly not stay in touch after my mother is gone. In my old age, when that fall comes, there will not be anybody around to call the paramedics. If I’m lucky enough to have a neighbor who occasionally checks up on me I won’t be able to pay the hospital bills anyway. The best course for me would be a violent, glorious death fighting for “the revolution” (whatever the hell that is). I suppose other people will help one another out. They’ll continue to “crowd source.” They’ll fill in the gaps the government leaves open. They’ll found anarchist communes and free clinics, but none of it will counteract history. The United States of America is a declining power, with a mean, sadistic ruling class, a conformist, fundamentally conservative middle-class, and a passive, compliant working-class. Many people will suffer.
In my mother’s illness I saw the future, and it almost makes me hope I never see old age.