My Family Can’t Afford to Get Sick

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By Serli Polatoglu, 16
LA Youth, Los Angeles

A few months ago, my father came home from work holding what looked like a small black ball in his left fist. It took a moment to register the pained look on his face and that the black ball was actually the tip of his thumb. I was freaking out. The sight of his hand, bruised and blackened, made me gasp.

“Ser, nothing happened,” he said, using my nickname, trying to soothe me. It didn’t work.

“Dad, what do you mean nothing happened? What did you do?!” I screamed at him in Turkish.

“Calm down, everything’s going to be fine,” he said.

But he couldn’t move his hand without wincing. I knew it was an accident, but I couldn’t take it. It didn’t make sense to see him in pain, and it tore me up knowing he was acting tough.

Luckily, my older brother went into doctor-in-training mode (he’s applying to medical school). The blood building up in my father’s thumb was creating painful pressure. My brother grabbed a towel and a sterilized needle, and sat next to my dad on the couch in the living room.

I’m squeamish and couldn’t watch, so when I asked my mother what they were going to do, she explained that my brother would prick my dad’s thumb to let the blood out and relieve the pressure. The mental picture was vivid enough to make me want to throw up.

My dad didn’t go see a doctor, but I felt like he should have. My brother assured me that “the damage is done—he’s healing now.” That didn’t make me feel any better. My family has had health insurance on and off for the past 13 years, but, more often than not, we haven’t been covered. I was in middle school by the time I figured out that most families had a family doctor and got regular checkups. I can’t remember the last time I went to the dentist. We all manage to stay fairly healthy, but the occasional injury scares us half to death.

My family doesn’t make a lot of money. My father is self-employed, the sole operator of his own machine shop. My mom doesn’t work. Since they don’t have jobs that give them health insurance, they would have to buy it on their own, which is really expensive. After I saw my dad get hurt, I decided to talk to my mom about why we don’t have medical insurance. A few weeks ago, I saw my mother sprawled across the couch in a way that said, “I’m so tired, I could fall asleep with the stove on,” and almost backed away. But, I decided to test my courage and ask her.

“Mom, do you have a minute?” I asked.

“Of course, sweetie, what do you need?” she said.

I sat on the edge of our sofa.

“Well, I was wondering if you could tell me about our health insurance.”

She took a deep breath, sat upright, and launched into an explanation. According to my mother, when I was born, every member of my family was covered. She told me that 16 years ago she was comforted knowing our health insurance plan would save us money if anything happened to one of us. We were able to keep our health insurance for three more years and live comfortably as a single-income family. And then came the part of the story that made my mother red and nervous.

“After a while, we hit a rough patch. Business started to slow down, and we needed to cut back a bit.”

I was 7 and my brother was 14, and, though it pained her, my mom didn’t foresee any mishaps in our future that would make health insurance a necessity. My parents took a leap of faith and canceled our health plan.

I’ve only just begun to understand the weight of that decision. What if my brother gets sick? What if my dad gets hurt, or my mom? What if? I haven’t had health insurance for the majority of my life, and when I take the time to think about what that really means, it feels like I have to walk on eggshells. I can’t afford to get injured; I can’t afford to get sick. My volleyball team requires us to get yearly checkups. If it wasn’t for those physicals, I’m fairly confident I would’ve gone the last seven years without a visit to a doctor.

I hated that this country made health insurance so expensive that people like my parents couldn’t afford to protect themselves and our family.

My mom recently got health insurance for me, but I wish the rest of my family were covered as well.

© 2010 L.A. Youth, the newspaper by and for Los Angeles Teens, http://www.layouth.com.