Sunday, July 1, 2012

A Thank You Note to the Supreme Court

     I’d like to take the time to personally thank the Supreme Court of the United States for their ruling on The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act this week. I would like to especially thank Chief Justice John Roberts for thinking beyond partisan politics. I am glad this law was upheld, and as an Irish-American I am especially happy that this law may come to be one of the lasting legacies of the Kennedy family.
     I want you to know that I do not write this as someone without insurance from a “pity me” standpoint. All of my life I have lived a relatively comfortable middle class existence. For almost all of my life, save for just a short time between jobs in my late twenties, I have had health insurance. Despite not graduating college until the ripe old age of 32, all of the jobs I have held as an adult have offered health insurance as a benefit.  I was also lucky in that the jobs I held always offered dental and vision plans, which some people find to be the holy grail of health insurance.
     I also write this as a small miracle of modern medicine. I was born in the year of the Bicentennial. I was lucky enough to be born to college educated parents with good health insurance. When I was born, I had a hole in the muscle wall of my heart and an enlarged and malformed tricuspid valve. I was fortunate enough to be born in a city with not one, but two world class research and teaching hospitals. I had open heart surgery twice as child, once when I was two days old and once on my fifth birthday. At the time, this was cutting edge medicine. Pediatric cardiology was in its infancy. My surgeon was famous for transplanting a baboon’s heart into an adult. As I grew older, there were other medical issues. These issues were not really life threatening, but it was determined that new experimental prescription drugs could benefit me immensely. At the age of thirteen, my parents enrolled me in a research study involving these experimental prescription drugs at one of those world class hospitals. Within several months it was quite obvious I was not a part of the control group and I was benefiting from the medicine, and I spent the next five years giving myself daily injections with an insulin syringe. My thirteen year old self balked at the idea of doing that, but my adult self is grateful on a daily basis that she did. I do not believe that the care given by such hospitals will be diminished by this law as so many who are opposed to it argue. In that case, most of Western Europe would not have cutting edge medical care, and that is simply not true. We know the Swedes, the Germans, the French, and the British all do great work in medical research and they all have laws ensuring their citizens’ healthcare.
     Beyond that, the experimental medication story has even more relevance to this topic. This medication at the time was in the process of becoming FDA approved (hence the research study), and was approximately a hundred dollars for one daily dose if you were to pay out of pocket.  My father was a teacher, and my insurance at that time was provided through the school district where he was employed. At one point, when I was fifteen years old his contract was being renegotiated along with the insurance package. Some of the insurance packages being reviewed by the district covered the medicine, some did not. For a very scary few weeks we wondered aloud across the supper table if I would be able to continue on the medicine. Luckily the school board made a decision that benefited me. If they had not, I would not have been able to continue the medicine. I’m grateful I did, and had I not been able to there would be consequences that would continue to affect me on a daily basis twenty years later. That is the advantage of having good health insurance. Everyone should have that advantage.
      I have many relatives who have benefited from their health insurance: one has Crohn’s disease; one had a liver transplant after working as a missionary priest in the Philippines and contracting a water-borne illness, his sister had a bone marrow transplant after being diagnosed with an adult form of leukemia. I have an uncle who contracted a staph infection in his heart muscle after a visit to the dentist. He required three surgeries over the course of several years. He pulled through, went back to work, and saw his oldest daughter get married. One of my grandfathers died recently, but he had excellent medical care over the last year of his life as he suffered with heart and lung issues. My other grandfather died after seven months in ICU and isolation. He, too, had contracted a staph infection. His came after an abdominal aneurysm. Then there is Miracle Boy. Miracle Boy was born with cystic fibrosis. He received great medical care as a child, and as an adult has received a heart, a set of lungs, and a kidney as transplants. He is older than I am by a little over a year and he has married, had a set of twins via in-vitro fertilization, and works doing drug research to help others like him. He has lived a life that a little over thirty years ago could not have even been conceived of for a cystic fibrosis patient.
     I would like to point out that aside from the priest and one of my grandfathers, everyone I am talking about was covered by a non-military government employees’ insurance plan for at least a good portion of their medical care. These people are the children of employees or are themselves employees of the postal service, the railroad, the school system, and the VA. These are hard-working people, striving to live clean and decent lives while providing for their children and trying to leave it a better place. Many of them are highly religious and all of them were born and bred Midwesterners. These are the type of people that created and will continue to make up the middle class if given the chance.
     Good medical care allowed my grandfathers to be surrounded by loved ones as they died comfortably. Insurance allowed their good medical care not to burden their families. It allowed my mother a small inheritance when her father died. It allows my widowed grandmother to continue to live with some measure of comfort in the home she raised her family in because she does not have huge bills to pay for my grandfather’s care. Such things are the salvation and continuation of the middle class in America.
     Everyone deserves access to what I and my family have been lucky enough to have. Everyone needs to be able to go to the doctor when necessary. Every woman needs to feel she has access to good prenatal care. Everyone deserves to know that their sick child can receive medical care without worrying about paying the bill. Everyone with a preexisting condition shouldn’t have to worry losing their health insurance. Everyone deserves to not worry when they are dying that their spouse or children will be sacked with paying off large bills.
      This law is not perfect, nor should it be viewed as such. It is; however, a starting place. I am sure there will be bumps along the way and loopholes to fill. For now, I am content that it is there, and that the starting place has been established. For the first time in a long time, I am proud of my conservative friends across the political aisle. For the first time in long time, I feel like a brighter future is ensured for me and for America. For this, I thank you.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

To Be Irish In America...

          I was recently asked to explain my stance regarding being Irish-Catholic in America as a culture as opposed to a religion. It is a hard thing to explain, and as I sit to write this I find it is a very gray area. As with many religions such as Judaism, Islam, and certain Christian sects, the Irish culture is so tied up with the Catholic religion it can be hard to discern the two, but I will try. What I would really like to demonstrate to you is that because I was raised Irish-Catholic, I have had certain experiences and I have been taught certain things that someone not raised Irish-Catholic might have to have explained to them. The fact that I had those experiences and maintain those understandings means I fit into my subset of society; I fit into my culture.
I should explain that I am a product of a mixed religion marriage. My father was raised Southern Baptist, while my mother’s completely Irish ancestry was made clear by the last names of her parents, Callahan and Brennan.  My parents met in college in southwest Missouri, and they built a house on a hundred acre farm next door to my paternal grandparents. The town we lived in was small and highly dominated by evangelical Protestants of many stripes. My father’s interest in religion began to wane after several incidences of prejudice with regards to my mother’s acceptance at his church. Because of this, my mother was in charge of the religious education duties when children came along. I attended Parish School of .Religion on Wednesday nights as a child. I did not have the private education that my mother’s side of the family took pride in because the local Catholic school was so small. My thinking differs largely from the Catholic Church’s in many areas, but a private education is something I still believe strongly in. I truly believe that a private education is better than a public one despite the fact that I (and my parents) work for the public school system. This is the reason I chose to attend a private college. Many Irish-Catholics will tell you they believe heavily in private education.
   Growing up, I had experiences that other people I knew did not have. My family observed the typical Lenten restrictions on meat despite living on a cattle farm. I wore ashes on my forehead on Ash Wednesday and braided palm leaves to hang from my bedroom mirror on Palm Sunday. My Irish grandfather observed the fasting restriction before communion, and so when I visited them the breakfast after church was enormous. Weddings and funerals on one side of my family were considerably longer than on the other side. These events required standing, kneeling, sitting, the Ave Maria and Danny Boy sung, and perhaps a rosary prayed. There were events in my life that my Protestant relatives had little insight to: First Confession, First Communion, Confirmation. To this day I can relate tales of these events to any other Irish person I have met and they will nod sagely while telling a tale of their own.  And yes, nuns truly will tie your hands behind your back if you are left handed.
                These things tie heavily to Catholicism; that I acknowledge. However, as I stated they are experiences that may differ from yours, and I relate to the world and people around me through that lens. I understand jokes that you may not understand; I respect things that you may not. It doesn’t make either of us right or wrong. It simply means we have different mindsets, and we were taught certain things. That is a culture, not a religion. The following is a list of a few other things I have been taught along the way as an Irish-American, maybe you know some of them, maybe not. My family, my culture taught me them. Not a single one of them has to do with religion.
  • ·         Bourbon is good, as is Scotch.
  • ·         The Guinness family actually has a long history of being anti-Irish independence. Murphy’s is the beer of working class Irish in Ireland. Killian’s is made by Coors.
  • ·         Corned beef and cabbage is not a very Irish dish.
  • ·         If somone’s last name begins with “O’ ”, most likely you will get along with them.
  • ·         I will probably always blush easily for men named Sean, Kevin, Michael, or some other equally     Irish sounding name.
  • ·         If you can’t marry an Irish guy, an Italian is generally favorable.
  • ·         There is a BIG difference between being Scotch AND Irish and being Scotch-Irish. Know the difference, and avoid people who wear orange on St. Patrick’s Day.
  • ·         U2 and Italian boys from Jersey make good rock music.
  • ·         Cead Mil Failte means, “Ten Thousand Welcomes”.
  • ·         Fairies live in the trees in the yard.
  • ·         The meaning of the term “Irish wake”.
  • ·         The meaning behind the term, “Little Christmas”.
  • ·         The meaning behind the designs of Irish fishing sweaters.
  • ·         Irish tartans are different than Scottish tartans. They go more by where you are from than by the name of your family.
  • ·         There is a difference between a shamrock and a four leaf clover.
  • ·         There is a difference between the Gaelic, Welsh, and Manx languages.
  • ·         Poetry, drama, and public speaking run in my blood.
  • ·         Eugene O’Neill and W.B. Yeats are gods. No one has actually finished Finnegan’s Wake. Frank Mc Court will make you laugh, cry, miss your mother, and long for a pint all in one page of a book. Maeve Binchy writes fun books about life in modern Ireland.
  • ·         Jim Sheridan makes excellent movies.
  • ·         The Kennedys are saints; you should revere them.
Tomorrow I will go to the Irish section of town and parade down a street called Tamm Avenue while wearing green. My curly hair and freckled face will fit right in with the group of kinfolk I will be walking with. My Irish eyes will smile, and I will drink a toast to my Irish ancestors. I may be celebrating on a holiday named after the patron saint of Ireland, but it will not be a religious celebration. It will be a celebration of people like me, whose forefathers came to America. They built the railroads, worked the shipyards, and became cops and firefighters, after being starved out of their own country. It is a tale of the sons and daughters of immigrants who came here and searched for those like them. We celebrate what they managed to make despite the odds. We celebrate what we have in common, and that is a culture, not a religion.