Just stop

I am so terribly weary from being a woman at the moment.

Last summer, a friend visiting Helsinki brought along pictures from the Women’s Rights March in DC from 1992, I believe. One of the signs from that day that my friends and I carried read, ‘US out of my uterus’. And, here we are

It’s not just the laws, governing and policing of lady bits going on. Or the pain and uncertainty that women living in those specific parts of the US or world will or currently feel given the limited options available to them. Or even the desperate measures they’re likely to resort to given their realities.

It’s primarily the vitriol and misogynistic context and tone to comment after comment after comment from men directed at women. To me, to women I know and to women I’ll likely never meet. It’s been seemingly constant since the fiasco and farce that was the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh.

And, frankly, I’m just tired of it all. Increasingly, I find that I genuinely do not like many, many, many men. [Thankfully, I married a feminist who gets this and shares my outrage, and call many other woke men friends. I do not dislike, y’all, if that wasn’t obvious already.]

Most of this rant will seem likely to the men feeling secure in their positions and who truly welcome equality with their uterus-possessing friends. We thank, y’all. Seriously. So, help us get this message out, eh?

If you claim to be an ally or want to know how to be one, here’s an idea: Just stop, listen / read our words, try to understand our despair and anger, and ask instead how you can help support the women in your life rather than tell them what they should feel or how they should act. [Mansplaining 101 from a woman’s perspective.]

And, if you feel it’s necessary to make snarky comments to someone you don’t know because of the safety of your keyboard, really? [Mansplaining 101 from a man’s perspective, because this is 2019 and women are still not taken seriously. And, hence, this post and my rage.]

Unless you have lived your entire life since puberty dealing with period shame,

Unless you have held your breath waiting for your period to come because various methods fail on occasion,

Unless you have watched as your idea was shot down or dismissed by someone in authority only to hear a man in the room say literally the same exact thing and be congratulated for their brilliance, 

Unless you have been told stop beingso emotional‘ or ‘overly hormonal’ when you disagree with a man, 

Unless you’ve been told on numerous occasions that you’re being a bitch so it must just be ‘that time of the month‘ [NB: this link is a fucking gem of an example of everything which induces rage in me at the moment in that sort of cumulative sort of way from a lifetime of it],

Unless you have had to wrestle and wiggle your way out of the clutches of *that* dude,

Unless you’ve been genuinely terrified that you won’t be able to wrestle and wiggle away *this* time,

Unless you’ve had to justify what you were wearing, or how flirty you were or weren’t or that no really does means no,

Just stop.

Stop telling me what I should say, what I should do, what I should feel or any other thing I do with my body or my mind. This is my body. This is my mind. And, these are my emotions.

And, I own them. All.

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Image credit: Anne Lesniak.

Further reading:

Three books that I think every single person on the planet should read right now:

Let’s not talk about politics

A friend of mine just shared this particular comic with me, and it could not have been more appropriate.

politics

©Emily McGovern. Brilliant image capturing how I suspect many are feeling at this particular moment. For more, visit http://emilymcgovern.com/category/comics/.

Feel familiar?

So far today, I’ve read more about the President’s damn tweets, more on potential collusion between Russian hackers and various Trump campaign officials, the assault on access to healthcare that is the GOP/Trump plan to reverse Obamacare, the completely unstaffed Science Division of the White House as of yesterday,  and the rather bizarre request for voter registration information from each state based on misinformation non-existent evidence of ‘widespread’ voter fraud within the US voting system.

I’m exhausted and it’s not even 9.00 on Saturday. And, we’re not even six months into this administration’s first term?

There’s too much. Too much noise and nonsense news and misdirection. As disgusting and demeaning as our current President’s tweets are, the agendas being pushed through as we’re all distracted by his unbecoming behaviour are even more infuriating. For instance, one little tidbit buried in news headlines is a lovely provision in a spending bill currently in the House. This provision would eliminate funding to the IRS to enforce a law prohibiting churches and other non-profits which are tax exempt from endorsing specific candidates for public office. (The law is known as the Johnson Amendment and was signed into law by President Eisenhower.) I don’t mind if churches and other non-profits want to enter the political fray; many already have. I do mind if they want to continue to claim their tax-exempt status.

And, down the political news rabbit hole I go…

My husband and I try to step away from our computers and work and other nonsense each day. On our peripatetic bonding time-out each evening, we typically experience a moment eerily akin to that captured in the image above. Particularly that last panel.

We support evidence-based policies.

We support policies which uphold and respect the human rights and dignity of all rather than a select few.

We support funding for the arts and sciences because they typically assist, benefit and enlighten more than a few, if not today then in future.

And, more than that, we support respectful, open and fact-based discussions on how to move forward on any particular issue.

I don’t for a moment believe that all those with opposing views to my own are idiots. I just wish the discussions about various policies wouldn’t assume that all of us are idiots.

Forget the bloody tweets. Let’s get back to what’s happening with and on specific policies. Precisely because it is so damn infuriating and exhausting.

Our loss of compassion

This. This article hit home.

I’ve lost count of the number of people I know who have put up a GoFundMe or other fundraising effort to help subsidise their or their family member’s life-threatening illnesses. And, like many, I’m bloody tired of having endless discussions about the politics of fear and greed.

I’m beyond enraged that individuals who have dedicated their time to work for employers who tell them they need to go on disability (at which point they lose their benefits and income) because of a chronic condition. I’m beyond incredulous how an employer can simply fire individuals because they are sick—too sick—to work, thus eliminating their benefits entirely (in one case, whilst the woman, who worked for corporate giant Radio Shack for 30 years, was on life support fighting for her own life).

I am beyond enraged when ‘leaders’ like Speaker Paul Ryan say that these same people simply don’t want to buy insurance. Never mind these people whom I know and care about deeply made every effort to ensure they have the coverage they need. What does Speaker Ryan think my beloved mother-in-law, well into her 80s, should do? What about an individual with dementia? What about a child born with a congenital birth defect?

There’s an element of American society that I don’t remember after living abroad for nearly 20 years. Not everyone mind, but a healthy enough proportion of us have become unimaginably cruel. Unless and until it happens to them, certain individuals seem to delight in the pain and suffering and hardships faced by others. It’d be bad enough if we simply turned a blind eye to that suffering. But, even within political discussions these days, the level of delight in watching others fail or flounder astounds me. It’s sad—so incredibly sad. For all of us.

I don’t have my own children, but I want all children to have equitable access to quality education without putting themselves or their families in debt. Why? Because I want those children to grow up equipped to become productive and engaged members of society.

I am healthy and have (touch wood) never really experienced any dire or life-threatening issues. But, I also want universal healthcare for all of my fellow Americans because I understand that ill-health and unfortunate accidents can happen to anyone. Accessing treatment shouldn’t be a privilege for those fortunate enough to have money or a privileged position within society. Like it or not, we all get sick or can. And, no-one should be forced to choose between food or shelter or health care for their loved one. Everyone’s life is priceless to someone else.

People matter. Individuals matter. Any one individual may not matter to me personally, but that isn’t what’s important. Understanding that we all have some worth or merit or characteristic which makes us priceless to others is what drives my own compassion and empathy. And, understanding that my own happiness does not come from ignoring my compassion for others guides my support for particular policies and practices. I want others to be happy just as I want to be happy myself.

To me, sitting over here in my socialist, high-tax, high-quality life in Finland where kids are exceptionally educated and health care is available to all for pennies, the US looks a lot less compassionate than I remember.  As angry as I am, I am far, far sadder. And I suspect, I am far from alone in this sadness.

Compassion_FuneralCall

Waiting room antiques

Unexpectedly transported to another time

Unexpectedly transported to another time

Finland has a most impressive national healthcare system universally available to all residents. In terms of efficiency against quality, Finland ranks 23rd in the world. Touch wood, we’ve been fortunate to remain relatively healthy during our stay here and have enjoyed precious little in the way of waiting times, received excellent services in English and been generally impressed with the level of service and quality of equipment, facilities and medicines (when necessary).

There are moments, however, when we feel as though we’ve stepped into a time machine and been transplanted into the 1950s or so. From the architecture to the fixtures coupled with the design and decor including the furniture in the lobbies, it’s an incredibly surreal experience.

This particular waiting room is situated in the radiology department in one of the local hospital complexes in Helsinki. It’s a gorgeous location not far from our neighbourhood and not far from the very centre of the city. As with much of Helsinki, it is surrounded by a lovely park, and much of the hospital complex seems far too historically significant to house the modern diagnostic tools necessary for a top-notch healthcare system. Yet, it does.

When we returned a few days ago to this particular waiting room for a routine part of a check up, we once again marveled at the furnishings. These particular chairs and the very long bench/sofas which matched them could be equally appropriate for the set of Mad Men or in an episode of The Jetsons.

What made the experience all the more surreal was the film which was showing on the gigantic flat screen on the wall. Nevermind that the flat screen was a complete mismatch with the rest of the decor. The film playing on it was absolutely perfect. We’ve no idea what the film was nor what was really happening other than what appeared to be a lot of silliness. A Finnish film from most likely the same time period during which the furniture we sat on was manufactured, it perfectly matched the era of the room whilst allowing for a little comedic relief for the nervous patients awaiting their various scans. We watched completely perplexed as various Finnish actors from days gone by paraded around the black-and-white set in a series of dance moves which, quite frankly, made no sense at all. It was fantastic. Utterly and totally fantastic.

What a way to spend a bit of time. The scan went well and all is as it should be in terms of our health and well-being. Many thanks to the fantastic folks in the Finnish healthcare system who not only provide great care, but who also might just have a hidden sense of humour which comes through in the most unlikeliest of places.

Come on, Texas. Really?

I’ve written before about my connection to that most unique state, Texas. Today’s post sadly isn’t one which fills me with state pride.

Since seeing the tragic news a few days ago about Marlise Munoz, a 33-year-old brain dead woman who is forcibly being kept alive to serve, quite bluntly, as an incubator, has me speechless. Ms Munoz by all accounts is unable to live without full life support and will not recover. Her husband and parents want to take her off of life support and have wished to do so since learning that there is no brain stem activity. She herself had previously said that she did not want to be kept alive in a vegetative state. So, why is she now on life support against the wishes of her family and her own living will?

She was 14-weeks pregnant when she collapsed.

In Texas, life-sustaining treatment can not be withdrawn or withheld from a pregnant woman regardless of how far along she is in her pregnancy. As of 2012, similar strict laws surrounding end-of-life care for pregnant women existed in 12 states in the US, according to a 2012 study by the Centre for Women Policy Studies. (These states are Alabama, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin.) Thus, even if an advance directive exists stipulating that a woman does not wish to remain on life support if she is considered brain dead, the state has the right to keep her on life-sustaining support if she is pregnant. Her wishes for a dignified death are unimportant and she is essentially rendered an incubator. This is precisely what has happened to Ms Munoz.

Had she been further along in her pregnancy, I might find this more understandable. But, she was still in her first trimester when she was classified as ‘legally’ dead. She suffered from a lack of oxygen for an extended period of time, which most likely also affected the foetus. But, nevermind that.

What really gets me is the medical bills. Since it is the hospital’s decision to keep Ms Munoz on life support , you would think that the costs would fall on the administration. No. The bills will ultimately go to her family. With an average cost of US$4004 per day, already the bill is quite steep (~US$170 000 already at least). And, that’s just for the intensive care unit bill. But, this does not necessarily include the costs of the ambulance, emergency room and other various services and service providers, specialists, etc. undoubtedly used since she first collapsed on 26 November. All of these add to that already hefty bill and in the absence of a national healthcare system. For what?

My understanding is that, currently, the hospital is waiting until the foetus has developed further to determine if they will keep Ms Munoz on life support further and what additional actions they will take. Should tests reveal that the foetus is brain dead, what next? Who will be responsible for providing long-term care to that foetus/infant? The family? Or the hospital? Or the state of Texas?

Without delving into the pro-life / pro-choice debate, this case in particular fills me with sadness for the family of Ms Munoz, but also for Ms Munoz herself. Her dignity as a human and as a woman specifically has been diminished so greatly. She expressed her wishes to not be put on life support should she lose brain function. Her wishes have been ignored completely all for the sake of a foetus which may or may not survive to birth, and may or may not itself be brain dead.

In the words of her father, she is a ‘host’ at this point, not a woman or a mother. In cases like this, it’s hard to see that women are valued within society as anything but incubators when the rights of a foetus are placed so clearly above those of the mother. And, if we can fight so fiercely for the well-being of a foetus before it enters the world, why do we not then provide that same level of care and concern for the child it becomes?

Clearly, medical technology has advanced at an amazing rate, so much so that the ethics of our options have not completely sunk in and we have yet to philosophically ponder let alone come up with solutions / answers which work for all of us given our varied beliefs and moral compasses. Yet, I would hope that we would at the very least put the dignity of an individual, especially when spelled out when one is capable of still making such decisions, above all else.

For now, my thoughts are with the Munoz family. Suffering such a loss is bad enough. Having to relive it each and every day in such a viscous, callous and myopic way is unthinkable. May they be able to finally and definitively grieve sooner rather than later.

Can you afford to be sick?

The debt ceiling ‘debate’ (although debacle seems more appropriate) has spurred many to trumpet the importance of cutting all spending, regardless of what that spending is on. Surprisingly, rather than focus on the most wasteful and senseless spending—fighting at least three wars which are resounding multi-year and multi-administration failures (e.g., Afghanistan, Iraq and the War on Drugs)—most of the discussion has focused on slashing the limited social protections we have in the US system.

I’ve long been a supporter of healthcare reform in the US and worked as an activist in the early 1990s to drum up awareness of the push for a national healthcare system for all Americans at a time when it was only just gaining momentum. It surprises me still how vehemently against a national healthcare system most Americans are even though they have witnessed decreasing coverage from their policies and exponential increases in their premiums and co-payments.

Spending per capita by country

We in the United States spend more than any other country on healthcare per captia by quite some margin. As of 2008, estimates by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that, after adjustments for currency and purchasing power parity, the US spent on average US$7538 per capita on healthcare. Compare that to the next highest level of spending per capita, found in Norway, at US$5003. Despite this spending, the US is just about equal to Cuba in terms of adult life expectancy (78.3 years overall for both countries). Yet, in Cuba, a mere US$260 per capita was spent in 2005 to the US$6543 spent in the US that same year.

Meanwhile, most Americans have experienced the dreaded pre-existing condition clause. That is, those individuals unfortunate enough to have been diagnosed with any sort of pre-existing condition are left without any coverage at all. I personally know more than a few individuals who will never be able to pay off the debt they owe for hospitalisations and/or treatment that potentially saved their lives. One friend has been an insulin-dependent diabetic since he was a child. He could not get insurance of any kind and rarely sought care because it was so expensive. As a consequence, he had a massive stroke at 29, experienced a prolonged hospitalisation and physical therapy, and now cannot ever hope to buy his own property given his credit rating due to the unpaid medical bills. He’s hardworking and always has been, and has even set up payment plans with all of the various providers for his stroke treatment. But, he will never enjoy the luxury of private insurance coverage.

I also know many (including myself) who have at one point in their lives gone without treatment even for minor conditions because they either could not afford insurance coverage or could not afford the co-payment.

This in a country which until recently has enjoyed unheralded wealth and one which boasts the best possible care available anywhere on the planet. That is, as long as you can afford it.

Contrast this to where I currently live—Finland. A friend of mine has the misfortune of experiencing breast cancer. She is a model of dignity and grace and bravery. It’s been a whirlwind for her and for those of us who hope to provide whatever support she and her family need to get through it. One of the eye-opening aspects of it all has been the exceptional (and incredibly timely) care she has received since her first appointment to check out a lump she found.

She was sent for an ultrasound, mammogram and biopsy within a few days of her first appointment to check out the lump. She received the biopsy results less than a week after the sample was taken. She was then scheduled for surgery straight away and had it the following week. Thus, between her first appointment and her surgery, a mere three weeks had passed. (She later found out that because of the type of cancer she has, someone else was bumped to a later date to allow them to remove her tumor more quickly, something which was key given the type of cancer she has.)

She is covered by the Finnish social benefits programme, which is more commonly known as Kela here and includes health as well as employment benefits, education, etc. Everything required for her treatment and medical bills is covered under Kela, and these benefits are the same for all residents regardless of what citizenship they hold. Her co-payments have been rather minimal. In her words, here they are:

  • ‘I paid €27.40 for my mastectomy surgery and another €27.40 for my overnight stay in the hospital!
  • My breast prosthesis, a special prosthetic bra and my hair prosthesis (wig) were all covered.
  • I’m taking a special drug to boost the production of white blood cells to make up for the ones the chemotherapy kills off. I have to take the shot each time I have a chemo treatment, and each shot costs €1300 euros! However, with a special waiver, I only pay THREE euros per shot. [NB: When she went to pickup her shot after her second round of chemo, the pharmacists suggested that she take three shots at once since they had them to hand. Thus, she paid a mere €3 for nearly €4000 worth of medications!]
  • In addition, once we’ve paid €600 out-of-pocket in a year, anything above and beyond that is fully covered.’

Contrast this to the experience of a friend hers who is in the US and also going through breast cancer. The day after her reconstructive surgery, her insurance company sent her a letter saying they would not pay for it. The day after. Can you imagine?

My friend here has not had to wait ridiculous amounts of time and has received exceptional treatment as well. It’s really quite impressive. And, as difficult of a time this is for her and her family, the experience has been somewhat less stressful because she is here and not in the US.

I know the tired arguments in the US against a national healthcare system which suggest that quality is compromised. That is patently untrue. Finland has one of the highest survival rates and treatment success rates in the world for several types of cancer. Beyond cancer, remember when David Beckham injured his Achilles’s tendon? He came to Turku, Finland, to see a particularly brilliant orthopaedic surgeon to have the tendon repaired .

I also know that many Americans baulk at the thought of their taxes being increased to pay for a national healthcare system. I don’t pay anymore in taxes here in Finland than I did in the US, and our quality of life is much better. Frankly, I’d rather my tax dollars went towards things such as improving the US education system and ensuring that healthcare was more equitable and not simply a luxury afforded by those who make enough money. Healthcare costs have been increasing for decades and will only continue to do so, largely due to the insurance industry’s stranglehold over hospitals, clinics and providers. Furthermore, we can still have private insurance and care alongside a national system, much as they do in places such as the UK and the Netherlands.

But, isn’t ensuring that all Americans have access to preventative as well as life-saving treatment and care regardless of their social, economic or political background a much better way to spend our tax revenue? Is it not more equitable and just? Would you not want to have that care for yourself or a loved one should you have an illness?