It’s time to slow down and think a bit smaller

Estella tears up when thinking about her family's difficult situation.

I’ve had trouble recognizing this country lately, which is my way of saying we’ve gotten pretty cruel and shortsighted when it comes to how we treat people.

It seems odd that empathy and compassion would turn out to be the collateral damage of the culture wars when both sides claim to be holding the moral high ground. I guess we get so caught up fighting over the big picture we lose sight of what’s right in front of us.

We argue over immigration but don’t personally do anything to help migrants. We work like crazy to hold the line on health care while failing to comfort the sick. We talk about the 1 percent and income disparity but rarely do anything for the poor. We look to politics for our salvation but it seems to me we grow more lost by the day. Or maybe that’s just my confession.

I think I may need to slow down, listen more and think a little smaller. At least that’s the conclusion I came to last week sitting on the floor of a Longmont apartment.

All year long I’ve been fluctuating between giving up and charging full speed ahead, and I know many of you have been on the same emotional rollercoaster. When the former hits, I find myself looking at visa requirements and real estate prices in far-flung places where sheep outnumber people. When the latter takes hold, I’m drawn to politics and matters of social injustice like a moth to a flame, my anger providing the fuel for the fire. Neither state, mad nor sad, feels sustainable, and the constant fluctuation is a hard way to live.

That seemed really clear to me last week when I met Victor, his wife, Estella, and their two young daughters, Ailin and Yaretzi. Victor and his family live in a small apartment in Longmont, which is to say they are our neighbors in the Boulder County community.

I found Victor to be a kind, soft-spoken man. His top priorities are his wife and children, making sure that they have what they need to get by. He’s really sad these days because he’s too sick to provide the things his family needs. He can’t work, and he can’t really even get around enough to play with his girls or help his wife around the house when she comes home from her two fast-food jobs. It’s a hard reality for a 36-year-old man who only a couple of years ago was able to provide for his family by welding, working for a landscaping company and doing other trades.

You see, Victor needs a heart transplant, and he needs it soon.

Unfortunately for Victor and his family, they live in what has become a pretty heartless and greedy country, where people like him are expected to simply give up and die, even though his condition is quite treatable. So, what exactly is it about Victor that makes him deserving of such horrendous treatment? Apparently it’s because he’s brown, economically strapped and doesn’t have a Social Security number because he came here as an undocumented migrant a decade ago from Guatemala to be with his father who lives here legally.

It’s hard to believe that in the United States in 2018, not having the proper paperwork is reason enough for the medical community and our government to just sit back and watch the destruction of a family even though the means of saving them is readily available.

Victor needs to get his name on the waiting list for a new heart. But he isn’t allowed to put his name on the list unless he has insurance. Because Victor doesn’t have a Social Security number, he has no access to Medicaid or Medicare. Private insurers, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, would take Victor, but that will cost him $800 to $1,200 a month and he has been told he needs to come up with a full year’s worth of money up-front, approximately $10,000. If he can get the private insurance, not only can he get his name on the list, he can also get a heart pump installed and that will keep his heart going for up to four years. Without the heart pump, Victor is running out of time.

How can the richest country in the world watch this father and husband wilt away just because he can’t come up with $10,000? What great nation would withhold lifesaving medical care just because a person doesn’t have the proper paperwork?

When Victor has found himself too sick to go on this year — when his heart gets out of rhythm, and when fluid builds up in his other organs due to his heart only working at 10 percent normal capacity — he has gone to the emergency rooms, in both Longmont hospitals and the one in Lafayette, only to be turned away and told to go back home because he has no money or insurance. He did get into UCHealth Anschutz Medical Center in Aurora this year, which is likely why he’s still with us. These other local hospitals used to treat him a couple of times a year, shock his heart, get him through the crisis. But now — even though they have the space, the time, the personnel, the equipment and the expertise to save him, they just turn him away to the street. There is no other way to say it; they have deemed his life unworthy of their potential financial expenditure. 

But they are so wrong.

They should sit down and talk with Victor. They should watch the way he treats his little girls. They should see the way his wife looks at him with love through the tears in her eyes. If they did that they could never turn him away.

Fighting Trumpism, arguing about the merits of the Affordable Care Act or getting angry listening to Rachel Maddow describe how kids are being torn from their mothers’ arms at the border can’t save Victor.

But we likely can.

What if we all just slow down and think a little smaller for a while? What if we stop being angry and just help one of our neighbors in need? If you can’t think of anyone to help, I’d like to suggest Victor. We usually don’t allow GoFundMe accounts to be published in the paper for all the obvious reasons. But we decided that Victor’s life-or-death circumstance was a good reason to break our own rules. If you have any interest in helping Victor get the insurance he needs to get a new heart, his GoFundMe information is at the bottom of the news story about Victor.

And with that I’d like to say Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. I wouldn’t be here and neither would this paper if it weren’t for each of you. So, here’s to a coming year I hope is filled with less anger, less despair and more time spent helping out the people who come across our paths every day.

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.   

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