A crowd gathers outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Wednesday, March 4, 2015, as the court hears arguments in King v. Burwell. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
I know I broke my ankle because it’s stronger now than it was before I pulverized it in June, 2010 which was three months after the Affordable Care Act passed without any support from congressional Republicans. Poverty was my reality then, and I have no doubt that it can easily be again. One of the unspoken truths of poverty is that it is either an immediate reality or a moment away for most Americans. I was fortunate in 2010. I had jobs and networks of people and by cobbling together those resources and skills, I managed to heal a broken ankle without stepping foot inside a hospital.
Now, I watch and wait for the Supreme Court’s Decision in King v. Burwell and the looming budget fight—each of which will decide the fate of the Affordable Care Act, a law I could have used in 2010.
Back then I was in the best shape of my life. Years of walking to work had helped. At 26, I learned to ride a bicycle and for one month, I flew. The hour that it took to get to and from work became fifteen minutes. I could buy cold food in the summer again. Bowling Green, Kentucky became small enough that I no longer had to factor in travel time.
And then I played basketball.
My best friend at the time, Emily, texted me asking me to meet her at her apartment so we could walk over to the nearby basketball court—which was actually just a basket at the edge of a church parking lot—and shoot hoops for a couple hours. Emily played basketball in high school and I lack basic hand-eye coordination skills, so when I landed awkwardly after coming down from a layup, grabbing the post for support, she didn’t think anything about it. But then, I didn’t let go. I held my left foot off the ground.
She asked me if I was alright and I told her I hoped so. She asked me what it felt like and the first thing that came to mind was that scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom when Indy drops the guard into a rock crusher. Emily cringed and asked me which hospital we should go to.
She asked me what I wanted to do since I wouldn’t go to the hospital. I didn’t know. I asked her to bring me my phone. She came back with it and asked me if I’d be okay if she left for a minute. She was going to get me an ice bag and a slushie. Blue Raspberry.
Slushies make everything better.
Shouldn’t the land of the free be shining and modern and free enough to manage the health of its citizens with something other than luck?
I laid down in the parking lot and watched its parking lights go out and called the owner of the restaurant I worked at. When he asked me about the hospital, I could only manage a chuckle. He asked me what he could do for me and I asked him if he had the crutches he brought back from his last failed ski trip and if I could borrow them for a while. “Absolutely.”
Next, I called a couple of the marijuana enthusiasts from work and asked them to meet me at my apartment. An hour later we met up at the front door and Emily helped me climb up the flight of stairs while the others kept asking why I couldn’t go to the hospital. “Obamacare passed,” they said. “It hasn’t kicked in yet,” I answered.
I fell onto my bed and waited while the saintly stoners sparked a joint. While it worked wonders otherwise, the weed wasn’t strong enough for my ankle. Even though I didn’t feel any better, I was content not to care.
The next day my roommate, Travis, drove me to work for comfort food—a Reuben. While I sat in the dining room with my engorged ankle propped on a chair, one of my new hires came over to me and asked what I meant to do about the ankle. “First, I’m going to eat this Reuben. Then, I’m going to go to Lowe’s and get some scrap wood and nail together a brace… thing.” She smirked and told me her fiancé was an MMA fighter (the pale guy), that he broke his foot the year before and held on to the walking boot. “I mean, you shouldn’t walk on it now, but it’ll hold it in place until you can.”
I was on the crutches for six weeks.
I gave up on trying to self-medicate. Not only did the weed fail to do the trick, but also Kentucky’s burgeoning crackdown on prescription drug abuse meant that I couldn’t score so much as a pity Vicodin. I stayed in the walking boot for six months and even managed to shower four times a week without falling.
Then, one day in November, I woke up, strapped my leg into the boot and started itching. My leg wouldn’t go for the walking boot anymore. I grabbed the cane I had bought to mark the occasion and headed down the stairs and out the door. What had been a ten minute walk down to the city square took twenty. My left leg was half the size of my right. When I got on my bike I had to pedal twice as hard with my right leg as I could my left.
I was lucky when I broke my ankle. I knew the right people and (the Commonwealth notwithstanding) could procure the right supplies.
But there is a reason this story stays with me: I live in the USA, the richest, most powerful country in the world. Why did we and do we leave our health and well-being up to luck? Shouldn’t the “Shining City on a Hill,” the birthplace of modern democracy, the land of the free be shining and modern and free enough to manage the health of its citizens with something other than luck?