I’ve been telling my mom for years that she needs health insurance. I cannot imagine going without it. But she’s never been the least bit interested. Now, I wonder why I’m so surprised because I was talking to my sister on the phone yesterday and she reminded me that we never had health insurance growing up either.
Couple the lack of health insurance with a stingy stepdad who was always suspicious that our main aim in life was to sponge money from him (which was probably one of the reasons he never got insurance), and I don’t recall going to the doctor as a kid, not even once.
But it wasn’t just that we didn’t have the money for medical care, it was also that we kids knew that if we ‘fessed up about being injured, we would get in trouble. We were always in trouble. I seem to remember that we were perfect children, who never did a thing wrong in our lives, but that didn’t keep us from getting in trouble. Once we had a sleepover and we were grounded for a year because we talked too loud and kept my stepdad awake the night before he had to get up early for work.
So, the times I recall that I could have benefited from medical care, I kept quiet to keep from getting grounded. Like the time I was trying to catch a lizard with a coke bottle (those tall skinny glass ones that they don’t make anymore) and I slipped, smashed the bottle on a rock, and cut my knee so deeply that I still have the scar. I didn’t go home for hours until it stopped bleeding because I knew that somehow, this would get me in trouble. I shouldn’t have had the bottle; I shouldn’t have been trying to catch lizards; I shouldn’t have been in the woods.
And the time I was riding a neighbor’s motorbike and crashed. I still have the scar on my forehead from that. But again, I stayed away until the bleeding stopped and the dizziness subsided. Surely I would be chastised for riding such a dangerous bike, for not getting permission, for going too fast.
My sister wasn’t so lucky. When she injured herself, she went all the way. When she was eight or so, we were playing in the backyard, just after sunset. We were running around, and you know that’s grounds for getting in trouble. She fell and reached out with her hands to catch herself. Unfortunately, there was a large piece of broken glass buried right where her hand landed. The cut went all the way to the bone, just between two of her fingers. She had a ring on one of the fingers, and she was pulling at it to get it off. And we kept telling her to stop because she was pulling her entire finger off of her hand. The girl needed stitches. There was no way around telling our parents, as much as we hoped there would be. The running, the falling, the glass, the cut? We knew we could get into some serious trouble here.
So, we showed them the evidence: my sister’s finger, pouring blood, bone visible, finger dangling off. My stepdad’s suggestion? That she put a band-aid on it. If only this were some crazy comedy show with Ben Stiller and a dog in a cast. But no, this was just my childhood. I guess my mom must have convinced him that a band-aid probably wasn’t quite up to the task and off to the ER they went.
Just before her fifteenth birthday, she had an ingrown toenail that was so infected, her foot was too swollen to even fit in her shoe. She knew that no good could come of telling our parents. She’d had fifteen years of proof, but eventually, she had no choice. She had to tell them. My mom’s solution was to poke it with a needle. My mom’s solution was always to poke the problem with a needle. I don’t know what it was with my mom and needles, but they were the cornerstone of her first aid kit. You didn’t want to admit any injury to mom because no one wanted to be held down and subjected to the needle. My sister refused the needle. My mom got mad. How could anyone resist the healing needle? It was disobedience, plain and simple. My sister ran. She knew the holding down part would come any minute. My mom yelled that if she didn’t let my mom poke her toe with the needle, she wasn’t going to get a birthday. My sister said that was fine. No birthday was worth that needle. She countered that was she really needed was a doctor. My parents were so confused. A doctor? Why would she need a doctor? She begged. She pleaded. Finally, my stepdad made her a deal. We’ll bring you to the doctor, but then we’re not getting you any Christmas presents. The doctor will be your present. Doctors cost money, you know. Fine. My sister said she’d rather have a foot than a Christmas. And finally, off to the doctor they went.
I don’t remember if they gave in and gave her a birthday and Christmas. I’m sure my mom would have figured out something, although had it been left up to my stepdad, he probably would have held his ground. Some girls want a pony. Some a bike. My sister wanted a doctor. My stepdad was just fulfilling her dream, after all. What other presents would be necessary?
When I was a kid, there was lots I looked forward to about being an adult. I could stay up as late as I wanted. Choose what to eat. And go to the doctor anytime I wanted. They say that kids don’t really know what being an adult is all about when they dream of getting older, but in my case, my dreams really did come true.