Thursday, April 18, 2013

Hard Times

 ©  Sharon Chang and MultiAsian Families Blog, Apr 18 2013  

After my son was born I developed co-occurring health issues that prevented me from working and required expensive medical treatment. My husband and I found ourselves in a stressful financial situation. For the first time in either of our lives, we applied for low-income help. Our son qualified for health insurance coverage and some food support. Although these services have been amazingly helpful, and of course we are deeply grateful, qualifying for them has been eye opening and a little shocking for me. I have now seen and experienced firsthand the stark, dividing racial lines that sill exist in this country; the way race clearly impacts income, access to healthcare, quality of healthcare, and treatment by others.

At child wellness checkups, I rarely see White people in the waiting room (predominantly people of color) but frequently see White people behind the desk; social workers, doctors, nurses, administrators. Before my son qualified for Medicaid, he saw a naturopathic doctor (N.D.) with whom he was very comfortable. She was also very supportive of our choice to vaccinate on a selective and delayed schedule. After he qualified for Medicaid, his N.D. didn’t accept his insurance anymore. We went to a different neighborhood clinic where he was seen by a physician’s assistant (P.A.) whom he disliked so much he actually told her to, “Go away.” The P.A. was irritated that my son hadn’t been vaccinated according to guidelines and left the room at one point muttering something about how confusing it was when patients weren’t “on schedule.”

As for food support, despite the fact I have higher education and speak fluent English, I still find using food vouchers at the grocery store confusing. Certain items are covered. Certain items aren’t. Although some organic produce is allowed, organic milk and eggs are not. It can take a long time to rifle through and locate the correct, qualifying item. I’ve seen immigrant mothers standing confusedly in aisles, babies in carts, vouchers in hand, not knowing what to pick off the shelves, who, or how to ask for help. I have frequently held up or slowed lines, been impatiently dealt with by checkers, and heard the exasperated sighs of other customers waiting behind me. It can be embarrassing and humiliating.

Also part of food support, our son is required to go in for quarterly checkups. At our last appointment we met with an intimidating White social worker. I couldn’t shake the feeling she thought I was uninformed and needed to be instructed. The first thing she told my son – who has always been on the smaller side (but he’s Asian) – was that he was the lightest child she had weighed that day. Feeling self-conscious, when she advised children his age should not drink whole milk, I joked, “Well maybe he should.” She challenged me immediately, launching into a tirade about how we are conditioned to think children are not healthy when they actually are. When I spoke to my son in Mandarin, she seemed annoyed because she didn’t understand. And at the end of the meeting she handed us a recipe for fried rice and seemed surprised when we told her we make it all the time.

I realize now the way money, ownership, and education veiled these racial realities for us in the past. It was easy to “not see,” or to think racism was something that only deeply impacted other people. We could tolerate the isolated racial slur once and a while. That wasn’t too bad. Overall our quality of life was pretty good, and frankly, still is. But now I know, hard times don’t discriminate. They can come to anyone. And when they came to us, it was impossible not to see the reality of race and how it persists to this day.

1 comment :

  1. We need more compassion in our world - so that when we encounter someone in the grocery line trying to figure out the confusing and racist-classist food stamp system, instead of getting impatient and upset, we send out vibrations of empathy and kindness, remembering as you correctly point out, that everything is impermanent and can change in an instant. Tomorrow we could be that person struggling to navigate the system to feed our family.

    As for the health care system, it's broken. At my acupuncture clinic, I charge a sliding scale ($15-$35) and don't ask for any income verification which is inherently demeaning in my opinion. Nobody wants someone else's charity when they first have to prove how poor they are. That strips them of their dignity.

    As for navigating primary care medicine, I try to avoid any sort of doctor/hospital visit. My daughter had no immunizations and she is the physically healthiest, mentally brightest ten year old child that I know.

    Aside from dental appointments and one trip to the E.R. when she broke her arm from a tumble on a bicycle, she hasn't been to a doctor visit since she was one. Not that I am advising this for everyone. Every decision has its risks.

    Thanks for sharing Sharon.