The privilege of healthcare for some, but sadly not all

The privilege of healthcare for some, but sadly not all

George has taken to sitting outside on the patio every morning and evening. He pulls his chair to the edge, where it faces the garden. The birds are raucous these days, flitting in and out of his favorite tree in the corner of the yard. Deep summer has descended, and he wants to breathe in every moment.

He’s realized being able to take the time to heal, without having to be forced to go back to work to survive, isn’t something everyone has. Seventeen years ago he suffered a fall from a ladder — 25 feet up — fracturing his back and shattering an ankle. He was in his 30s with three children at home and a mortgage to pay. Three weeks after his fall, he was back at work with a walker, directing several of his workers on what to do. Because of our precarious position, he couldn’t afford to miss work — even with a terrible injury. There was no safety net.

Over his years of living in Northeast Ohio, he’s made many friends, some of them from Mexico and Central America. There is a fair amount of faces he’s spent time getting to know while having a beer on a Friday night or both of us eating delicious breakfasts at their tables.

Several of these friends have died in the last couple of years. They were all close to George’s age, and none had insurance. If a study was done, I’m sure it would show the lifespan of Latinos in America to be much lower. They died of regular things like diabetes and heart issues — things we take for granted that can be managed with proper medical care. Most were found in their homes after they had passed.

Did you know without support structures and insurance, humans die? Or that many choose not to seek medical care at all because they can’t afford to miss one hour of work? This goes for citizens and immigrants alike. The mentality that has been drilled into us is one of “If they can’t afford to live, they suffer the consequences.”

And inside that sentence lies a loss of compassion. Self-preservation at all costs, we cry.

I do too much. I admit this. I make all his appointments and make sure he goes to them. I pick up his prescriptions and make sure he has refills. I separate them and keep them where he knows which ones to take. I am not his mother, but I do want him to stay alive. He grew up in a system of living that expected the bare minimum from healthcare, that no help would be available.

To this day, if someone gets sick or dies in his community in Mexico, the first words uttered will be “Pues, ni modos.” This translates to “Oh well, nothing you can do.”

I fear our American healthcare system, or at least the people who must deal with its labyrinthine processes, will come to this conclusion as well.

Of George’s friends who died, none had a partner. They were living alone in a land they had come to seek better in, and although there are some excellent resource groups meant for Latino communities, they are limited in the resources they can give. They also cannot make someone go to a doctor’s appointment if the person can’t miss a day of work because they need every penny to afford their rent and food.

This doesn’t just pertain to immigrants, but to much of the population of the United States. We were one of that population when we were young and couldn’t afford healthcare. We scraped by, but if you’ve never spent a day in your life without the security of knowing you could go to the doctor, I beg you to read an article.

There is a twisted logic to believing you must work every single second of the day, then dying because you couldn’t afford to take an hour off to take care of your body — or worse, a company that frowns on that hour you might take. There are pressure points everywhere that need dismantled.

George is sipping from a red coffee cup. Two sugars and powdered creamer have been carefully measured into its deep recesses. He has switched from fatty half and half to powdered creamer for his heart health. He stares at the birds sitting on the electric wire above the tree line and says, “Ignorance about taking care of yourself needs to disappear.”

He’s been attending a cardiac rehab program three times a week. I should say one to two times per week because he has gone back to work part-time and half days. He’s sensitive to how his body feels, always in tune with how meds and new treatments make him feel. Last week the staff assessed him after he got off the treadmill, telling him he was doing exceedingly well. He will be done and graduate from the program in several weeks. It’s been eight weeks since his heart attack.

He told me the doctors and nurses who run the rehab portion of recovery are used to patients coming once or twice, then dropping it completely because they must go to work to live.

When George was on the table having his heart attack, the doctor told him he wanted to cut him open and do open heart surgery. He was even holding a consent form for him to sign. George looked at him and said, “I can’t let you do that because I have to go to work tomorrow.” The doctor gave him four stents, but even faced with heart disease, George was thinking about work. It’s a hard thing for most of us to let go.

Right now he has the privilege of not going to work. He’s self-employed and has seen several different sides of the healthcare coin. Today he’s enjoying his coffee in a comfortable chair on his patio, no mortgage in sight. He has fought to get here. Many never will, believing healthcare wasn’t designed for them.

And I don’t know how or when that will ever change.

Melissa Herrera is a columnist, published author and drinker of too many coffees based in Holmes County. You can find her book, “TOÑO LIVES,” at or buy one from her in person (because all authors have boxes of their own novel). For inquiries or to purchase, email her at