Spouting

            Not far from where I live on the Oregon Coast where rocks meet the sea is a structure called Spouting Horn.  The sea rushes in, hits the rocks and then spouts upward in a geyser, the sea water pushed by force upward through a small opening.  It’s a mighty WHOOSH! and tourists appreciate watching all that water being released into the air.
            That whoosh is how I’m going to feel today when I finish telling you about some things that are making me angry, so angry I have to find some relief by spouting off.
            The state of health care in this country makes me angry.  The people who most need it can’t get it.  People are dying from ailments that could be cured but they can’t afford the high monthly insurance rates.  People don’t go to the doctor anymore but wait until they face life-threatening situations, and then they use the emergency room.  Because people don’t go to the doctors, health clinics, even the county health department clinics, are failing.  Not enough people who can pay are going to the doctor to offset the cost of non-paying patients.  Hospitals are failing without paying patients, so more nurses and support staff lose their jobs, which means that they can’t pay for health insurance either.
            My friend Peggy owns her own business but as a small business owner, she can’t afford insurance for herself or her workers.  Three months ago she had a series of painful attacks that seemed to suggest heart problems.  She went to the ER in another city where she was working at the time, and was seen, but told she’d need to have some tests to determine what exactly her heart problem was.  She came back to our hospital for care as well.  However, she could not afford the necessary tests and wouldn’t be given them until she had paid her bill in both hospitals.  She offered to pay $25 a month to the first hospital and submitted paperwork to our hospital for special financing so she could finally get her tests. 
            The finance office of the first hospital called her almost daily to pay her bill, even though she made it clear she didn’t have any extra money lying around and had offered to pay what she could pay until the bill was paid.  Day after day, she received a dunning call.  Meanwhile, while still suffering heart pain and working because she now has even more bills to pay, she waited to hear about the financing at our hospital.  Four weeks she waited until the paperwork went through.  She’s waited another three weeks now for the hospital to schedule her tests so she can find out exactly what’s wrong with her heart.  The special financing is only good for a short period of time and even though she got the go ahead, her time may run out before the hospital schedules her in.  Her time may run out in more ways than one.
            That she could die before learning the details of her affliction is possible, because she can’t afford to pay the steep insurance premiums for the insurance that would enable a diagnosis that could keep her alive.  She’s living day to day, and not in comfort.  We all know life is not always fair, but something like this is not based on the vagaries of life as much as the insanity of human greed.  This goes beyond unfair.
            Another example of the cold shoulder of our health care system is the woman I saw yesterday at the grocery store who had exactly one tooth in her mouth, smack in the middle of her upper gums.  That’s it.  No one should have to go out in public with only one tooth, no matter how unfortunate that person’s life has been.  Someone said she probably did Meth which is why she had no teeth.  Which came first, thedental problem or the drug use?  I ask because what would you do to escape the shame of having a smile that needed dental care but access to that was denied to you because of  your income generating ability?  Forget the cosmetic problem, if you think that’s too silly.  Realize this woman cannot really eat, either. 
            Turn from the greed of the health care corporations for now, to the greed of the bankers.  I won’t belabor what you already know of how their unscrupulous practices put our country in danger economically.  I will tell you instead of the brochure I received from Bank of America.  “Thank you for choosing Bank of America.” the front page reads.  “A complimentary reward for you”       
            I opened the brochure to receive my complimentary reward as the middle page dictated.  “Enjoy a complimentary $5 gift card*” the next page read.  Because I am one of their best customers (I believe this means simply that I pay my bill every month.), I am asked to “…please accept a $5 gift card of your choice for Target, Best Buy or Starbucks.  It’s our way of saying “thanks”. 
            Which is also their way of saying, “Spend some more money with your credit card at 10.24% interest!” because $5 covers barely anything at these three places. 
            I finish reading the brochure, mouth agape.
            What kind of financial management is this?  I had an hour earlier finished reading an article about how Bank of America just laid off 300,000 employees.  You lay off 300,000 employees because you can’t pay them and at the same time you offer money to your “good” customers?  Am I the only person for whom this makes no sense?  Why would I keep my money with a bank engaging in unsound financial practices?  A week or so later I read that Bank of America is now charging its customers $5 for debit card use.  “Keep your money with us so that we can charge you to get any of  it back.” 
            “We’re failing, so we have to do that,” is the rationale given for the new charge.  Yeah, no wonder you’re failing when you give away money even though you don’t have enough to pay your employees.  The same employees who now are not going to be able to pay their health care premiums or their grocery bills.
            No, I’m not following BOA’s simple steps to receive my reward.  My complimentary $5 might be the final straw that broke the camel’s back and I wouldn’t want to be the one responsible for bringing down a huge corporate giant.  No siree.
            So far, we can’t get health care and we have to pay for our own money.  At least we can eat a good dinner, right?  (Except those of us with only one tooth.)
            Not so fast.
            The number of hungry is rising rapidly and the amount of food in food banks is dwindling.  However, there is food if you know where to look.  It’s outdated and sometimes overcooked, but it’s available.  Just look in the dumpsters behind grocery stores and restaurants.  I first was made privy to food waste when one of my students who worked at a fast food restaurant disclosed he had to throw away already cooked food every night at closing.  Around midnight all those chicken pieces and biscuits went into the garbage.  He suggested that someone start gleaning food from the dumpsters to serve the hungry.  That would be against the law but the law wasn’t there at midnight to see what happened.  The law is not behind grocery stores when food over its pull date is tossed.
            I liked his idea.  I think it’s a crime if anyone goes hungry in this country that produces more food than there are people to eat it.  Since his idea erupted, more than ten years have passed.  Even more people are hungry.  Some groups have formed in large cities to take the food that used to be thrown away and distribute it to the hungry.  Not enough of these groups exist, however.  Finally, an enterprising young film maker and his wife have produced the documentary, “Dive: Living Off America’s Waste.” They, and their friends, lived off the food they dove into dumpsters to retrieve for over a year.  They gleaned so much food they had to buy more freezers and ways to store it.  They dived and gleaned to prove how much food goes to waste and into landfills in our country when people here and in other countries die of hunger.  My grandmother, who saved even the peelings from the vegetables she grew to cook for soup stock and who made lunchmeat from pig’s heads so nothing would be wasted, would be turning in her grave.  At the very least, she’d be spouting off.  Do you feel like it yet?
            If not, let me tell you one other thing I learned last night from the director of our Women’s Resource Center, which helps women and children escape from domestic violence and begin their lives anew.  The center also teaches men how to deal with their anger and make more peaceful choices.
            The director received a letter from a member of the community accusing the director and the staff of the center of fabricating the percentage of domestic violence in our community and county.  This community member was sure that domestic violence did not really exist and that the center was only trying garner sympathy with the numbers in order to fund jobs for themselves and live comfortably off the public dole.
            Here I am, spouting.
            I always used to tell my writing students that anyone can complain but if anything is to ever change, then a solution must be offered as well.  If you complain, then the next step is action.
            So what am I going to do?
            In some cases, when I thought I could do something to help, I have.  I start at the local level where I can see immediate results.  I am on the board of the county health department council and do what I can to promote the medical services the clinic provides.  I keep myself healthy.  I pay off my credit card bill every month and don’t buy what I can’t afford.  I’d throw away my Bank of America card but I use the airline miles my purchases accrue to visit family and friends.  I grow extra food for one of my community’s foodbanks and help them purchase food as well.  My husband and I donate time and items to the Women’s Resource Center and other rehabilitative groups in our county.  I use whatever resources I have to get people the help they need.  Most people who care about others in the place they live do these things.
            I’ve done something else by writing about what angers me.  I ranted.  When pressure builds, when insanity and ignorance, when greed and inhumanity drive you to the limits of your endurance, ranting helps.  Spouting helps.  Be that ocean whooshing through the small hole in the rocks.  Then you can take a deep breath, say a prayer, and go on taking care of the people around you.