There was a time when most Americans had no medical insurance. It was as recently as in the 1950s. You got sick: you dealt with it. You treated yourself. You lived with it.
My mother was born in 1918. She got polio in the same year as Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Her Medical provider was Shriner’s Hospital in Chicago. They tried the latest techniques to help her walk and stand. My grandmother even begged them to take the muscles from her own legs and give them to my mother so she could walk.. Modern medicine still cannot do that.
This is not to denigrate Shriner’s or any hospital, but the theory was that since one of her legs was weaker than the other, it would be a good thing to strengthen the weak one. They did this by breaking it and setting it so that the bones would thicken and strengthen. They broke both long bones in her leg. Unfortunately, the next day it was discovered that the wrong leg had been broken, So they broke the bones in her other leg and set them. The scars on her thighs resembled huge railroad tracks from all the surgeries done to get her to be able to stand.
My mother had polio from the age of three so she remembered walking. She told me of a beautiful doll she received that she carried up the stairs one time but tripped and dropped the doll. It had a ceramic head which broke. She also remembered being sick and how it felt to lose the ability to move your hands, your feet, your legs, your arms, and go blind all in succession. Polio creeps up from the extremities inward. When she started to improve, her vision returned, then some of movement in her arms, hands and legs. But the affected muscles atrophied. In her left hand there was no muscle at the base of the thumb. One could see and feel the outline of the bone there. Her back was like a ladder, with non-affected muscles bulging out while the affected ones seemed tiny and nonexistent. There were no muscles in her calf at all. She did have some movement in her right foot and could flex it but she could not wiggle a toe.
Polio is not a complete paralysis. I never was able to think of it as paralyzed. When one boyfriend called my mother a paraplegic, I became quite angry. I still cannot accept the term paralysis. My mother could move quite a bit and was very strong. In fact, polio victims can still have sex and experience orgasms….including the men. Yes, even Franklin Delano Roosevelt could have an erection.
She wore braces all her life. In fact, her main pair of braces, donated by the government, she wore for most of her adult life. They lasted until she was well into her 50s. They made things to last in those days. Her wooden crutches, too, lasted. Those crutches and braces took her downtown and on the bus and all over. She was a freelance artist and worked for the WPA designing women’s uniforms. She was very active and could move quite fast on her crutches.
When she was older, after those 6 kids she was supposed to be unable to carry to term or deliver naturally were quite grown, one of her crutches broke. My parents looked all over for a new pair because Dad’s patch up was not satisfactory. She had to settle for a new, metal pair. Nice, but in the cold weather, very uncomfortable. The problems began when the leather holdings and bindings on her braces began to deteriorate and the knee latch on one brace gave way. It was impossible to find a bracemaker. And they had no insurance. In the 1970s, the bracemaker wanted INSURANCE!!!! He told her she should apply for disability. Although my Dad was a Union member and worked as a Stationary Engineer downtown, he had no Health Insurance. They had to prepay for new braces and the bracemaker told them that he could not make a replacement that would be as good. And he wanted the old ones to use as a model! She waited months for her new braces, housebound and refusing a wheelchair!!!! (Now how stupid was that????)
The new ones were not as comfortable, nor as slender and well-finished, and the bindings were not leather, but canvas and the latch that clicked to bend or straighten at the knee didn’t work as well, but she was mobile again and extremely happy.
The problem was that she did not qualify for disability because she did not work under Social Security…she was a freelance artist for ten years.
And now, she was developing breathing problems and having indigestion and gas pains and remember she was a polio victim approaching 60, the magic age. (It seems that at 60, polio victims die due to a “relapse” of their disease.) So many of them suffer complications around that time of their life(which I did not know until I read up on it a few years ago). So she did not go to the doctor for a long time. My Dad thought she had asthma so he gave her his asthma medication. My mother had an inordinate fear of Doctors and Hospitals….maybe it was from her early experience, maybe it was from the birth of her last child where the Nun was pushing the baby back in when all that child wanted to to come out now while she was being wheeled into the delivery room.
So she died of degenerative heart failure…. at the age of 60.
Regular check ups would have helped….health care insurance would have helped.
None of us ever went to a Doctor when we were little. I got through High School without a physical but I couldn’t get into college without one.
I never had a tooth filled, only pulled, it was what my parents could afford. And I remember my first pair of glasses when I was in Fourth Grade and how marvelous it was to finally see the blackboard!
I also remember my first polio shots. My mother was so adamant that we all get our shots. I was lined up at school with all the other kids and we all got our shots. Some of the kids cried and yes, the shot did hurt but my mother was so happy that I was getting them that I did not dare cry. I think I was in second or third grade when that happened. I also received my other childhood inoculations at school. I used to receive the TB Schick test every year and the teacher would inspect all our arms three days later.
Seems we had a Universal Health Care of sorts in the 50s.
Now, students are sent home and have to stay home if they do not have their shots….
I would not call my parents poor. They owned their own home and raised their children, sending 3 of them to college. For the era, they were probably average. But, the Health Care thing would have made a big difference. My father never missed a day of work although he was laid off in the “recession” of 1958 for 6 months and we did have a slim time making ends meet. There was a shortage of food, winter clothing, and my parents had to “strong arm” relatives to scrape up money for the mortgage payments. My Uncle paid the fees for my Dad to join the Stationary Engineers Union in Chicago so he could finally land a job.
Universal Health Care or Single Payer would have made a difference. We were a more caring nation in the 50s than we are now.
Even though my Dad had the VA, he never used it until he was in his late 60s. So he had something. My mother had nothing after she grew up. We had the school when I was a kid. Now children don’t even have that.
A country as great as we are should not have the worst health care among developed nations. A country that spends billions on illegal wars should be able to provide health care for its people who provide the power to fight those wars. If our taxes pay for war, for a military, for health care for our congress persons, for bailouts, then it should promote the well-being of its people.