Coco and Bigote Discover America, Again

We are in Portlandia.

Correction: I am in Portland, having just dropped Ryan off at the airport after an awesome night with our friend Jenn Chavez and her boyfriend Erin. Yesterday was a pretty unbelievable day: we awoke to deer tiptoeing through our foggy Cougar Campground on Mount Rainier, drove up to Paradise pass, which is still under 10 feet of snow, then embarked on a brisk 5-mile hike on the Wonderland trail before setting off for Portland. Once we made it off I-5 (oh, how I loathe thee), we met Jenn and Erin in Belmont for--get ready--an art show, a drive-by candy car, dinner at Sizzle Pie Pizza, and an awesome metal show by Avi Devi at Katy O'Brien's.

It's not often that I start the day on a mountain and end it on a pool table, surrounded by men with chin-length hair and women with surprisingly screamy voices. Oh, and after the show, Jenn and Erin took us to a pod--not of whales, but of mobile food carts, all strung up with bright lights. Ryan got poutine (Canadian fries with gravy and cheese), and I got a fried coconut chocolate pie.

We are now very much back on the grid, after spending the past ten days camping in western Canada (first in Glacier National Park in British Columbia, and later on Vancouver Island), wandering through Olympic National Park in Washington, where we visited the Hoh Rainforest and camped at Mora campground on the coast. We were so wrapped up in the intensity of hanging moss against the blue blue skies that we almost didn't notice the abundance of goth girls hanging around the Forks Thriftmart. That's when we started noticing the vampire signs--apparently Forks is where the Twilight books and films are set, and there are kitschy tours that teenage girls and their moms take. We even passed a sign that read "Vampire Threat: Low."

Ryan has returned to California this week to attend a wedding and take a class while I am staying at Reed College to participate in the Tin House Writer's Workshop. You could say that we are shifting gears--I'm focusing on writing (one year til my thesis defense!), he on teaching. He'll fly back next week and we will once again stock the car with carby snacks and mosey our way back home.

Does health insurance affect your heart?

Health insurance isn't for the weak of heart.

Well, technically, it is, but in our country, I get the feeling the entire industry weakens the heart.

I'm a middle-class Caucasian woman with an entire network of family, friends and medical professionals who have proven, time and time again, that they can help support me. I'm in good health for someone of my size and age, with one major flaw. I deign to have a pre-existing condition.

I've been over this before, and I have a feeling I'll be going over it every day until type 1 diabetes has a hard and fast cure. But lately I have been particularly flummoxed by privatized health care. I was reminded again this week when my family and I were contemplating options for me as I transfer grad schools and have exhausted three years of COBRA coverage. That's the word these companies use: exhaust. I don't think I've exhausted COBRA as much as it's exhausted me. And for the past four months I've been navigating this world of conversion policies and HIPAA plans, trying to find a creative way to continue coverage without draining my parents of their retirement or forcing me back to Starbucks while I get a Masters degree.

And then I came across this article, written a mere three days after I was diagnosed as diabetic back in 2001. Miguel Aguayo is an artist who lives in Canada, which has socialized health care--something he appreciates as a deaf man. Apparently the American privatized health care system was looking attractive to some Canadians, who grew tired of waiting in long lines, and thought that perhaps our system offered the same services more quickly. But then came the unforeseen sacrifices: Aguayo speaks of how, when he and his family lived in the U.S., they often had to postpone medical treatment until legitimate emergencies, and even then, the hospital bills were as paralyzing as the illnesses themselves.

It seems silly to have perfectly good medical facilities that are only available to those who can pay for them, and even then, to ask them to wait until they are truly risking their lives. This is not health insurance. This is disaster relief. And it's expensive.

I don't know what I hope to aim by writing this. I'm preparing to spend another week on the phone, getting transferred from department to department of a huge, profit-seeking health insurance company whose employees see me as a subscriber ID number, one with a pesky little condition that ultimately will cost them more if I keep myself healthy than if I don't have access to the tools I need to stay well.

I wonder what undocumented immigrants do? I wonder what Canadians do? I wonder what these so-called proponents of privatized health care do, when they lose their jobs, get diabetes themselves, or have an unplanned pregnancy?

I might take a cue from Aguayo and head north. As soon as I get off the phone.