Last Sunday I attended a benefit concert and auction to raise money to help defray medical expenses incurred by the talented and hard-working musician and songwriter Saylor White, who is insured by the Aetna Medicare Advantage Plan, is suffering from spinal cancer. Saylor’s doctors recommended surgery to relieve the pain and, with luck, remove the tumor, but Saylor’s insurance company refused to cover the surgery. Saylor has many friends and admirers who rallied around him and did whatever they could to help. After the benefit, Saylor posted the following on his public Facebook profile:
“It will be a few days before we can deal with all the benefit information. I am sorry there is so much information and it is taking a lot of people to collect it all, but it really boils down to this: On Feb 17 my doctor told me I had a tumor, and malignant cancer in my spine. Since then I have never been treated for the cancer or the damaged spine. On the 17 of Feb. I could walk to appointments. I no longer can walk without someone else’s help, and my wife cannot pick me up. We have done [what] we can to get treatment. We do not know what to do now because we officially have no treating physician. Thanks for all the amazing support. We feel blessed but we, and you all have done all you can do–the help will have to come from some other place.”
Saylor’s many friends and admirers will attest to the hard work he has done throughout his life. There is simply no justification for treating a working and decent person with such inhumanity. Of course, Saylor is correct that he is blessed to have so many people supporting him. Many people in his situation suffer in isolation and despair. How can we live in a country that claims to be civilized, developed, or free and allow this kind of unnecessary suffering to continue? We cannot. We must face the barbarism of our current system and work to change it.
This information is disheartening enough, but when I returned from the benefit I saw that friends and admirers of blues singer, Candye Kane, had a benefit on the same day as Saylor’s to cover her medical costs, and her future is uncertain. Candye expressed her gratitude on her Facebook page as well:
“Thank you so much to all of you for your ongoing support and thanks to all who attended and played the benefit last night at the Belly Up Tavern. I can’t even believe how many people care about me.”
And it is true, many do love her and support her. It shouldn’t be necessary for her friends and followers to do this, but I am glad they can and will. Still, I think of the many who spend their lives in more obscure kinds of work. Does justice require that we work hard, buy insurance, and also be popular? Must we punish those who fail to develop vast social networks of emotional and financial support? Our system is as absurd as it is unjust.
Finally, last night I read the latest installment of a blog by Cindy Lee Berryhill, who is a musician and wife of rock journalist and biographer Paul Williams, who suffers from dementia resulting from injuries sustained in a bicycle accident. (For anyone interested in caregiver narratives, Cindy’s blog provides and excellent example.) Paul now requires full-time residential care. Though he and Cindy have both worked and made great contributions to our society (I really want to emphasize this theme), Paul’s care is too expensive to be borne by most working people. On her Facebook page, Cindy explains that the California Medicaid program enables her to keep him in care so long as she does not make more than $2,200/month. In order to make sure she meets all requirements, however, she hires a lawyer to maintain her paperwork and ensure she does not run afoul of the requirements. In order to have money to do this, she seeks help from friends and followers.
Is this really what we want to be as a society? Is this the best example the wealthiest country in the world can set? This is unjust and shameful. Our country is in crisis. It is time that we demand solutions.
If nothing else, we can enjoy some of the work of these fine musicians.