I'm Guilty as Hell

(This battle is personal for so many people. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Today, after some serious procrastination, I forced myself to drive out to the hospital to see a friend who just got some really bad news. This friend – I'll call him Mort – had stopped in to see his family doctor for symptoms he did not disclose to me, but the result was a colonoscopy last Thursday, and a colon resection and liver biopsy on Friday, The lab reports yesterday confirmed the worst. He has colon cancer, and it has spread to his liver in two spots.
I call him my friend, but to be brutally honest, he's more of an acquaintance – even though I've known him and his whole family for forty-five years. The fact is, in that entire time, I've probably only had one or two conversations with him that could be called anything more than small talk.
Nevertheless, I want to share a bit of Mort's story with you. You see, I feel somehow personally responsible for what has befallen Mort. In fact, I'm guilty as hell, and I can't take it any more. I need absolution, and confession is the best way to feel I've received it.
(Just so you know, I'm not a religious person, but the language of the church fits my mood, so I'm appropriating it.)
So, this is diary in the original sense. It is a very personal expression of how I feel right now.
Some context:
One June day in 1964, my family arrived in Iowa from Texas. I was 13 years old. When we pulled into town, just before noon, we drove to Mort's family home where we were greeted with a splendid lunch. Mort's brother was my age, and his sister was my sister's age. Mort was probably 5 or 6 at the time, about my kid brother's age. It was no accident that these were the first people the three of us kids met when we arrived. It had been set up in advance. Mort's family had offered to host us on our first day in Iowa for the precise reason that we each had someone it would be plausible to talk to, and play with.
As families, and as individuals, we all hit it off right away. Mort's brother and I became good friends. Mort's sister hung with a different crowd than my sister, but that's because she was a cheerleader, and my sister was a bookworm who played the violin and read a novel a day. 
My brother was a jock. Mort hung with nobody, but Mort was always around.
Mort had few if any close friends. He was always a little “off.”  When he was a child, he barely ever spoke. Later when he became a teen, he was often a pest. He would walk up to people buried in conversation, and stand very close to them and stare. If they walked away, he would follow, even to another part of town! 
Mort worked in the family business. He wasn't particularly great at his job, but he really enjoyed it. It was a good business, patronized by the best local citizens, and Mort was proud of his family and the work they did. Mort has always been industrious. As he got older, although he never really developed any social grace, he learned to join conversations, and then how to disengage. It was a major achievement. Unfortunately when his father retired, the business was sold, and then it closed.
Mort became a news photographer. He has always been what newspapermen call a “stringer,” a person not employed by the paper, but one who does find news and provide information (in Mort's case, photos) for which the paper is willing to pay.  Being a photographer is a great job for him, because he doesn't have to interact with anyone to do his job. Mort has been at every sporting event, concert, public meeting, political rally, and social gathering that happens in our town. He's got the photos to prove it. He also works part-time at a local mall anchor store.
Mort is not “slow.” He is of some obvious intelligence. He's a life-long Republican, although he's never been very active. He rarely raises his voice, but he can express his conservative ideas, although sometimes it takes a while. He attends political rallies because they interest him. He didn't vote for Obama, because he's “too socialist,” but unlike the yahoos at the rallies, Mort knows what a socialist is. If he were well to do, and were able to be a member of the country club, he'd be an old fashioned Republican who goes to work, goes to church and maybe shares a few beers with the boys at the club.  
But the boys at the club treat Mort as something slightly less interesting than a mascot.
Even though Mort and I have shared the same small town for most of our lives, and even share some interests in common, I've always reflexively felt uncomfortable around him. It's partly because Mort is uncomfortable, too, but it's more than that.  
Mort has been teased and mocked by more or less everyone behind his back for his entire life. There's no one I know, including myself that didn't succumb to this cruelty at some point. He is socially defenseless, so it's easy to slip into ridicule. He can't fight back. More to the point, he has no desire to fight. He takes what comes and deals with it the best he can.
Of course, none of this was deserved in any way. Mort is a hardworking, regular guy with a social disability. He's honest, and he is kind to anyone he comes in contact with. But, he just never fit in….  We never let him in.
Mort has never made very much money. It's hard to do that when you are unable to ever get comfortable with other people. Now, he has cancer, and it's going to require the full chemotherapy regimen. He's already had major surgery, and he's racking up serious bills. Mort has always paid his own way. He earned every dollar he ever spent.
Now, he can't do that anymore. He has no health insurance.
I have always felt guilty as hell about making fun of Mort, and today I went to his hospital room, apprehensive not because I knew his life is in real danger, but because I had decided to apologize to him, and to offer my company and my help as he works through whatever lies ahead for him.  We had a good conversation. I'm not sure he really understood everything I said to him today, but at least I got said what I wanted to say.
But, there's another reason I feel guilty today.
Even though Mort doesn't really want it to be supplied by the government, he absolutely should have medical insurance and he doesn't. He can't afford it, and he probably will never be able to afford it. And, it's my fault.
Even though I write about it a lot, and attend forums and talk to people all the time about national health insurance, I really haven't done anywhere near the amount of work to get something done about it that I should have. At this critical time, I haven't stepped up nearly as strongly as I could have and should have.
Today, I ask for forgiveness from the people here and around the country who have done so much more than I have, and I promise that, until it's either passed or dead, I will not fail to work at least a bit every single day to further this cause. I'm doing it because I believe it's important, and because I owe it to Mort and all the others who deserve better than they have gotten from this world.
Please, If you have gotten this far. do the same.
Thank you.
  • sad story

    Although every individual is unique, Mort’s story is all too typical:

    Uninsured or Medicaid-insured patients are far more likely to be diagnosed with an advanced stage cancer than those with private insurance, according to a new American Cancer Society study of 3.5 million cancer patients with 12 of the most common cancer types.

    What’s more, many of those advanced cancers were types that could have been detected early through proper screening. That suggests people without private health insurance aren’t getting the best possible care when it comes to cancer prevention and early detection, the ACS authors say.

    Thank you for your commitment to this cause.  

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