Work

By Angela Tung

Rants

Il faut travailler. – Louis Pasteur.

I want a job.

It’s been six and a half months since I quit my job to write full-time. It’s mostly been a dream. Who wouldn’t want to be able to do what they love most in the world, all day, every day, with a significant other’s financial and emotional support? Mostly I love it, but you know what? Just between you and me –

I’m starting to get bored.

Not bored of writing. Being really into a piece is the best feeling. Struggling with one doesn’t feel great but it’s not boredom. Struggle is good. But everyone needs a break, even from what they love. So I run, do a bit of yoga (though perhaps for not much longer, you’ll see later), tickle the ivories on our electric keyboard, talk to my friends, and read. But do I, dare say it, want something more? Some other kind of work? Do I want a job to take a break from my writing?

Writing is all I’ve ever wanted, since I was twelve and decided, according to my diary, “I think I know what I want to be when I grow up. A novelist or something like that.” I’ve been struggling my entire working life to get to a point where I can write all day. Ten years, a nest egg, and a generous boyfriend later, here I am.

So what if my mother doesn’t think of writing as real work? “I worked all afternoon,” I told her recently, and she perked up.

“Work?” she asked.

I knew what she was picturing: a tall shiny building and her daughter, possibly wearing a big-ribboned blouse, typing away in one of the tiny windows. “I mean,” I said, “I wrote.”

“Oh.” I could hear the hiss of her deflating fantasy.

Six months later, I’m the one fantasizing about being in that tall shiny building. In an office. Possibly wearing a big ribboned blouse.

Yes, an office, with desks and cubicles, and people saying, “I wanted to give you a heads up,” and “Keep me in the loop.” An office where I’ll wear something besides jeans and Gap T-shirts every day, where I’ll talk to other people besides my boyfriend, the baristas at my favorite cafe, and the other regulars at the gym. Where I’ll get paid to do something completely stupid like add up columns in an Excel spreadsheet or make something in PowerPoint, or file papers, or stamp invoices PAID. From where, after a long trying day, I’ll come home and in great relief sink into my couch and turn on the TV.

Right now there is no relief because every day is a relief, and I’m starting to feel like I’m sink sink sinking to the bottom of my couch.

I know: I’m a big fat whiner. If only everyone had it this good. But would the weekend be as great without the work week? Would you want to eat your favorite food every day? The best massages are equal parts pain and relaxation. Pleasure is the absence of pain. What if there is no pain? Is pleasure possible? What if your life is one long, never ending weekend? What would happen?

Messed up ear crystals, that’s what. You heard me. Messed. Up. Ear. Crystals.

Let me explain.

In addition to constant casual Friday and near isolation, I have no health insurance. I could have health insurance. I could have opted into COBRA, but plopping down almost $700 a month for coverage I may or may not use, especially when I have no income, wasn’t too appealing to me. At least when it was coming directly out of my paycheck, I didn’t really notice, and therefore completely took for granted that I could get my teeth cleaned, my eyes checked, and a physical every year. Any unexpected problems, check. The cough that wouldn’t go away (allergies), hives (allergies again), and a UTI over Fourth of July weekend (a surprisingly quick E/R visit which cost me $200 out of pocket, with coverage, but at least my meds were free).

I thought I’d be fine without insurance, at least for a little while, though I did wonder, as I crossed the street, what if I got hit by a bus? But why would I? I never got hit by a bus in New York, jay walking like it was going out of style, the whole time I had insurance. Why would I the moment I had none?

Case in point. Patient X works at home, and has a lot of free time on her – or his – hands. Or at least a lot of flexible time. He – or she – can work whenever and wherever he wants. So this leaves a lot of opportunity to go to the gym, take yoga classes, and, what the hey, do even more yoga at home.

Yoga’s good for you, right? It stretches and strengthens. It increases flexibility and calms you down.

What they never tell you is that if you do it a lot, and, let’s say, do the bridge for the first time since you were 12, and then do a lot of sun saluting and downward dog and all that jazz, and if unbeknownst to you, you have a sinus infection brewing, and you’re getting older (goddammit!), maybe, just maybe, the otoconia, those tiny crystals in your ear that control balance, may slip into the wrong canal, so then when you, say, get up in the morning, your head starts spinning like your house is a giant merry go around, and you have to lie back down. You think it’s dehydration, but then it happens again when you’re doing yoga (damn you yoga to hell!).

From sleuthing on the internet, you’re pretty sure it’s the otoconia thing, and not a brain tumor (fingers crossed!), but you don’t know for sure because you don’t have insurance and therefore you don’t have a doctor, and so you try the “therapy” at home by yourself, you follow the diagram closely, and then you throw up.

You throw up several times.

This is supposed to happen, according to random people on the internet, you do the therapy and then you feel dizzy and sick, and sometimes you throw up. So you feel better for about two seconds before you remember that you don’t know for sure. These people have been to their doctors (“Luckily, my doctor. . .” “I found a great physical therapist. . .” “My doctor fixed me right up!”), lucky shits, so they do know for sure, unlike you.

So then what do you do? Do you pay out of pocket at that vertigo clinic (yes, a clinic solely for vertigo) that’s two blocks from your apartment? Do you apply for insurance and hope for the best, hope they will accept you, because applying for insurance should be just like applying for a job. Of course they can only accept the best, read: healthiest, candidates, although, um hello, don’t the sick need insurance the most?

The next day you feel much better, and wonder if maybe you fixed yourself (but of course you don’t know for sure), but still you think, I wouldn’t have this problem if I had insurance. I wouldn’t not have insurance if I had a job. I wouldn’t have all this free time on my hands to do crazy amounts of yoga, which dislodged those fucking ear crystals into the wrong tube, if I had a job.

Makes total sense.

Seriously, I know it was dumb luck and not joblessness that lead Patient X from downward dog to throwing up in a shopping bag, but it still might be time to join the working world again. I miss the contrast – work week and weekend, office and home, doing work I have to do and work I love, socializing and solitude, pain and pleasure.

And, oh yeah, health insurance.

I wrote this back in August, 2009. At the time, Palin was making her big splash about death panels, and the health care debate was lost in the fracas. By December, Palin and her death panels won the Lie of the Year Award from PolitiFact, but the damage had been done: the sound and fury was too loud, even though it signified nothing.

We remain mired in health care debate. Though the smoke from the death panels has cleared, new ridiculous problems have arisen to take its place. The seed of the piece remains as true as it did when I wrote it, though the death panels have fallen to the level of satire.

Plus, my father really wanted me to post this. I have to make Dad happy once in a while.


This health care debate–I admit I haven’t been following it all that closely. I suppose that my reasoning is somewhat lazy, as is my response to it, but not my feeling about health care. That isn’t lazy at all.

I haven’t been following because as soon as there’s the kind of vitriol and spew in the media that has been involved in this so-called “debate” the issues are lost to us. There are no more examples of what would help, how it might work, who it would effect; instead it becomes about who is the most inflammatory, who can come up with the most hysterical argument, and how we can continue to be mired in the crap unchanged and unchallenged to think in new ways.

But this is about me and my life, and I would like someone to recognize that.

For example, since we are self-employed around these parts, we also have to pick up the tab on our health insurance. Do you know what it costs? Close to 600 bones a month. Do you know what our co-pay is? Thirty bucks every time we set foot in an office, no matter if it’s to take a temperature or get a splinter out. And forget our deductible: we actually had to make the choice between 2,500 dollars per year or 10,000. I think we could call this level of insurance “catastrophic.”

What about eye care? Non-existent. For us, that means that every year, though our 5-year-old son needs glasses for something considered “medical,” his glasses are not covered by our insurance. Do you know how many glasses a kid goes through? Hundreds of dollars a year spent on specs. And my husband and I who merely have age-deficient eyeballs cough up hundreds of dollars to keep the words from blurring on the page and the traffic signs in focus.

Dental: Non-existent. This despite all the studies that have shown that good dental care is one sure-fire way to keep health costs down because of all the attendant ailments that accompany crappy teeth and gums. But that aside, let’s just talk about dollars: two hundred+ bucks apiece to get our teeth cleaned and tuned up every six months. Why do we go that often? So we can avoid the much more painful thousands of dollars that result from crummy gummies. I had to pay close to two thousand dollars a few years ago for a root canal and all its attendant horrors; I would like to avoid that again if possible, so I go to the dentist.

Of course, we have other mouth woes that we both keep ignoring; my husband’s teeth have become so crunched together they’re wearing down and I’ve been missing a tooth in back since my twenties. As a result, my teeth are wearing unevenly and flopping over. But maybe we would have those things fixed if we weren’t hemorrhaging so much money down the other medical rat holes.

Back problems? Forget it; out of pocket. I have chiro coverage, but never once has my chiropractor been paid through my insurance plan because he’s not a member of their tribe or something. Mental health issues? Better to be healthy but crazy, I suppose.

And we’ve got good health. What happens if one of us gets really sick? God help us. Individual health plans are notoriously skint on their lifetime limit–we’ve got two million bucks of coverage and then–buh-bye. Talk about a “death panel.”  Seriously, what happens if they have to fix a liver or kidney, or my heart? Do we run up to the two million and then the insurance adjuster says, “I’m sorry–we were just about to plug in that heart of yours but you’ve reached your limit.”

We’re the lucky ones. Whether by fiat or hard work we’ve been fortunate to have enough money to buy our own health insurance. Many don’t. Many of our friends, who are completely and solidly middle class, cannot afford to spend the extra money each month on their own medical insurance.

The result? Treatment for the most severe form of cervical cancer in a free clinic in Los Angeles. Pre-diabetic health monitoring that is so spotty as to be pointless. Out of pocket expenses of many-multiple thousands for a CPAP machine to keep our friend breathing through the night. Amount paid for emergency oral surgery: ten thousand dollars in cash. Two hip replacements for our friend, a young woman in her twenties, which she couldn’t pay for, and then had to claim bankruptcy. Type 1 diabetes with no insurance–a horror my step-sister has navigated partly by ducking back into school to get insured again. Otherwise, her now “pre-existing condition” rules her out of almost all other plans. What happens when she graduates?

These are ailments affecting people in their twenties through their forties. This is not a discussion about how to care for the elderly. This is about people in the prime of their life who would, with proper preventive health care and better access to good medical teams, live a long time. These same people may have their lives dramatically shortened because they cannot afford insurance.

So these discussions are an obfuscation which offend me personally. I take umbrage with these cavalierly hurled arguments because they are playing with the lives of people I love, active members of American society, taxpayers and voters, who may die prematurely because the health care system won’t care for them.

And what about my Dad?* Where is he in the discussion? The death panels apparently have him and his Stage 4 cancer singled out, but I don’t think he feels tremendously threatened by these medical bureaucrats waving their mighty pens of death over his head.

In fact, he’s relieved that his whole medical team understands in black and white terms that he does not want his life prolonged unnecessarily. That he has the choice to say no to being hooked up to machines and medical devices which may hand him a few more days or weeks, but in a manner which would hardly be called “vital.” That he may choose between that and living out his days comfortably, without strident measures, without hysteria or intubation, without medicine that is as potentially toxic as it is prolonging.

Is that last inkling of life so truly desirable, if sculpted by equipment, money, interventions, and resources that give no comfort or solace? Is the mere fact of living enough, no matter what the condition of the life? Is it life for life’s sake, or life for living?

If you ask me, and nobody did, I think this “health debate” is about a country’s unwillingness to step up to care for its citizens in a responsible way. I think it is about companies and industries so mired in bureaucracies of their own making that they cannot envision another way. I think it is about people’s lives being less important than the evolution of the pay-to-play system, and nickel-and-diming by the insurance industry. I think it is about trying to unravel the Gordian knot woven during the horrid evolution of the PPO, where codes of symptoms and ailments became more important than a holistic view of any given patient.**

We are the ones who pay the price of their inflexibility with diseases and easily treated injuries winding up in the least efficient places on earth: the Emergency Room. Or unable to save money for our retirement because we’re too busy spending it on glasses and CPAP machines, claiming bankruptcy for medically imperative operations, and insurance that is so expensive we have little left at the end of the month. So this disingenuous legerdemain being perpetrated to take the issues out of the hands of patients makes me pretty damned angry.

You can call it a death panel if you want, but I’ll take it for what it is: life and living under our own terms.

*Painting by my father Charles Moone, called “Self Portrait,” painted in 1972. His headstone reads: “Where Will You Spend Eternity?”

**Sometimes there are even articles to back up my opinions! A nice article called the “Five Myths About Health Care Around the World” from the Washington Post, which I found on Metafilter after I wrote this. Call it synchronicity.




I have no memory of “the scene.” My entire neighborhood was standing around me in a circle, apparently, and I was bleeding everywhere.

This makes me experience two decidedly conflicting emotions: massive embarrassment and pure badass.

The source of the blood was mostly my face and my feet. Of course, my brain was bleeding as well, but that was internal and likely the cause of my fogginess and confusion.

I am very excited that my brain was bleeding. This is a rite-of-passage injury. I am now bona fide.

So I don’t remember a thing, not a single thing, until one fleeting moment in an ambulance. I was being restrained, and things were being inserted into my arms and my pants were being ripped from my body and I said: “But I don’t remember buying a scooter!”

I bought a scooter. An ex-boyfriend had one, and I intended to buy one from the moment I rode on the back of his for the first time. It was fun as hell. But then, he knew how to drive one.

It’s not as much fun when you drive your scooter into a parked car at 20 miles per hour and stop yourself with your head.

Though, really, since I don’t remember it, I guess it’s safe to say that I might have enjoyed it. I do so many stupid things, it seems, that I must enjoy doing them – at least on some level.

I was in the ambulance, insisting that I did not buy a scooter and being restrained and stripped, and then the next thing I remember is being prepped for a CAT scan.

“Is there any chance you could be pregnant?” The stranger asked me.

“I fucking hope not,” I said.

“Okay, we’re going to put this lead blanket on you to protect your uterus,” he said to me, while I clawed at my neck brace.

“Fuck, go ahead and leave it off, for all I care,” I slurred.

Then the next thing I remember is being placed in another room, when a man with a computer on wheels came to terrify me by telling me I was not covered by insurance.

You see, my health insurance payment was due May 1st. This was May 2nd. I’d forgotten to pay. And at the time, I didn’t know about the grace period (thank god for the grace period) you were granted before your coverage lapsed.

I will never forget to pay my health insurance bill again. Not ever again.

So the mean man came and told me “you’re screwed!” and then a neurosurgeon came into the room and said a bunch of stuff. What I heard was “You have bleeding in your brain. You need brain surgery. You have to pay for it out of pocket because you’re stupid and you didn’t pay your insurance. Brain surgery costs somewhere around $100,000. You are very stupid, and by the way, you are a major disappointment to your mother and father.”

I started crying. I was really confused and I was bleeding everywhere and I was a disappointment.

What the neurosurgeon actually said was that I had petechial hemorrhaging and I needed to be kept overnight for observation. No brain surgery. Sounds worse than it is. But man, the headaches for the days following….

Another doctor: “I’m going to give you pain medication now.”

Me: “What? What are you giving me?”

“What do you want? Morphine?”

I refused pain medication. Three reasons:

(1) I was confused, and I didn’t want to be more confused. I didn’t know what was happening or why it was happening. I wanted to piece things together, not become more foggy.
(2) I didn’t know how much morphine costs, and I assumed it would be too expensive, especially since I thought I was now paying out of pocket for all of these expenses.
(3) If the doctor didn’t know which medication I needed and wanted my input, I didn’t want her to give me anything at all.

According to my many friends who were with me, though I wasn’t exactly aware of their presence, I had spent most of my time in the emergency room up to this point cussing and cracking jokes at the hospital staff.

This is incredible to me, because in my memory, I was very frightened. I was terrified. Imagine, you’re in the hospital and you’re bleeding and there are people doing things to you and you have no idea why you’re there or what happened. At one point, I remember wondering if I’d experienced a dissociative fugue, but head trauma seemed more likely given my surroundings.

Another doctor came in to X-ray my feet. I fought tooth and nail with him, claiming that I did not need this service, that it cost too much, that they needed to let me go home. He proceeded to X-ray my feet regardless.

My chin was stitched up. Six stitches. I squeezed my friend Lisa’s hand while they did it. Moments prior to the stitching, the doctor had confused Lisa for my mother, so she was very angry. Lisa does not look any older than I look. My theory is that she looks twenty years more mature than I look, especially given the way I am told I was behaving.

Apparently I made a few phone calls around this time. My little brother, my friend Jeremy, and possibly a few others. To my little brother, I hysterically cried. To Jeremy, I laughed and made fun of myself.

I remember wanting to call my sister, because she is a doctor and she is smart and she would tell me what to do. But in my disorientation, I came to the conclusion that I could not call her because she would be asleep and her husband and kids would be asleep and they all needed the rest.

They took me to the room I was to spend the night in. I had no pants on. I was wearing underwear and my white v-neck, which was covered in blood and iodine. I was still very bloody.

My friends, Sadie and Dach, accompanied me into my room.

A few nurses came in. They were supposed to wash out the wounds on my feet. I thought they were indentured servants.

This, I found to be very offensive, so I refused to let them wash my feet. “It’s degrading to them!” I argued.

Sadie had to wash my feet.

Then there was about ten minutes of arguing with Sadie because she wanted to help me out of my bloody shirt and into a fresh shirt she’d brought for me from home.

“No! I want to wear this one! It’s cool! I like it! It’s cool!”

The nurse told me my other friends were going to my apartment to get me some things, and asked me if I wanted anything special from home.

“Sexual Murder! Sexual Murder! Sexual Murder!”

This is the book I am reading. Luckily my friends pieced that together and explained what I was talking about to the nurse.

I also insisted my friends bring me my night cream and my It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia DVDs.

A nurse tried to give me Vicodin and some anti-anxiety medication. I refused both, because I didn’t want anything habit-forming and I didn’t want to pay for it. I stumbled through a not-so-eloquent explanation of how I worked in a clinic with many clients who struggled with addictions to painkillers and benzodiazepines and how I’d seen too many people fight that battle to start it myself.

The nurse told me that’s why she didn’t ride motorcycles.

Jason arrived. He was staying the night with me in my hospital room. I was standing, refusing to get into bed, bleeding and babbling.

The nurse asked me if I had any allergies.

“I can’t have lobster. I’m allergic to lobster. Don’t give me lobster,” I said.

I was at Cedars-Sinai Hospital. It’s a Jewish hospital. And it’s a hospital. They aren’t serving shellfish, and they’re definitely not serving lobster.

Jason was the best. He stayed up all night with me, held me and calmed me down when the doctors came in to do things that scared me. He explained what they were doing to me and why, and got me ice packs for my feet and sent the nurses away when they came to do vital checks once I had finally fallen asleep for a moment.

He didn’t seem to mind that I bled on him, or that I was even afraid when the nurses came to take my temperature, or that I looked like a corpse, or that I cried on and off all night long.

Men, pay attention. This is how all men should be.

A neurosurgeon came into my room with about six residents. He did the checks that I had gone through every half hour with a different neurosurgeon, and then said to me: “Great. Everything looks great. You’re looking great.”

“Yeah, this is the best I’ve ever looked. I’m going to the prom tomorrow,” I said.

Outside my room, there were two policemen with guns. They were guarding the room next to mine. There was a criminal in it. They wouldn’t tell me what he’d done.

In the morning, Jason had to go to work, so Dach came and switched places with him. I tried to talk to Dach for a while, but they gave me more anti-seizure medication and that stuff makes you sleepy, so I passed out. Sadie arrived while I was sleeping. Sadie made up a song about my injuries and Dach told me stories about how he’d injured himself in the past.

I was taken to have another CAT scan. An old lady was being wheeled around on her hospital bed by a black dude. She was complaining to him. “Don’t go over bumps! Be careful! Not so fast!”

He looked at me and said: “Driving Miss Daisy.”

Later he read the tattoo on my back and told me he’d heard about me, that I was making all the folks in the hospital laugh. I didn’t remember being that much of a clown, but I’m not at all surprised.

They released me in the afternoon. I went home and fell asleep.

I went to work the next day. I was still very out of it, very spotty.

To be perfectly honest, today is the first day I feel actually lucid. I think I’m back to normal again. Of course, I can’t walk well, and I have a giant stitched up wound on my chin and I have a bruise that still continues to grow on my inner thigh (I’m fascinated by this bruise) and my feet are tore the fuck up and I have a chipped tooth and I have a constant, terrible headache from the head trauma. But I feel pretty awesome.

There is something almost thrilling about having control completely ripped away from you, about being unaware of your surroundings, about not being able to account for nearly ten hours of your life, and then only have fleeting moments of understanding for the following twenty hours. It is horrifying at first. But at some point, when you start to gather yourself, it becomes fascinating, and it’s almost disappointing when you begin to pull it back together. You have to go back to being responsible for yourself. No more excuses. No more tales of what you’ve done while you were temporarily “away.” No more pleasant dissociation. In a way, I love to lose control. In that same way, I love when I learn that I’ve lost moments of time. And also in that same way, I love being injured.

It’s something new. It’s not boring. It’s a story to tell. It’s mixing up the routine.

And I finally told my parents. They were pissed I didn’t tell them sooner. Mom never wanted me to get a scooter in the first place. I promised I’d mention that.

I made it clear to my brothers that they had to wait two weeks before making fun of me. After two weeks, they are free to make fun of me for the rest of my life. But I get two weeks to heal.

I already want to get on the scooter again.