Archive | January, 2017

This is why I believe in affordable healthcare

16 Jan

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I’ll always remember the screams in the other room and that sound marked a divide: my life before my Dad got sick and the after-life. I was 19 years old, and my greatest concern at that time was whether I should have bought those pink puma sneakers that I had encountered the day before — the coolest shoes at the time.

I ran into the laundry room and saw my Mom on her knees, “your Dad’s been fired,” she said. In disbelief, I asked why.

My Dad was a hard-working man, from a lower-middle class Jewish family. His father, my grandfather, was a vendor, selling programs and beer at concerts and Cubs games. Beloved by all, my Grandpa helped to provide for three kids, with two of them going to college.

My Dad was a teacher turned business-man, who got swept up in the 60s and believed in social reform. He believed in this country, before he turned bitter, and he believed in people’s power to impact good.

He was always disappointed that I was not more socially active, but outside of that he adored me. Being a father was the absolute, greatest joy of his life, and he devoted his life to raising me — giving me hours of his time in a way that I didn’t see replicated by anyone else’s dads.

However, at 19 I found out that he had been having seizures, “adult-epilepsy,” was what the doctors said, and he wasn’t responding to any of the drugs that they were giving him.

He had a seizure at work, while leading a meeting. A week later he was fired. When we took the company to court, his boss stood on the stand and lied.

Adult epilepsy turned into TIAs: small strokes that eroded his short-term memory, so that when he got a new job he was unable to remember anything that he had learned — and so he was fired again.

Soon he wasn’t permitted to drive, and then he had open-heart surgery, and then his blood wouldn’t clot, and then his kidneys stopped working, and then he was sitting there pen & paper in hand, doing worksheets meant for second graders — in an effort to retain anything.

Meanwhile, we had health insurance. In fact, we had some of the best health insurance available, as my Mom was a nurse. Still, the bills piled up. For every procedure there was a dollar amount attached to it.

I felt helpless — I offered to transfer colleges (to an in-state one). I got a job and started paying my own bills and buying my own books. It didn’t feel like enough.

I sat in waiting rooms with my Mom, both hospital and administrative, making sure my Dad got the care that he needed, while making sure our family didn’t go broke. All the while making sure I was able to complete school, so that I could at least have a chance at contributing to the society that held our patriotism in its fist.

And, I will never forget how many times my Dad, my Daddy said to me, “I’d be better off to you and your Mom dead,” and I would push back my tears, smile, and tell him how much I loved him — I would tell him how wrong he was.

But, he was draining the family: emotionally and financially, and there was no denying it.

Having someone you love slowly deteriorate over an eleven year period is a certain kind of hell that no one deserves. It is a constant drowning, and the only way to keep living, is to grasp onto anything, any hope, any resilience and this will keep you afloat.

To take this family, any family, and put financial stress on them is a level of cruelty I cannot understand.

Making sure my father took his 42 pills a day was hard enough on my Mom, and then she would sit there at night, with her pile of papers, and figure out how we would pay for it all.

My family is one of many families, and we were luckier than most. White, educated, insured with other family around to support us. But, in the waiting rooms around the country there are families who have less and need more through no fault of their own.

I know Obamacare, or better put, the Affordable Healthcare Act isn’t perfect; that a lot of work needs to be done there. However, right now there is nothing to replace it, and we cannot let those who are supported by it suffer and drown.

One of our unalienable rights, as citizens of The United States is, “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” and taking away a person’s healthcare with no replacement, takes away any hope of all three. For without health — nothing else is possible.

Yes, we can: leadership

11 Jan

A year ago today, nervous and scared, I started what was then my new job. I had never carried such a weighty leadership role before, and I wasn’t sure if I was up to the task. Of course, the doubts were rooted in my own fears and insecurities, but it went deeper than that – to that place of uncertainty. That murky place where you can’t even see yourself because you don’t know what shape your face is taking, and I had no idea what a leader would look like within me.

To my surprise and delight, this has been one of the most fulfilling responsibilities that I have ever taken on in my life. Yes, it has stretched me thin, taken me to my own edge and sometimes sparked all the doubts that live within me, but that’s what growing feels like – uncomfortable and slightly painful.

In this past year, I have constantly self-evaluated, asking, “how can I be better? can I approach this differently, and what might I learn?”

Through this process, I have been given the opportunity to live my own leadership philosophy, and with that, deepen and enrich it.

A year ago today, I committed myself to some guiding principles and they were:

  1. Take responsibility – if it happens on your team, it’s your fault.
  2. Empower – do not diminish your people. Guide them as you can and give them opportunities to shine.
  3. Gratitude – say thank you, appreciate the time that is put into tasks because most people would rather be home.
  4. Teach – share knowledge, and if mistakes happen (as they always do) either learn, or help others learn.

These principles have served me well, for they are reflective of what I have always believed – leadership is not a selfish pose of personal gain. Effective leaders do not diminish and belittle others. They do not shame them and rub their face in their mistakes. Instead, they create an empowering environment where people can discover what they’re truly capable of – because it is always more than they believe.

That has been one of the greatest learnings of my life; that within live reservoirs of resilience and they’re there to drink from when you need them. Eight years ago today I was unemployed, unable to get a full-time job, living with a couple in a tiny room and feeling like all that I believed myself to be was not within my reach.

But, let’s remember, “yes, we can,” and always; that we can never do it alone. That “can” can never happen from a locked down place of fear and uncertainty.

For, we are a nation in crisis, and the face of it takes many shapes: political, socioeconomic, racial, gendered, and it makes us question who we are and what do we represent? Asking, “what are the values that define us?” This question is one that we all need to personally answer for ourselves.

I see a demanding road ahead for it’s a path that I well-recognize – one that feels uncertain and slightly painful. My hope is that the answers to our questions lead us towards grace, so that we do not diminish one another. That this moment makes us learn, so that the face of it is not one we look towards in the future – and instead, we look at the answers that live within our greater selves.