It was eleven o’clock just yesterday morning in the board room of the North Carolina Association of Educators’ offices in Raleigh. Twenty or so community leaders were gathered for a press conference calling for meaningful healthcare reform on a day that would include a vigil by supporters outside of NC Senator Kay Hagan’s office.
Just as the press conference was about to begin, Rhonda’s right hand began to shake.
“I’m going to have a seizure. Call 911.”
This can’t be happening. Not here. Not now.
Seeing that my chair had wheels, I helped Rhonda onto it and pushed it past the twenty or so community leaders gathered to promote meaningful healthcare reform and past the media representatives with their cameras and notepads out of the NCAE Boardroom and into the lobby.
Your diarist is like the worst person in an emergency situation, but I remembered Rhonda describing what happened when she had her last epileptic seizure at her church in July. “They laid me down and called the paramedics.”
With a little help, we laid Rhonda on a sofa and put a pillow under her head. I held her hand and she began to stutter and shake. Reverend William Barber leaned in and offered a prayer as the seizure took its full effect.
Instead of listening to Rhonda share her perspective of what it’s like to be uninsured, I am listening to the distant sound of an ambulance siren, the calming deep voice of Reverend Barber, and the out of control contortions and shrieks of my sistah, Rhonda. This was my first time to witness an epileptic seizure, but would not be the only time on this fateful day...
“Shut the door!” exclaimed the paramedic inside the back of the EMS vehicle. I could see Rhonda laying semi-conscious on the stretcher sandwiched between the two EMS workers. I paused wondering if I was supposed to get in and shut the door or stay out and shut the door. Choosing the latter, I got into my car and moved it behind the ambulance to follow it to the hospital.
Instead of going to the nearby Raleigh hospital, we proceeded on I-40 to Duke hospital in neighboring Durham (where Rhonda has been treated in the past). The drive time provided an opportunity to leave a few voice mail messages for loved ones - all of which ended with me gagging and choking back tears.
After parking the car and winding my way to Emergency Exam Room #43, the EMS worker was still in attendance. She turned to me and offered that Rhonda had given her a copy of “the dvd” during the ride to the hospital. It was apparent that Rhonda had connected with her just like she connects with everybody she meets. Here is the dvd Rhonda shared posted on YouTube featuring her personal healthcare story along with Kay Zwan. Hint - click on the YouTube icon to view on larger screen.
Rhonda reported to the attending physician that she had a migraine headache including blurred vision and that her neck, shoulder and side were in a lot of pain. On a scale of 1to 10, the pain was a 9. She was confused that the attending physician kept asking her how many pills she “forgets” to take each week. She doesn’t forget ANY pills - but that was not always the case...
Rhonda is so special to folks that know her and love her. It took courage to “come out” and talk about her epilepsy at a townhall with Representative Price way back in June. Rhonda described how she had been injured on the job and laid off, lost her health insurance and could no longer qualify for health insurance due to her “pre-existing condition” of epilepsy. Rep. Price took a stand on that fateful day to support a public option as part of healthcare reform and to work to ban insurance companies from excluding citizens with pre-existing conditions.
“Get the doctors. I’m going to have another seizure!” Rhonda exclaimed in Exam Room #43. As you know by now, I am not good in emergencies, but I am good at being loud in emergencies, and thank goodness for that. And thank goodness for doctors and nurses. As Rhonda’s seizure subsided, they gave her an extra dose of anti seizure medication and something to put her in la la land...
It took even more courage for Rhonda to speak at the HCAN rally in Washington, DC in June. Rhonda held up her medication bottles and tearfully shared that she has had to decide whether to buy medicine or to buy food. She had been rationing her life saving medications in order to get by. I was there and like everybody else, was stunned by this admission. This is Rhonda Robinson. Our co-chair of the Durham for Obama Community Service Committee. We love Rhonda. Everybody loves Rhonda!
Bob Geary of the NC Independent wrote an article about Rhonda titled A Face of the Uninsured - A State of Denial. A week later, Rhonda suffered an epileptic seizure. When she came home from the hospital, her friend and mentor, mayor pro tem Cora Cole McFadden, took her to the drug store to purchase a month’s worth of medicine. We started a fund to assist. There is no way we were going to let this starfish (sic) go without her medication.
Rhonda lives with pain everyday. And pain is a causal factor for seizures for folks afflicted with epilepsy. Doctors diagnosed a torn rotator cuff, but have not figured out what is causing the pain in her neck. Every day is a struggle. She is a single mom enrolled at NC Central University at the age of 43 with dreams and plans to make a better life for herself and for her two kids.
Eventually, the doctor with the white lab coat comes in to check on Rhonda. After perusing the file, the doctor asks the attending physician “Why is there no neurologist report in the file?”
The attending physician says “She is uninsured.”
She is uninsured...
SHE IS UNINSURED!
So let’s get this straight. Rhonda has epilepsy. Rhonda is having seizures despite taking her prescribed anti seizure medications. Rhonda lives in constant pain. Rhonda needs to see a neurologist. Rhonda is uninsured. Rhonda could die!
Rhonda is asleep or unconscious or whatever in Exam Room #43. I rummage through her purse to find her cell phone and the cell numbers for her kids. And there in her purse is the blue index card with the notes for her never delivered speech for what it means to be uninsured in the United States of America.
I am a "Charity Case"
Spent my whole life making wise decisions and working to support my family.
Lost my job, my health insurance, and must rely on charity of others.
I feel “less than.” Less than a citizen. Less than a human being.
Today, healthcare reform is like a big present dangled just out of reach.
Dangled by the U.S. Senate
I can jump but cannot not reach it
It’s like a bad dream that doesn’t end
Sitting beside sleeping Rhonda in Emergency Exam Room #43, the tears begin to roll down my cheeks.
It’s like a bad dream that doesn’t end.
UPDATE: To help reimburse Rhonda's documented medical expenses, send a contribution via check made out to: Southern Coalition for Social Justice with "Rhonda Robinson fund" written on the note line and mail to:
115 Market Street
Durham, NC 27701.