Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Lifeguard as Metaphor, Broken Teeth as Reality

When I first checked Facebook this morning, the thing I saw immediately was a post from a friend who moved to Michigan for graduate school:

I can't believe that I almost drowned - like I was RESCUED by the lifeguard - after swim class tonight. It was a surreal experience. I felt so at peace, swimming on my back, that I got lost in my thoughts. I'd never gone out to the deep end before, not even on accident. I knew something was wrong when my feet searched for the floor and my whole body and head was submerged under water. My foot felt the incline that indicated I was inches away from the sharp drop in depth (12 feet). I (calmly) panicked - everything felt oddly peaceful for the second I realized that I was probably going to drown - and then I propelled myself up with both arms, took a huge breath when I resurfaced and then, I went back under the water. Surprisingly, I felt ok in that brief moment because I had practiced breathing techniques so that I wouldn't accidentally swallow water and I wouldn't instinctively flail in panic. The lifeguard jumped in as I went under and he pulled me right up and towards the wall of the pool. I was under for maybe a second. I didn't take in or swallow any water.

Afterwards, I just felt really embarrassed about the whole ordeal because within a minute, 6 people - lifeguards, office managers, swim instructors - swarmed me and asked if I was okay, went through their protocols for reports they had to submit, and they promised to stay with me as long as I needed...but I just wanted to swim again (in the Non-deep end obviously). I assured them that I was perfectly ok and I would be back for class on Thursday. I was shocked at my own reaction that despite nearly drowning, I couldn't wait to get back in and try again immediately. Their worried faces made me decide to call it a night though lol. In fact, I had to reassure them more than they had to reassure me that everything was going to be ok - they were really sweet and on top of everything. In January, I thought I was going to die from just attempting to float on my back in 3 ft 6 in of water. Tonight, I needed rescuing and despite the ordeal, I'm not at all traumatized. A part of me felt like this was bound to happen, a consequence of the swimming process.

Overall, I'm okay; I just feel bad that through my absent-mindedness and overestimated confidence, I made trouble for people who have to file reports, stalked me post-shower for my contact info, and for the lifeguard for the dramatic save. It sounds like they don't usually get to save people very often. Haha, my awkwardness and embarrassment aside, I was really impressed and touched by their going out of their way to make me feel safe. Being saved by a cute lifeguard isn't so bad either. They were some strong arms haha. University of Michigan providing yet again, some of the best student services I've ever, ever experienced. I can attest to their great healthcare services, dental services, counseling services, and now they saved me from drowning too. I'm feeling a bit humorous about this...and just maybe, it's actually delayed denial. My life didn't flash before my eyes but I got a tiny taste of it.
After the expected horror and relief that this had happened to her (I couldn't help visualizing the alternate reality where I heard through her Facebook page that she had died, like Peter Sieruta), I soon felt gratitude for the lifeguard and all of the people there to make sure people don't drown in the pool, and I wrote this:
It also strikes me as a metaphor for how a society should be—you make a mistake or circumstances just happen to you, but instead of it killing you, there are supports in place that work (!) and get you back on your feet with only that familiar embarrassment we adults get when we do something awkward.
That's my vision for society, which is currently under attack in about 715 ways on the state and federal level. A place with infrastructure that makes sure your water isn't poisoning you, the drugs you're prescribed are safe and effective, bridges don't fall down, and you can get health care when you need it. And so many other things that make life better than just nasty, brutish, and short.

Later in the day I read this series of tweets by Twitter user Sarah Ryley (@MissRyley), which represents one way that our country has been the inverse of my friend's experience in that Michigan pool:
In 2008 I was hit by a car. Landed face-first on pavement. My teeth were shattered. I had just started freelancing and was not insured.

I was in my 20s, never went to the doctor, and the cheapest plan cost more than my rent, while covering next to nothing.

Not that health insurance would have covered the cost of implants anyway. Many dental plans don't even cover this. It took 18 months and multiple bone implants before they could replace my teeth. During that time I had partial dentures, but because of the extensive damage to my mouth, they didn't fit properly, so they sometimes slipped when I talked, especially when I laughed. I often couldn't wear them anyway, because I had so many surgeries.

When I walked my dog or ran errands, I saw how people recoiled when I spoke. Often I just tried not to speak. For some reason, a cute guy in my building always walked his dog the same time I did and my heart would sink when he tried to start conversation. Interacting with people was so hurtful that I just started staying inside as much as possible.

My medical bills came out to $33K - almost as much as I made in a year, pre-tax. Fortunately, the woman who hit me stopped, and had the bare minimum insurance required by the state. I had to travel 3 hours each way to a periodontist in NJ who accepted the insurance, but my bills were covered.

I often thought about people who weren't so lucky. Imagined what it would be like to be in my 20s, looking at a whole life without front teeth, people recoiling as I spoke and treating me like I am homeless or an addict. Or if I had suffered even worse injuries, that exceeded the $50K covered under the driver's plan. What would I do?

While I was going through all this, America was debating Obamacare. It hurt so much to hear some people say I deserved that life because I didn't buy a heath plan I could not afford, which wouldn't have covered the costs anyway.

In fact, it was only a state mandate that all drivers have basic insurance that saved me from a life without teeth.

I often wondered, Why does basic auto insurance have more comprehensive coverage in the event the driver hits someone (basically any medical bills up to $50K) than basic healthcare plans more than double the price? Why does the state mandate I be covered if someone hits me with a car, but not if I get cancer, or diabetes, or injure myself in some freak accident?

At any rate, I have never shared that story publicly but I ask people to share their most painful experiences for a living if they are relevant, and this seemed relevant.
Aside from the interesting implications Ryley mentions about the way bad (or no) teeth are perceived in our culture, which I would like to return to at another time, she raises several key points about car insurance vs. health insurance, the fact that teeth are not covered in health insurance generally, and that procedures considered "cosmetic" may not even be covered in dental insurance.

If you had to pick the society where you would be born, with no control over what social stratum you would be born into, wouldn't you want it to be a society that took care of people whose teeth are broken? I sure would.


Sarah Ryley is an investigative and data reporter for the New York Daily News, mainly focusing on criminal justice. 


Fresca said...

Hi, Daughter #3---I've seen your comments on Orange Crate Art off and on for a while--I popped over here tonight and, sweartogod, this post made me cry.
I believe (I know!) that people naturally want to be like that lifeguard---(or, anyway, most people do)--and it's this weird, stupid, and tragic circumstance we find ourselves in now in the US that... um... honestly, I can't even finish that sentence because the circumstance is so weird, stupid, and tragic I can't even sum it up.
I guess I'd just say, we want to be safe and we want to help each other be safe, and that desire is being perverted by people who want something else quite... unsafe.
Anyway, thanks for writing about this and I am very glad your friend is safe, and the lifeguard & co. got to save someone in a totally unabivelently lovely way.

Fresca said...

erratum: unabivelently? wut? s/b "unambivalent" (or nonamibvalent?)

Daughter Number Three said...

Welcome, Fresca!