Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Poor People

" Poverty in the United States is cyclical in nature with roughly 13 to 17% of Americans living below the federal poverty line at any given point in time, and roughly 40% falling below the poverty line at some point within a 10-year time span. Poverty is defined as the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions.[1] Approximately 43.6 (14.3%) million Americans were living in poverty in 2009, up from 39.8 million (13.2%) in 2008- wikipedia "

We are poor. No surprise to anyone that knows us. The closest we have come to not being poor is when Mr. Curry's business was thriving, before the laws changed and his workers comp. insurance more than tripled and put him out of business, and before I had my surgeries and went into medical debt. I wrote about our financial downfall here.

Sometimes we are more poor or less poor; sometimes we can afford as many groceries as we need, pizza for the kids Friday Family Night, to pay for insurance co-pays L or I or D's sports fee/art class/tutor, and sometimes we can't afford to pay our water bill, take our kids to the doctor or let go of a roommate we don't like. But we are always on the edge. I grew up like this, too, poorer even than we are now, and as I grew up I overheard a lot of discussion between my parents about what it means to be poor in this country. My family on both sides are southern born and bred, and the poverty in Jackson, Mississippi, where I was born, is widespread and old, with enormous sad eyes and broken fingers. The buildings fall apart and disjoint like arthritic arms and legs:

Being poor means something else there than it does here in San Diego, CA, but there are things that stay the same for the poor, wherever they live in this United States. My family just experienced one of them.

I have spent the last five years of my life working my ass off to provide care for Dakota, in the various ways that he has needed it. Almost all of the care he has received has cost money. Some of that care was payed for by my mother, Dakota's enormously generous Grandma who loves him as if her were her own boy- and he is, in a way; he's her grandson. Some of that care was paid for by Mr. Curry and I. Almost always, the care he received was purposely geared toward people that don't have money. ( Us ) Almost always, the telephone call return, the appointments made, the questions answered, the care eventually received came after prolonged periods of time with delays, a lot of driving, a lot of asking, many humbling explanations and sometimes a very verbal and pushy mother at the front. ( Me ) And sometimes, the care did not come. Because we don't have the money to make it happen. Because we can't afford a lawyer when our rights are challenged or revoked, and we can't afford the time it takes to challenge those things on our own when we both work full time paid by the hour at businesses that, while they like us, could replace us. Sometimes all I could do is protest with tears in my eyes. And yes, I've done that.

Please help my child

It has to be one of the most fundamentally honest and uniting questions a person can ask or hear. But when money is involved and resources- even just the resource of time and effort- are low, even the most compassionate person can turn their heads and compartmentalize and justify and put your child in the back of their mind. My child has been that child. At his own schools, he has been that child. I've sat at many a walnut rounded table, recently with my own rounded and hugely pregnant stomach, asking questions, politely and calmly but insisting on being answered and heard, and still, " We can't help you. " It's not can't. I don't let me kids get away with that. It's won't.

Here's an equation:

($= :)X ) ($=@Y)

Money cannot buy a caring therapist, the right medications, the right diagnosis or the perfect treatment: but it can buy the opportunity to find those things. Money buys time. It buys opportunity. It buys choices.

Standing in the tiny waiting room that smelled like cooked cabbage, Mr. Curry, Dakota and Ever and I tried to make ourselves comfortable. We waited. The clock ticked. We waited and waited and finally, some time after the actual time of our appointment, the door opened and we were let in. In the one hour we spent with Dr. L, my sixteen year old son who has worked his ass off in the last year to mature, change and open himself up was treated like shit. In a government funded office I am glad even still exists, where the receptionist was rude and condescending and the
staff are under-trained and under-qualified and totally in over their heads- yes this is what it means to be poor. Poor is a place where you go and they treat you like shit and you are glad they are there to do it.

Poor means that Dr. L was volunteering her services at this office and according to her every expression and nuance, we are going to take her shitty service and like it, or we can leave. Which is always the choice- take it or leave.

We waited two months for this appointment.

I filled out humiliating forms on what payments I thought I could make - after being asked to do so- to be openly scorned by the fucking receptionists in the office because what I offered was so much less, apparently, than all the cool poor people offered.

And then, once we finally arrive, wait after our time and see Dr. L, she sighs, she fiddles, she makes faces at my kid, and eventually, grudgingly is backed into a corner by me after initially denying our request- WHICH, I might add, was a request backed up by another doctor I paid ( and am still paying off ) to do extensive testing- and another doctor Mr Curry and I paid for D. to see for a year - and finally agreed that maybe, possibly, these other experts and me, his mother, knew what we were talking about, and if we wanted her help, we could do xyz and come back in a month, and then, maybe she will help us.

Oh, if we could only be so lucky.

And then, on the way home, Dakota informs me that when he talked with Dr. L alone in her office- before she called me in - she badgered and humiliated him.

I am so angry that I cannot feel angry.

And this is what it means to be poor:

We might go back and see her next month.
SJ said...

I wish I could help somehow. I CAN help...please let me know.

michelle said...

Gotta say, maggie may, that it's not only about the money, it's also about availability.

We live in a county whiere there are virtually NO mental health services for kids. Ok. There are a few. But they suck. Wefinally found someone for Mia who is amazing, but doesn't take insurance. So the 1000/mo health insurance I'm paying for is absolutely no help.

If you don't feel like this chick is helping Dakota, cut her loose. Even if she's free.

Sorry for the long comment. You totally struck a nerve :)

Thank you for all your advice.

Jube said...

I can't even pretend to know what it's like to be in your shoes. I can however, express how very sorry I am that our country's priorities are so backward. Hang in there.

Jos said...


Having money definitely makes life easier.

Sorry you had such a shitty experience with the doc... how awful that people treat others with such disdain. I'm glad you are at least getting a chance to do everything you can for Dakota. You're a great Mom.

Elizabeth said...

I am so sorry. I know your frustration. I have to believe that people somewhere are working on all of this -- the attitudes, etc. I wish that I could help you -- in every way. Don't give up. Talk about it; do what you're doing. The more open people are; the more they are able to articulate these things, the better the chance that changes will happen. Being articulate and poor is a powerful thing, Maggie. You are powerful writing it here. But I wish you didn't have to --

Anonymous said...

fight, maggie... i am fighting too...
everything will be ok. yes, the right treatment and all you say... it´s true. love your words. always.
love you!!

Elisabeth said...

Why go back, if it's not helpful? No one needs to feel humiliated. The system and the people who fill it can be so dehumanising. And no one, including those in the system want it this way but how to change it, especially when you cannot afford to pay, and even then there are some things money can't buy.

Maybe if you go back you can talk about these issues. It's important to have some level of confidence in those who might help otherwise you're working against yourself.

It's hard for me to comment from this culture where things are different, although some things are the same. I hope it gets better for you.

Corinne Cunningham said...

This hits very close to home.
I am angered for you, frustrated with you, and keep hoping and praying that somehow it gets better.
Sending some love.

Ms. Moon said...

This is unacceptable on every level. I am so sorry. I am SO sorry.

Stephanie said...

This makes me very sad, but definitely puts another face on poverty.

Maggie May said...

Thank you for reading, and commenting- money and 'being poor' are not things people want to hear about talk about or read about, but it's a huge part of my experience being a mother and raising my family here.

SJ thank you so much for wanting to help, but reading this and commenting DOES help, it helps me. that's all i want here, is for you guys to read and respond, and to read and respond on your writing, so that we can connect.

'Only connect'

Unknown said...

I'm here listening Maggie.
sorry for all of this...

Jessica said...

This post broke my heart. I love this country, but there is so much wrong with how we handle mental health services, poverty, and other familial issues. I would encourage you to continue to provide a voice for this issue on your blog. I don't have much money myself, but I am more than willing to help in any way I can. Just let me know how I can help. Hugs.

annton said...

some days we have to go out there and learn to shoot. at least inside!

98126res said...

thanks for being so open and no worries. I've had terribly inadequate, expensive and time consuming therapy, and the best remedy by a long shot I finally found was free, not that free is the answer. Free is unusual and my resource was from Denmark not the dumb ole USA. Mental health is metered out in crumbs in the US like it is for the privileged few rather than a God-given right. I finally found something that works for me but it may not for everyone and maybe not for an adolescent. go with your instincts, don't give up, it may take time, but your son will find what he needs. he needs to feel empowered! i located my resource searching on the web btw. hang in there!

Carrie said...

This makes me so angry because I've been there as a teenager on Medi-Cal and sometimes I'm still there as a semi-employed mom with a self-employed husband. The sour face on the receptionists at the vet's office, the dentist's office, I know it so well. "We don't really 'do' billing." "Do you have a credit card?" as if that had never occurred to me.

It's amazing how tied up it is with my self-worth, that it is so important to me that my kids never feel the want and the lack that I did growing up. It's ok here in LA to be "bohemian" or "live minimally" but especially as we are now deep into the grown-up ages, it's just unacceptable and embarrassing to be plain old broke.

The hell with that horrible doctor. I still have fantasies about telling the awful doctor I saw at 17 exactly how and where he can go fuck himself. I'm so sorry you guys had to go through that. You're not alone. It's so exhausting to keep searching and asking but there has got to be something else out there for your sweet son.

Caroline said...

A couple of things here--first I think you shouldn't go back to that therapist.
My father is a counselor--has been for almost 30 years and sometimes (and I know this from listening to my dad talk about working with other counselors) they get burned out and then end up totally sucking at their jobs. Somehow, these people who thought they would be good counselors end up being super crappy counselors because they forget how important their jobs are.
I know there is a mental health advocacy coalition here in the US that you should be able to call--I will ask my dad the name and email you.
We have been poor too, Maggie. Things are much better now. I don't want to write a novel in your comment box, but just wanted to tell you that I know how you feel. I also wanted to tell you that I know things will get better for you. I know it. Don't ask me how, but I just feel it in my stomach.
It's like--I come here and read what you write and I feel privileged to read what you write. THAT is how much talent you have.

anymommy said...

My heart breaks for you and your boy and this slow slog to help. This is so well written Maggie. Your story is important. I'm reading it, I know you say that's enough, but I wish there was more.

Anonymous said...

Like everyone else who commented I am angered, but always am when I hear about the brainless bureaucrats who don't have a scrap of compassion, either that they are so overwhelmed by a brainless system that all they can do is follow suit out of their own terror at being human. Keep fighting for your son. So many give up because it is so demoralizing and humiliating. But Dakota knows you are fighting for him...that's what is most important out of everything you are going through.

justmakingourway said...

Ugh, Maggie. I'm angry and frustrated just reading about this - I know it can only be a fraction of what you must be feeling.

I also know you won't stop fighting for Dakota and doing everything to do what's best for him. Poor or not, yours and Mr. Curry's richness of spirit and love is crucial. (Too bad we can't use that to pay bills, isn't it?)

Evangeline said...

Money does buy time and opportunity. That is the gospel truth. It works differently here in Canada (and for that I am very grateful!), but if I had a dime for every time a specialist or therapy that is not covered by our provincial health care plan has been highly recommended for our sons...well, I just might have enough to afford some of those therapies. The best/better/adequately proactive mental health care is not covered by the provincial plans, and unless you have $$$ you must settle for 12 month waiting lists to get sub-standard care and be grateful for it.

I actually think we met that b*tch in the cabbage-smelling office on one of our visits...except in this incarnation she was a mumbly old man who bated both of my sons to angry tears in succession and then said they have anger problems (ODD?!? I'll show ya ODD!). It took us 3 visits and several phone calls before we finally decided that no therapy was better than him.

I hope something happens to ease your financial situation soon. Being poor is an exhausting grind, isn't it? Things are waaaaay easier for us now, but I still remember the crushing stress of our leanest years with a lurch in my heart. That lurching heart goes out to you now Maggie. If only I had a fairy godmother wand! What wouldn't I do!

Ida Mae said...

reading this made me angry for you, angry for Dakota..mad at the fact that even when someone is working , fighting, asking, pleading for help, sometimes even after all that is done, they are still humiliated. I have been there myself; and can remember just how awful it feels. I have not (yet) had to feel that anger about someone doing that to my child (and I am sure one day I will in some form). I do not look forward to that day.

not really helpful, but as I was reading, I wanted to point out that while, yes, you may be poor Maggie May. But in so many ways you are richer than many people I know. You are so passionate and AWARE of all you have been given. That speaks mountains about you.

be well Maggie :)

NodToStyle said...

i am so so sorry you have to go through this. i am also poor. not poor like my mom and dad are, but never "well off". i only hope that when i have kids they are also less poor than me and the cycle eventually ends.

Anonymous said...

oh maggie...i am so sorry for this horrific experience! Must have been hard to hear that your "baby" was humiliated and that you were powerless to stop it. damn!
grown professional adults do this?!?!?! insane.

I'm Katie. said...

Oh, hell. Oh hell. I spent too many weeks returning to my $5 therapist to have my childhood demons swept away with the back of her hand like they were dirty, annoying bits of garbage, being looked at *like I was crazy* as I was telling her how I felt like *I was going crazy*...

I finally stopped going. At least it made me angry enough to demand more. But from whom? Who will serve the people who can't afford to be served? Do we expect good, qualified, hardworking professionals to eek out poor livings like us just so they can bear our burdens with us, do we scrape together resources so we can pay them their due? Do we curse capitalism and vote in Obamacare? (I did.) I am haunted by this conundrum.

I'm sorry for this long comment. I fear for my son's wellbeing- he's only two, but if I can barely get a referral to have someone look at an abnormal growth on his physical body, where will I be when I need help with the unseen?

I feel for you. I'm praying for you and your entire beautiful family. In fact, I've been reading your blog for so long that I think of you and your family members throughout my weeks and, without realizing it, send warm thoughts and considerations your way. I hope they reach you.

Annje said...

I am so sorry Maggie. That is an outrage. I grew up poor, not the same shade of poor as your childhood, but 1 of 7 kids with a single mom going back to school and I saw that a lot with any service we needed. It is frustrating and humiliating, I wish it weren't so.

sp8cemunky said...

I'm a new reader, I found this post through Google Reader suggestions...
It really struck a nerve.

Being poor sucks. It has pros-you tend to appreciate small pleasures more but the constant gnaw of "there isn't enough, how will we stretch this" is agonizing.

Your post is succinct and refreshed many of my own memories.

I'm sorry you and your family must suffer. I'm glad you stand up for your self.

I will be a regulat reader from now on and I will try to think of a way I can help.

Keep up the excellent writing!

seadrift said...

I just want you to know that I read your post and I feel for you - and for your family - that awful doctor was horrible and after reading how you were treated I too am ready to blow a gasket. Thank you for being so honest about your experience. I'll be back. Take care and keep writing.

Anonymous said...

The Southerner that I am, I can't help but want to bring you dinner.


Rena said...

People who say "Money isn't everything" don't realize that when you don't have enough, it IS everything. Money is power - as you pointed out, the power to have choices, the power not to be consumed by worry over every single little expense. Money can't buy you health; but it sure can get you good health care!

Do not give up - there are plenty of crappy doctors and therapists out there, ones that do more harm than good. We've dealt with them, too. Just don't give up. I'm not sure what your son's issues are exactly; but in many states, if you opt for residential treatment, Medicaid will step in to fund it for a minor. It can be cheaper for you to have him at a private RTC than to have him getting outpatient help.

Unknown said...

Every single day when I am working in the city I meet them. The condescenders. They look down at these people we work with. These precious and wonderful people. It breaks my heart.

I find value in each person I encounter and I try to see past the outside. I really, really try.

Will pray for your son.

Vodka Mom said...

oh Maggie May...we are all in our battle. And I send you prayers and strength and love.

and i will try to send my guardian angel over for a WEE bit of help.


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