On weekdays this spring, I’ve been driving from my home in Newport to Rhode Island Hospital in Providence, where I lie under a fabulous machine that’s saving my life.
For 10 or 15 minutes, this Star Trek-like device swoops around my 65-year-old pelvis, firing bursts of radiation into a strange, men-only organ called the prostate, slaughtering cancer cells.
Expert technicians have positioned my body precisely, so that the radiation beam will spare the rest of my body. The machine itself is guided by a computer program customized just for my torso by a physician who sits on national scientific committees and teaches medicine at Brown University.
Everyone is unfailingly kind: “Any pain today, Mr. Jones?” They kibitz on how I can manage embarrassing side effects; help me gently on and off the table, and ask how my dog, Lucie, is doing.
This is extremely expensive. A Blue Cross Medicare plan pays $1337 a day for each treatment — and there are 40 altogether. The bill for that customized computer plan was $14,420.
I am grateful every morning — and ashamed.
As I drive to Providence, I’ve been listening on the radio about how Rhode Island leaders have been taking away health insurance from children.
In a perverse display of bipartisanship, Republican Governor Donald Carcieri, and Democrats William Murphy, the House speaker, and Joseph Montalbano, the Senate president, decided that crossing thousands of children off the state’s low-income insurance plan will help cure a state deficit.
The children know nothing of this. They don’t know they won’t be getting the sort of attention that’s adding extra innings to my life, or that they could miss the kind of routine tests that prompted my doctors to start treatment in time. Maybe they’ll get some care in free clinics or overcrowded emergency rooms. But for some, it won’t be enough and it won’t be in time.
Since the news broke about Carcieri proposing that the legislature dispose children to Rhode Island’s medical junkyard, I’ve been wondering about the logic of this.
Why do all this for me — at the end of my life — but not for kids, at the beginning of theirs?
The governor, the speaker, and the Senate president have said that one solution — more money — is out of the question. My taxes are too high, they tell me. Grown-ups have had it. Can’t afford our taxes any more, and those that can are moving out.
Speaking for myself, it’s not true. Of course, I don’t have millions to personally solve the budget problem. But I can pay hundreds in extra taxes — and more — to save children.
What I don’t have is the stomach to lie under that radiation machine every morning, knowing that I’m getting the best of care, and these children aren’t.
So each morning, the sign in my treatment room lights up: “Beam on.” However, outside the hospital, Rhode Island’s message to its children is: “Who cares?”