THE BLOG

The Kennedy Option; A Matter of Life and Death

09/28/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I can imagine awful things. That's why I'm a terrible flier. This week, I sat across from something I couldn't imagine.

I remember the story. On December 1, 2007, a Palmer, Alaska man attacked his father and his father's fiancé with a machete in the middle of the night. Leaving them for dead, he drove to Anchorage and shot three people, killing one, injuring two.

Tuesday, I had lunch with Lennie. She survived the machete attack that killed her fiancé. The hospital stopped counting after fifty "chop wounds", from head to toe. One of her two uninjured fingers still wears the ring of the man she loved. She smiles a lot. While we were talking, she liked something I said and offered a "high 2 and ¾" instead of a "high 5".

She told me about that horrifying, long ago night. She described the sound a machete makes when it hits your skull. She didn't feel her ear being severed, or her fingers. Her funny bone is gone, but she joked about her sense of humor being intact. She recently lost her dog, Bear, who defended her during the attack.

Her assailant screamed while he chopped her, "Why are you making me do this?" over and over. Her voice hushed when she shared with me that an angel helped her reach the phone to dial 911. Unseen hands held her legs up to keep her from bleeding to death while help was on the way.

Lennie was released from the hospital with only five days worth of pain pills and the inability to feed, bathe, use the bathroom or dress herself. She didn't have insurance.

She told me she would rather be hit with a machete than go through the de-humanizing experience of not having health coverage. Lennie supports a public option. She doesn't want anyone to have to fight harder for health care than she did against a possessed man determined to kill her.

The man wielding the machete, Chris Rogers, is now serving time in prison. He's entitled to health care under the 8th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. His victim doesn't want the death penalty for him; she doesn't even want his health coverage taken away. She wants everyone to have the health care they need. The surgeries to repair her claw-like hand, like the leg brace that helps her walk, were pro-bono by doctors who were unable to watch the current system ignore her suffering.

"At least I'm not bitter," she likes to say, usually after some nightmare story about pain management. We chatted over chicken and grilled cheese about public option possibilities. I shared with her my meeting Howard Dean a few weeks ago. I told her how the message between President Clinton, Senator Kennedy, Dr. Dean, Valerie Jarrett, AFL-CIO leader Richard Trumka and others were rallying the grass roots across the nation for public health care. I assured her the public option was already a compromise from a single payer system...and we were going to win. We had to, it's a life or death matter.

"I sure hope so," she said. "I have a pre-existing condition. It's called attempted murder."

Lennie called me today. She said she'd thought of me when she heard of Senator Kennedy's death. I had thought of her, and her struggle to be healed; heart, mind and body.

Senator Kennedy, a man born into privilege, fought for the rights of others who were not. That made him a hero. For his decades-long fight, and the daily struggle of people like Lennie, a woman who sees her struggle over health care as more horrific than a machete attack, we must pass a public option; a "Kennedy Option."

"Some men see things as they are and say why; I dream things that never were and say why not?"