Thirty-two quickly became the year my sense of invincibility ran out rather suddenly. Sure, I had some unpleasant and expensive dental surgery a few years ago but nothing ever that serious.
That all changed last Tuesday evening. I went to the ER experiencing dizzyness, some loss of feeling in my right arm, and abnormal speech patterns. I would have delayed the trip further were it not for my wife's persistence and a primary care doctor's recommendation. Like most guys, I'm not the type to run to the doctor at every alarm. Indeed, it was my first visit to a primary care doctor in years and my first ever trip to the ER as a patient.
Now I'm awaiting a diagnosis of a possible brain tumor or stroke. The initial tests were inconclusive and need more time to be reviewed and compared with the images taken of my brain last week. After spending a brief night at home Thursday, I had a seizure and went back to the ER, this time in an ambulance. Fortunately my wife handled the seizure like a pro and I managed not to give her a heart attack in the process. The seizure didn't change the prognosis one way or the other, so I managed to spend the weekend at home watching March Madness to stay distracted. I probably won't know much more conclusively until after the Final Four.
Nothing concentrates the mind like 90 minutes in a MRI machine, a structure that bears a striking resemblance to a coffin with R2D2 noises whirring and cranking all around. Particularly when you've been up all night after various other tests, IVs, and different doctors revealing bits of information with varying degrees of alarm in their voices.
As I tried to lie perfectly still in the machine and keep from hyperventilating, I flew threw all kinds of possible prognoses, potential recovery times, or more unthinkable scenarios. And I speculated unhelpfully about what I might have done to catch this problem earlier. Should I have gotten a physical in the last five years? More aggressively tried to lose weight? Drank less? Let symptoms of a hereditary disease in my family go unexamined? But why would I take such preventative measures if I could thrive under the false promise of invincibility?
What revived me somewhat in the midst of this terrifying stream-of-consciousness is that there is national debate ongoing on precisely these issues. I know little about health care and the relative benefits and drawbacks of different payer systems. But I do know absolutely that now that everyone can get coverage affordably, they should do so immediately. Don't wait until the 31st. Do it today.
I have the luxury of not worrying about costs for the moment, because I have health insurance. The tests I've already been through would cost tens of thousands of dollars without insurance. Who has that kind of money lying around? And that's just testing. Surgical options would be almost unthinkable without insurance.
No one expects to get dramatically ill in their 20s or 30s. Even seeing remarkable feats of courage, like ESPN's Stuart Scott's ongoing struggle with cancer and his inspirational work-out regimen to countermand the affects of chemo - that boy's a beast! - don't truly bring home the message that even the healthiest seeming people can become really sick with little warning. At 32. Yes, it can happen even to you.
And that's exactly why the Affordable Care Act needs to be given the chance to ensure young people can get the health care coverage they need and deserve in a country with the highest quality medicine in the world. As a strong believer in the the liberal tradition of FDR and LBJ, I know that government of the people, by the people, can create public goods, such as universal healthcare, that will ultimately make us a more just and equitable society. The process certainly doesn't happen overnight. But websites get fixed. Systems improve over time. And government, for all it's flaws, is fundamentally well-intentioned, because it depends on the goodwill of people trying to do the best they can to help their fellow citizens. Or in my case working on foreign policy, doing the best we can to help defend America's place in the world. We are strongest as a nation when we share this faith in our ability to do more good together than we can accomplish individually.
One final unsolicited piece of advice. Get married to a wonderful, strong person who will be by your side unwaveringly throughout these traumas. I wouldn't have made it without my wife over the last few days along with our supportive friends and family. But getting married can wait until after March 31st. Getting health coverage today can't.
Ben Fishman served for four years on the White House National Security Council staff. He is pursuing PhD in political science at George Washington University.