Zeneba Bowers, a violinist in the Nashville Symphony and the Alias chamber ensemble, posted this reflection today on how many US musicians cope with ill-health: they ignore it because they can’t afford to do anything else. Hers is a striking case history that we feel sure will resonate with many others. What can be done about it?
Today I finally went to the doctor after having a cold for 11 days. Turns out I have bronchitis. (I’m fine, I’m not posting this for sympathy.)
For many years I lived with no health insurance. A small illness like this one would have had serious implications for me. I would have to miss gigs (with no paid sick days, so lots of lost money), and on top of that, pay for a doctor’s visit and medicine I could not afford.
The shame of having to go in to a doctor, without insurance, and ask line by line how much something would cost (with no consideration for my health, but only the dollar amount), was enough to keep me away from the doctor, in nearly every circumstance. I was not lazy or sponging off the government, I was a full-time student with 2 part time jobs. Trying to turn myself into a “maker”, as some would say today.
My grandfather was a doctor, and when I was absolutely desperate, I would call him and he would write me a scrip for antibiotics, when I had a UTI or strep throat. He was writing those scrips from MN, when I was in NY — this was surely illegal, but he took pity on me, as he knew I had no other option.
I used to call my health insurance plan the “Old Yeller” plan; meaning, just shoot me in the face if it gets too bad.
I remember when I got my first orchestra job, I went down to the office to meet everyone and pick up paperwork. One of the things I picked up was an insurance card. I literally cried when I got it, and kissed it. I was so happy, just to think that I could get basic, general care. I didn’t have any major pre-existing condition. Just typical ailments like the flu, or a cold. But the specter of a huge medical bill (which could be brought on by any small accident) loomed over me every day. It was something I worried about constantly. I think I could have gotten a lot more done in my studies if I weren’t panicking about this, seriously.
Today at the doctor they asked if they could take an Xray, to check my lungs for pneumonia. I thought about asking about the cost, and then I thought “You know, I just want to get better. If that’s what it takes I’ll just spend the money”.
Well that was not something I could have thought before, because I would never have been able to afford it. And while I am grateful that I can afford it now, there is nothing about me that makes me better or different than my neighbors or friends who can’t afford it.
We can do so much better in this country, and we should. Every other developed country does. Let’s join them.