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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Life Expectancies

I recently read a brief article about the life expectancy of the rich versus the poor in our country. It didn't really go into detail as to the why's - it was just statistical. Apparently the rich, as well as, the upper middle class tend to out live the poor and lower middle class by quite a number of years.

That got me to thinking and then to writing. Why would they outlive the poor? One reason would be genetic, I'm sure. Genetics can and oftentimes is "trained". Let me explain in a very layman way.

Along with genetics, diet and nutrition would rank right up there among the reasons the rich outlive the poor. In my explanation, genetics and diet/nutrition works hand in hand.

If a person is fed a superior diet from the time they are born, their chances of attracting a myriad of diseases fall dramatically. Diseases such as heart disease, certain cancers, diabetes, osteoporosis, certain tumors, gout, even Parkinson Disease according to some articles I uncovered on the internet. Their chances of catching and dying from common illnesses which normally attack those with compromised immune systems fall off the chart as well.

As with a good breed of dog, people lineage can be bred to be superior. If a persons lineage is full of generations of well nourished ancestors, their genetics grow stronger with each new generation. Or that's what I believe anyway.

I understand that there are many rich people who die from heart disease and cancer every day of the year. However, in comparison to the poor of this country, the numbers are not exactly equal - at all.

When talking about diet and nutrition, it should be noted that fresh fruits, vegetables and chemical free good cuts of meat are not a staple on the poor person's table. There is no bowl of delectable fruit sitting on the granite countertop of the island in the kitchen for the poor or fresh vegetables sitting in the independently cooled vegetable section of their sub-zero fridge for the poor. There is generic canned corn and maybe a can of peaches in syrup in the cabinet. The fridge contains more frozen pizza's, TV dinners that were on sale and animal by-products than New York strip steaks and Halibut to be sure. Macaroni and Cheese is not a main dish in a poor person's house and it is not made with organic macaroni and freshly grated cheeses, it comes from a box with powdered "cheese" and is used as a side dish to supplement the fatty, bone shard riddled piece of meat that is being served for dinner.

Another reason for the disparity would be stress. I completely understand that rich people have stress in their lives. Everyone has stress. However, I believe there is good stress and there is bad stress. I further believe that the rich have more good stress in their lives than do the poor as well as, the knowledge and ability to participate in a variety of ways in which to effect a positive reduction in their stress levels.

Rich people stress over their jobs and whether their children will get into Harvard and whether the wife will be elected chairwoman of the auxiliary club and whether the husband has grown far too attached to his new and very pretty secretary or whether they should buy the E or the S series Mercedes. This may sound like a superficial list, but these stresses are very real to the rich. As such, they are very stressful to them. They also have the normal stresses that comes with family life.

The poor also have job stress. They stress about whether their factory or restaurant is going to lay off workers or close altogether. They stress over whether they will be able to get a job at all. They stress out over whether their welfare check is going to be cut off since their teenager got a minimum wage job at the corner "stop and rob". They stress over their children finishing high school and college just as much as the rich do. But they also stress over their children living long enough to finish high school. They stress over whether the lights will get turned off or whether they will have enough money to pay the light bill AND buy groceries. They stress over whether the doors and windows are locked securely enough that they won't be killed in their sleep by an intruder.

Do you know that in some neighborhoods in this country, people do not sleep in their beds at night? They sleep on the floor next to their beds so that if a bullet goes through their walls or windows the bed will act as a buffer zone and they won't be killed by the bullet. It's true. Iraq isn't the only war zone connected to our country.

They stress over whether or not their car will still be in their driveway when they wake up in the morning taken either by a thief or the finance company. They stress over their kids playing outside for fear of a drive by shooting or a predator on the prowl for children as the pedophiles very rarely live in the well to do neighborhoods. They stress over whether or not, the husband will come home drunk and decide to beat on the wife and kids. They stress over the wife falling off the wagon and turning back to the drugs she worked so hard to kick. They stress over the kids getting involved in drugs, alcohol and gangs and a multitude of other illegal activities and unsavory associations.

They stress over whether to pay to have their tags renewed or use the money to finish paying their rent and gamble on their ability to avoid getting a ticket before their next paycheck so they can tag the car. That is, provided they don't get a utility shut off notice in the meantime. They stress over whether the police will show up at their door before they are able to pick up the check they bounced at the Piggly Wiggly for groceries.

They stress over everyday things in life that the rich take for granted. Things such as food, shelter and safety.

The rich know how to take a break from the stress and "rejuvenate" their bodies and souls from the stress they encounter. They go on spa vacations and travel to various resorts. OR they go to their country home or their mountain home where they spend their weekends and summers relaxing by the pool or the ocean soaking up the sun and allowing the stress to evaporate.

The poor don't have this option. Nor have they gotten into a habit of taking stress busting weekends away from home. This is usually because they have never been introduced to this creature but also because they can't afford it. By the time they pay for the basics in life, their money is gone and they've already eaten into the next paycheck as well.

The poor and the working poor are always just one check away from being homeless. There are no stocks to sell or CD's to cash in or vacation homes to put on the market should they run into a cash flow problem. There is only used furniture, used cars, title pawn shops and cash advance stores to give them any emergency money.

Before I leave stress, let's cover the environmental stresses of being poor. Rich people live in beautiful neighborhoods far away from the hustle and bustle of the main drags of the city. They live on quiet streets where everyone has a beautiful house and an even more beautiful lawn with beautiful vehicles parked in the perfect driveways. Once they retire for the night, there is silence and when they awake they are able to go onto their veranda, deck or patio and sip their coffee while admiring their surroundings and the peace of their home and neighborhood. The air that they and their children breathe is the purest money can buy. Their homes are not close to dump sites or high voltage electrical lines or factories. There are no open sewer lines or rat and crackhead infested houses in their neighborhoods. Their home is an oasis of peace to which they can retreat from the stresses of the office and/or school.

The poor? Their environment is normally either on a main drag or very close to one. They endure the constant noise of the sirens, their neighbors parties, their neighbors fighting, the ever constant bass coming from the SUV with the darkened windows parked in front of their house listening to their music at 3 in the morning. As they try to sleep they listen to the sounds of gunshots and dogs barking.

When they get up and have their coffee, it's not clean air that they breathe. Their air is polluted with the many vehicles that constantly clog their streets. Chances are high that their house is close to a factory or an interstate which brings even more pollution and noise into their lives. Their street is littered with garbage thrown from vehicles and from the residue of wild dogs who have rummaged through the household garbage for food to eat. Chances are, there is at least one overgrown empty lot, vacant and condemned house and shut down business on their street. They can't allow their children to play outside without shoes because of the broken glass that litters their street.

Their environment is anything but a retreat from the stresses of the "office and/or school". Once they leave the external stresses and pull into their driveway, they have to be ready for a whole new set of stress factors that they and their family have to endure and survive.

So now that we've covered genetics, diet and nutrition and stress, let's move on to medical care.

You wouldn't believe how many upper middle class and rich people that I personally know who believe with all their hearts that medical care in this country is available to everyone and is equal to everyone. It boggles my mind.

Let me give you an example. Christina Applegate was diagnosed with breast cancer and cured due to a special type of MRI that can detect the cancer far in advance of it's "dangerous" stage thus allowing the physicians to treat it and cure it with amazing results. This special MRI is not available to those with most types of insurance. She admitted this in the article I read about this situation. She admitted that she had to write a check for the procedure in order to get it done.

Now do you think for one minute that if a poor person walked into the doctor's office that he would even tell them about this procedure? No. It would never happen because for one thing, the doctor would know that this person would never be able to afford it and for another thing the doctor that regularly treats the poor probably wouldn't even know about the procedure.

Just because you are a practicing physician does not mean that you are of the same quality as all the other doctors.

Trust me on this one. I have had insurance and I have been without insurance and as a result, I have gone to good doctors and I have gone to "cheap" doctors and the "cheap" doctors don't know as much about medicine as I do sometimes. I have used the "cheap" doctors on two occasions and on one of them, I walked in with a minor complaint and within a few days had developed the flu that was completely unexplained any other way than by my coming in contact with that doctor's office.

Years ago when I was between jobs and had no insurance, I asked around for the name of a cheap doctor because I needed a new prescription for some medicine that I took regularly for my high blood pressure and my refills had run out.

It wasn't a narcotic so I didn't feel getting a new script would be a challenge. All I needed was a cheap doctor who would give me a new script. Easy enough I thought.

I asked the check out lady at my neighborhood grocery store, I asked the guys who washed my car, I asked the lady who cleaned my friends house twice a week and whom I knew lived in the projects and required my friend to give her cash each week. She told me about this doctor on Winchester Road near Getwell who only took cash and didn't require an appointment.

So I got up one morning and dressed in my best "go to the doctor" outfit drove to this doctor's office where I stood (I was NOT about to sit) for a couple of hours waiting for my turn. The waiting room was filled to the brim. I probably couldn't have sat had I desired to due to the amount of patients waiting their turn with the doctor.

The patients waiting were colorful to say the least.

After more than two hours had passed, the door to the office opened and in walked 2 men in dark suits and 2 uniformed police officers. The men in suits walked to the receptionist window while the police officers turned to us and asked us all to leave quietly stating that the doctor would not be seeing any more patients that day.

The next day on the news there was a picture of the doctor and his office along with a short news story about how he was selling scripts for narcotics without an exam and also (as it turns out) without a valid license as his had been revoked years ago.

Why would these people go to a doctor like this when there are highly competent doctors all over town? Because he charged $20 for an office visit while my normal doctor that I used when I had insurance charged $85 for an office visit. Plain as that.

The people sitting in the waiting room of this doctor's office knew that he was a quack. They knew that there were better doctor's all over town. But they also knew that they might be able to round up $20 a whole lot quicker and easier than they could round up $85 plus the charges for any lab work or other procedures that a competent doctor might require during his exam.

This is just one example of why the poor die before the rich. When you are forced by circumstance to have your medical health "monitored" by this type of doctor, you can bet that you will either be misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all should any disease be growing in your body.

When all you can put your hands on is a $20 bill, you will get a $20 diagnosis which will probably include a script for something to mask the symptoms so you can continue to clean some rich woman's house so she doesn't have to.

And don't even try to say that every major city has a "welfare" hospital and free clinics as a way of saying that medical care is equal and available to all, because if you even go there, I will scream.

Let's touch on those for just a second. First let me share another personal experience I had. My second time to use (or in this case, attempt to use) a cheap doctor. In Memphis there is a "free" clinic that is owned by a group of churches. It has highly qualified and reputable doctors and nurses who donate their time to this clinic. It is in a beautiful setting and is easily accessible for those who take public transportation.

However, if you have any type of health insurance or HAVE HAD INSURANCE WITHIN THE PAST 6 MONTHS, they will NOT see you. At all period. Also, if the company you work for offers health insurance and you don't participate (probably because you can't afford to AND pay your rent), they won't treat you.

While I was laid off from a law firm that I worked at, I developed bronchitis. I called my doctor who told me his prices and I called my friends who gave me their doctor's numbers and I got their prices and finally a neighbor who was a student and had not had health insurance for quite a while told me about the Church Health Clinic.

I called them and they told me that if I wasn't covered, the visit would be free. Hot dog!!

I took a shower and dragged my sick body to the clinic where I waited in a nicely furnished and very comfortable waiting room for my turn. After wasting an hour sitting in a waiting room wishing to God I was back home on my couch, it was my turn.

I gave them my paperwork, they looked at it and promptly informed me that since I had been covered so recently, they could not help me but if I remained uncovered for 6 months, to please feel free to come back and they would be happy to help me. WTF?!

So what did I do? I went to my regular doctor and wrote him a hot check, got a script, went to the pharmacy where I wrote them a hot check to get my medicine and then went home where I got well enough to get a job so I could pick up the checks.

Then there are the welfare hospitals. The good news is, if you get shot or stabbed or have some other kind of violent "accident", those are the very hospitals to which you want to insist on being taken. However, if you suffer from anything else, STAY AWAY! They are understaffed and poorly staffed in every other area. The emergency room is the only place in those hospitals where you will receive decent care. The rest of the hospital will likely make you sicker than you were when you checked in.

So, that's my take on the life expectancy variations between the rich and the poor. It never ceases to amaze, disgust and sadden me when I see these Hollywood stars pushing for aid to the poor of third world countries and/or politicians trying to get billions of dollars of our tax money sent to other countries so we can stamp out hunger and childhood diseases in these countries.

WHAT ABOUT US? What about the working poor in this country who are forced to die from diseases that if caught early enough or treated properly wouldn't necessarily be fatal?

People live for decades with heart problems, high blood pressure, diabetes and an assortment of other diseases. People are cured every day from various kinds of cancers that were detected early and properly treated. There are many diseases that stem either directly or indirectly from improper nutrition and people in this country suffer from them every day.

Can we not be concerned for OUR people for a change?

I have a friend back home who is a pediatric surgeon. He participates in the doctor's without borders thing and goes on a trip every year in this capacity. I asked him once why he was spending his money and time operating on children in other countries for free when there are so many in this country who could benefit from his services and he told me that it was a legal issue.

He said that in the third world countries he doesn't have to worry about being sued if the end results weren't exactly what the patient and/or the patient's family had anticipated. He said that in those countries the hospitals are so thrilled to have the doctors at their facility that there is no cost for them using those hospitals whereas in this country no hospital is going to donate their facility for their use. It just wasn't financially feasible plus it would expose them to legal ramifications should the doctor get sued.

How very sad is that? How very sad that children, men, women have to die every day in this country because of our legal system? How very sad that they have to die every day while wonderfully competent doctors like my friend go to third world countries to save their citizens while our citizens die by the thousands.

But that's just me.


Fiona D. said...

This is very interesting. I agree with your assessment too. I worry about my mother who does not have adequate health care and doesn't eat right for these reasons.

A story about the understaffed county hospital here: when I was younger, I had to go there for a torn tricep. I was walking around, looking for the patient check in.

I asked a woman with a badge where new patient check in was located. I told her I needed to check in. She mumbled and pointed to a desk at the end of the hall. Then she continued shuffling down the hall.

I reached the empty desk and not a moment later that same woman walked over and asked how could she help me?!

When I had greeted her a moment earlier, she never once mentioned she was going to the desk and she would be the person I would need to speak with.

I found everyone at the County Hospital to have this numb-bureaucratic mentality. Just get the job done and put in your time.

You can't expect quality health care from people who are burned out and work in these enviormments.

Ernie said...

So true. I can't imagine what their "normal" days must be like. The over stressed and over anxious patients and their families who get in their faces in order to get their loved one seen quicker (squeaky wheel gets the grease seems to be the motto of the poor). I can imagine they see far more than their share of patients who are dying needlessly from an illness or disease that had it been diagnosed properly or timely would not have turned fatal. It's a thankless job they have which is why the very competent ones leave for better hospitals with better pay and conditions leaving the "charity" hospitals to deal with the incompetent employees. I long for the days when the Catholic church ran the charity hospitals. They knew how to run a hospital without killing their patients.