When Charity Begins at Home

We had quite a scare late last week when a car ran into my husband’s stopped car while going about 30 miles an hour. Maya was sitting in the back seat.

I got the call just a minute after I had settled into my desk at work. I flew to the accident scene and was relieved to see no blood, no broken glass, just a scared-looking daughter, a shaken-up father and a car in need of $3,000 worth of repairs.

DH stayed behind to finish exchanging information with the other driver and wait for the tow truck. I took Maya to the doctor, where she was given a clean bill of health and a yellow lollipop. “Why did the car crash?” she kept asking. “Why?”

Over the weekend I kept counting my blessings. We have decent health insurance. We have decent car insurance. No one was hurt. We are so very lucky.

I felt even more grateful when I saw this story on 60 Minutes last night. It featured a charity that was founded to provide free medical services to poor, developing countries around the world, airdropping doctors and supplies into remote areas of the Amazon. But recently the charity, Remote Area Medical,or RAM, has changed its mission: 60 percent of its work is now focused on rural and urban America, where nearly 50 million people are uninsured and millions more are underinsured.

During a recent medical “expedition” in Knoxville, Tenn., RAM saw 920 patients, made 500 pairs of glasses, did 94 mammograms, extracted 1,066 teeth and did 567 fillings. But when charity founder Stan Brock called the last number, 400 people were turned away…

Marty Tankersley came with his wife and his daughter, asleep behind the front seats. Tankersley says he drove some 200 miles to get to the clinic and slept in the parking lot for hours.

“Just to have this done?” Pelley asked.

“Yes, sir. I’ve been in some very excruciating pain,” he replied.

Tankersley had an infected tooth that had been killing him for weeks. Most of the people who filled the lot heard about the clinic on the news or by word of mouth, and they came by the hundreds.

By the time the segment ended I was fighting back tears. It breaks my heart to be reminded of how many people in this country are forced to go without. Tears me up to think of how many people must live in pain, for lack of any other options. Burns me up to think of the money that’s paying for the Iraq War, or the federal bailouts of wayward investment firms, rather than providing health care for Americans.

Since the story on RAM first aired last spring, 60 Minutes viewers have donated $2.5 million to the effort. I was moved to donate as well. Other than that, all I can do is continue to count my blessings and pray that we, as a nation, will make our needs known at the polls in November.

Do you have decent health insurance, no insurance, or are you underinsured? How have you dealt with inadequate health care? What’s the solution to this outrageous problem?