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What does it mean to be an American?
by Leah Sellers
2008-04-26 09:15:03
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I am an American - a teacher - an artist. So, why am I living in a tent in the woods?

As a teacher, an idealist, I have struggled for many causes during my lifetime. I believe in standing up for and struggling for principals or situations I hold to be "right", "just" or "meaningful" for all humankind.

The struggle I find myself involved in with the Workman’s Compensation system and the insurance companies, insurance lobbyists and insurance lawyers who made it the dysfunctional entity (for the patients) it is today, is not one I would have chosen. In fact, I never thought much about the Workman’s Comp system at all, until I was injured by one of my high school student’s during gym class last year.

Since then, instead of receiving proper and expedient medical care so that I can return to work and my active life, I have been greatly disillusioned and negatively impacted by my employer’s WC insurance company’s endless litany of delays, denials and litigious hearings in which I find myself having to argue for and justify every treatment and procedure ordered by my doctors.

Doctors have admitted to me that they are no longer able to diagnose; they can only recommend. Insurance companies hire their own medical team to decide who does or does not get the "recommended" treatments, procedures and surgeries. The medical team never meets the patients in question. The patients are merely a paper chase. Of course, if, as in my case, for months the paper work is inaccurate and misleading the omniscient insurance medical team can wind up making poor judgments and "bad calls", which ultimately hurt the patient. The longer a patient, needing surgery, is delayed and denied, the worse their physical condition becomes.

Also, doctors tire of the copious amounts of paper work created by the WC’s system, and begin to see their WC patient as nothing but trouble. The doctors want to help, but their hands are tied by WC’s endless barrage of denials, delayed non-payments, and the time and paperwork required by WC’s innumerable hearings arguing over the necessity of each procedure and treatment.

The doctors begin to balk against the recalcitrant insurance company at the expense of the patient. The real loser in this litigious game created by the WC’s insurance companies, who are fully aware that Texas has set a two year treatment limit on all WC claimants, is the patient. When the doctors and the insurance companies walk away, the patient is still broken down - still "damaged goods".

Adding to this climate of cruel dysfunction is the WC’s claims adjustors, who are paid to and given bonuses for disallowing payments on as many treatments, procedures and surgeries as possible. My heart goes out to them. It must be uncomfortable to depend upon a job for your bread and butter, whose sole purpose is stalling, and ultimately stopping, patient care until the mandated two years is up and the WC system can kiss their injured patients good-bye. Out of sight, out of mind. They become someone else’s problem. But who hires cripples and what insurance company in its right mind covers cripples?

You’re probably wondering how all of this led to my living in a tent and questioning what it is to be an American.

Due to the fact that I am a teacher, the State of Texas and its legislators view me as a "seasonal worker". Because I am a "seasonal worker", I received no income benefits for a total of four months (summer and winter breaks) last year. It took all of my savings to stay afloat while struggling with the WC system last year for proper medical care. As a result, I have no monies to fall back upon this year when they stop payment of my income benefits from the end of May to the first week of September (and winter break).

Last month, I moved out of my precious little cabin in the woods and into a tent. I moved into a tent for numerous reasons. Hopefully, I will be able to stretch my last two months income benefits throughout the next five months, while continuing to struggle for the surgery (possible surgeries) I need to fully recover and return to work and my active life. I do not want to be an imposition on my family or friends by moving into a room within their homes. I do not want to move into a human zoo such as the Salvation Army or other welfare institutions. I prefer the beauty and peace of the woods.

Do I want to live in a tent? I have always enjoyed hiking and camping out at various state and national parks, but, no, I do not want to live in a tent for five (or more) months. However, I will not give up the fight with the WC system for what I need to recover fully from the injury brought about by my student over a year ago at school. I have been crippled physically and now fiscally while attending to my student’s needs. I deserve better than what I have received. And so, I find myself upon this unnatural and unusual course in my life.

As an American citizen, I am deeply offended and appalled by the WC system’s calloused and counter-productive disregard for my overall well being. A system, whose original intent, was to help get injured workers back on their feet, and back to work, has become a litigious and greed driven bully capable of knocking people to their knees and keeping them there as long as the insurance companies (that I, and many others have paid into for years) can save a buck - save a buck at the expense of crippling a life.
What does it mean to be an American?

In some ways, as a crippled woman living in a tent in the woods, I have become a living metaphor for the cruel dysfunction and failure of our American WC system - of our American medical system as a whole.

What is the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness, when we are denied our health and gradually drained of our material assets while seeking proper medical care? How do these events serve the "common good"? Perhaps the answers lie within my tent in the woods - perhaps not.

What does it mean to be an American?

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Emanuel Paparella2008-04-26 12:05:22
What does it mean to be an American? Rivers of ink have been written in an attempt to answer that question. Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass is a good place to begin. There one glimpses that being an American and identifying with the best that is America has nothing to do with geography and where one was born: it is a state of mind and an idea. Another place to look besides the woods and the tent in which one lives is Henry David Thoreau’s Walden Pond describing a man who also went to the woods to live in a hut and to reflect on what does it mean to be an American and greatly influenced both Gandhi and Martin Luther King. The latter notes in his autobiography that his first encounter with the idea of non-violent resistance was reading "On Civil Disobedience" in 1944 while attending Morehouse College and that “Here, in this courageous New Englander's refusal to pay his taxes and his choice of jail rather than support a war that would spread slavery's territory into Mexico, I made my first contact with the theory of nonviolent resistance."
(continued below)

Emanuel Paparella2008-04-26 12:09:34
And then he goes on: "Fascinated by the idea of refusing to cooperate with an evil system, I was so deeply moved that I reread the work several times. I became convinced that non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. No other person has been more eloquent and passionate in getting this idea across than Henry David Thoreau. As a result of his writings and personal witness, we are the heirs of a legacy of creative protest. The teachings of Thoreau came alive in our civil rights movement; indeed, they are more alive than ever before. Whether expressed in a sit-in at lunch counters, a freedom ride into Mississippi, a peaceful protest in Albany, Georgia, a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, these are outgrowths of Thoreau's insistence that evil must be resisted and that no moral man can patiently adjust to injustice.”

I suggest that anybody who identifies with the above passage also understands that America was founded on principles, ideals, and documents that forces it to be forever self-correcting and that no matter where he/she lives, be it a mansion or a hut or a tent, any place on earth, he/she is a true American. The operative archetypal universal symbol here is not the bald eagle spreading its empire all over the world, but rather St. George slaying the dragon. Dostoyevky was surely an American.

Nunobark2008-04-27 00:40:25
To be an American is to be exploited by big corporations in a system where money rules everything and humans have less and less value, humans have become resources. To be living in America is just like being anywhere else in the world really. We are all just small replaceable parts in the engine of capitalism.

Eva2008-04-28 01:47:56
Sorry, I don't mean to sound mean or cruel, but without hearing the full story I have problems feeling symphaty.
I don't know what happened to you, or how fully it interfered with your life.
I feel I should feel with you, because I understand you had a horrific experience, but.. SORRY, I'm afraid this article didn't answer any questions, and it certainly didn't give any answer to the headline.

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