Why Coleen Singer’s obituary spoke to me

Yesterday, an obituary on bangordailynews.com went totally viral.

Rather than describing the deceased’s life with euphemisms and platitudes, skirting her cause of death, the obituary author cut right to the core of what killed his loved one.

So was Coleen Singer a victim of partisan politics? I think so. And I think that more people should talk openly about how access to health care has affected their lives.

Part of the reason I haven’t been able to write in this blog much, besides the usual demands of being a new mom, is because I’ve spent most of our weekends this summer driving down to visit my brother in the hospital in Lewiston.

My brother Melvin holding Felicity when she was a few weeks old.

My brother Melvin holding Felicity when she was a few weeks old.

My brother suffers from Crohn’s disease, a chronic illness where his immune system attacks his gut. Crohn’s attacks can be debilitating and extremely painful. He has to watch his diet and stress levels very carefully, as flare-ups lead to surgery and prolonged hospital visits.

He turned 26 in March and was kicked off my parents’ health insurance because he aged out. Prior to that, he had successfully lived on his own for two years, working part-time for a call center in Lewiston. He was not eligible for health insurance through his employer. Leading up to his birthday, he petitioned to stay on my parents’ health insurance and was denied.

Making less than $900 a month, he could not afford to pay for health insurance, so he went uninsured.

Because he was uninsured, he stopped receiving Remicade, a very effective but also very expensive medication that kept his disease in remission.

A few weeks after his treatment ended, his energy levels decreased and he was no longer able to continue working. So he lost his job.

A few weeks after that — selling his TV and other personal possessions to pay for medication — he was admitted to the hospital with a serious flare-up in his intestines. He was in the hospital from the beginning of June to the end of July.

Ultimately he had to have an ileostomy, which is a procedure where his intestine was removed. The healthy end of it was inserted through the abdominal wall, and all bodily waste goes into a bag outside of his body.

That actually ended up being good news. Doctors were concerned that he might need to have so much of his intestine removed that he would never be able to absorb nutrients by eating again.

He’s out of the hospital, but there is still a long road to recovery. He needs time to rest and heal. And he also needs almost $500 worth of medication per month, minimum, just to stay alive.

I can’t say that this might never have happened if my brother had insurance. But stress is a contributing factor to his disease, and the Remicade he no longer could afford was an effective treatment in keeping his disease in remission.

My brother spent about 40 days in the hospital — many of those days in the intensive care unit — costs that Central Maine Medical Center and St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center will likely never fully recoup. Because he was uninsured and low income, he only got health care at the point when it became catastrophic, and he had to undergo a life-changing surgery.

On paper, my brother is an “able-bodied” young adult with no kids — thus, ineligible for Mainecare.

And his catastrophic care cost far more than continuing treatment would have cost.

We pay for health care for the less fortunate one way or another — if not through taxes, then through outrageously expensive hospital bills that are passed on to our insurance companies.

So that’s my family’s story, and that’s why Coleen’s obituary spoke to me. Do you have a story? Share it in the comments.

Pattie Reaves

About Pattie Reaves

I'm a new mom and renegade fitness blogger at After the Couch. I live in Brewer with my husband, Tony, our daughter Felicity, and our two pugs, Georgia and Scoop.