WARNING: The opinions expressed below are DEFINITELY those of The CoLab Theatre Company! Learn more at www.colabtheatre.org!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

When Life Nearly Ended

I personally hesitate to venture into the world of politics on this blog. I believe that overt politics doesn't naturally meld with the format of our particular blog. However, I do believe that artists can often find the emotional and instinctual expression of the issues related to politics. We all live in the same society, and thus we're faced with the same day to day struggles we all deal with. Therefore, I will share with you a personal story.

Erika and I officially decided to found a company in April '09. Three hours of brainstorming, and a few beers later, we had a basic idealogical framework for the work we wanted to do, and the way we wanted to do it. We produced our first audition workshop before we even had name. On Saturday, June 6thth we held our first official workshop at Boston Playwrights Theatre with 15 participants, our maximum capacity. The response was stellar and the event went off without a hitch. I was glowing. Erika and I were set on fire and preparing for our next set of moves, planning to move at break neck speed.

On June 10th, I began to feel heart palpitations and severe lightheadedness on the job. I took a break, assuming perhaps I just needed rest. After a few minutes, I noticed my breaths becoming difficult. I set up an appointment with my doctor, and left work. As I walked into the subway and through the tunnels, my chest began to tighten and I felt sharp pains around my pounding heart. I thought I was having a heart attack... at the age of 23. The EMTs arrived as I began to recover. They found nothing wrong with me, as my blood pressure had returned to normal and my conciousness mostly regained. They gave me the option to go to the emergency room or to my doctor with my mother (Moms rock). Over the course of the next two and a half weeks, I lay in bed slowly recovering. My doctor conducted tests and found nothing wrong with me. No heart problems, no lung problems. But my ability to breathe and use my strength left me unable to leave my house for that length of time. I later found out that I'd had a major panic attack. I was experiencing periodic mild panic attacks even after I'd regained my strength, but effectively lived day to day praying I wouldn't be put out of commission for another two weeks. By July, however, I received a letter from my employer informing me that I had come in below my hourly minimum for benefits.

I came in under...by .96 hours. I don't know the math, but that's barely under an hour. For the first time in my life, I needed regular visits to my doctor and treatment for an urgent problem that was interfering with my ability to live and work day to day. And my insurance was gone.
I regressed. The panic caused by the loss of my insurance was followed by more anxiety and extreme depression. I was breaking down constantly, and regularly. All the while, I was still working and rehearsing despite my physical suffering, desperately hoping my heart palpitations would go away.

The CoLab was delayed. My whole life's focus was my health. We lost a good chunk of time (though thankfully acquired Mary-Liz about this time) due to my health problems. I never told anyone, but I honestly feared that I would have to scrap the Colab and shelve my theater career because of my health problems and inability to properly treat myself. It was terror and struggle and for many months I felt I was missing opportunities. My health prevented me from exploring new employment opportunities, from auditioning, from my life's work. This was a dark time for me, though I really downplayed my health condition to most people.

I live in Massachusetts. The Commonwealth. And I currently have healthcare. I have the best healthcare I've ever had. My private plan is subsidized by the Commonwealth. I choose it through a government run insurance option program known as Commonwealth Care. I had my choice of 4 possible plans priced based on my income. I kept my doctor and now enjoy the lower co-payments and more coverage in case of disaster. I'm happy with my quality of care.

Now I ask you...what good to society would I have been if I'd been having constant attacks and taking off weeks of work at a time? Under those health conditions, how was I supposed to be competitive in the workplace and advance my career? Is that the free market at work? Rewarding the hard work of people who go work for at or near below minimum wage, despite health conditions that they tolerate but may someday catch up and force them into the emergency room?

I have a new job. When I got my insurance, I was able to refocus my life, no longer fearing day to day panics or loss of conciousness. I have a new job, make more money and am now going under review for changes to my benefits according to my new income level. If I can afford to pay more, I gladly will. Because that could be any of us someday. And no one who is willing to work should be denied the right to work because they're too sick for health care.

I have no specific political message here. If you want to have that discussion, e-mail me or pull me aside one day. I'd love to chat. But I will say this: I don't think the CoLab would exist today if not for our system of de facto universal healthcare.

Stay Healthy

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