Opinion » Shredder

Shutting us down


Once, a while back, I caught some exotic strain of the flu—I’d been licking postage stamps affixed to Bubblegum Alley, so I probably had it coming—and I puked for three days solid. I vomited so hard and for so long that there was nothing left, so my body decided to dredge up vestigial organs. My lashes were sticky with tears and sweat. My apartment smelled sour and oppressive. And my shrunken stomach growled for food I didn’t dare eat.

Three long, desperate, painful days.

My hamster occasionally checked in on me to make sure I hadn’t died. Sometimes he brought 7-Up and Ritz crackers.

Honestly, that’s about the worst I’ve ever had it. I’ve never been diagnosed with a terminal illness. I haven’t gone through nine months of chemotherapy, two cycles of radiation, a spinal fusion, and multiple tumor removal surgeries. I haven’t waited patiently for the National Institutes of Health to enter me in a clinical trial for a drug that might just save my life, or, if not mine, someone else’s somewhere down the road.

And I wasn’t told, just as the NIH was ready to begin reviewing my files, that the government was shutting down. That the potentially life-saving trials were being shut down. That the people who run these trials are “non-essential” government employees. That my sickness—and that of the 200 people who begin clinical trials each week—would just have to sit on a shelf to fester and wait while Congress bickers over “Obamacare” and debt ceilings, and cherry picks which services warrant reopening and which are just a big, fat drain on our otherwise perfect economy.

Lest you think this scenario is simply the product of an overactive imagination: There’s a change.org petition that was started by Michelle Langbehn of Auburn, California. She’s got sarcoma and she’s been through everything I listed above, and when the government “shut down,” her files really were on the table for review. I use the term government shutdown in quotes because the same word for overpaid politicians refusing to do the jobs they’re well paid to perform shouldn’t be applied to what cancerous cells are slowly doing to a mother’s body: shutting it down.

And once I was walking past a Peetsbucks coffee shop, and the intoxicating scent of dark beans being scorched by hot water drew me into the café. I desperately wanted a heavy-whip Mexican caramel mocha, but I didn’t have the requisite $7. So despite the fact that the allure of coffee is probably comparable to the drive to score cocaine, I had to walk out of the café sans a steaming cup of caffeine.

It was a rough day. But that’s about the extent of my deprivation. I’ve never been a mom with an infant I couldn’t fully afford to feed. I’ve never worried about what would happen if I couldn’t feed myself—much less if I couldn’t afford to feed a tiny human being solely dependent on me for sustenance. I’ve never had to reach out to the USDA’s Women, Infants, and Children program in order to receive food vouchers for fruit, eggs, and peanut butter.

And I’ve never had to watch, with fear and utter panic, as 230 House lawmakers make a decision that will deprive me and my child of one of the most basic necessities: food.

I’ve never been an elderly person dependent on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s seasonal flu program to provide vaccinations and information that will help keep me alive. But flu season’s on its way, and the center’s seasonal flu program was apparently deemed “nonessential.”

Just how long cancer treatment, food for children, and a flu program—among numerous other services—will remain nonessential rests on the shoulders of 230 men and women led by a millionaire whose base annual salary for “running” the government is more than $200,000.

I want to make one thing perfectly clear: I don’t care who hit who first, whether the Democrats pinched the Republicans so the Republicans punched the Democrats under the table. I don’t care.

I do care that the House decided to hijack the budget by trying to delay the Affordable Care Act after already trying—and failing—to vote it down more than 40 times, after it was deemed constitutional by the Supreme Court, and after the nation voted to re-elect a president who’s championed affordable health care as his pet cause since he was elected the first time around. I do care that the people being punished aren’t the politicians whose partisan bickering has reached new, epic heights of stupidity and selfishness.

So, yeah, it sucks that your party lost the presidential election. Boo-effing-hoo. It sucks that your 40-plus efforts to shut down affordable health care for the entire nation flopped spectacularly. But not nearly as much as it sucks to be a person with cancer who can’t begin a clinical trial that might save her life because 230 spoiled pricks never learned how to lose with class and dignity. And if you really gave a damn about this nation’s fiscal health, your own salaries would have been the first on the chopping block when you initially went after “nonessential” government employees. Because “nonessential” is a compliment compared to the appropriate term for people with wealth and power who bar access to medical treatment and food for the nation’s most vulnerable citizens. And hopefully this nation’s citizens respond to your so-called “shutdown” with one of our own come next year’s elections.


Shredder knows how to shut down. More importantly, Shredder knows how to get shut down with class. Send comments to [email protected].


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