It has been five years since I’ve last seen a doctor or dentist…

It has been five years since I’ve last seen a doctor or dentist…I remember having that thought just 8 months ago before I was fortunate enough to finally land a job that would provide me shared health care benefits. Since then I’ve seen a doctor four times, and still haven’t gotten to the dentist, mostly because I’m afraid of what they’ll tell me.

This was my life for the first 5 years I lived in Philadelphia. I came to the city with barely enough money in my pocket to make the deposit on my shitty apartment, and for the first three weeks I lived in my unfurnished hole, I subsided on ramen noodles and a cabbage. Why a cabbage you may ask? I accidentally mistook it for lettuce and couldn’t afford to throw it away. I did quickly find a job working retail in a small store downtown making 8.50 an hour and working 45 hours a week, I worked a second job in the winter so I could buy Christmas presents for my family. It’s not a sob story, I don’t think, I lived within a community of people my age who were in the exact same situation, working retail, and pursuing other goals, just trying to make ends meet. There were so many of us that it seemed almost normal to not have health care. Looking back, I realize it affected me in more ways than I knew.

Within months of leaving college (and health care) and moving to a new city I was sick. I had terrible allergies, and my dry, dusty apartment didn’t help at all. When the weather turned colder, I caught some sort of mutant bug that wouldn’t go away. For nearly two months, I lived in a state of virtual exhaustion, feeling congested, getting frequent headaches, and altogether beaten up. On the very rare occasion of a day off from work (which usually came every 14-21 days) I would sleep for literally 15 hours.

Finally, in late February of that year, I decided that I would go to the doctor even though the bill would nearly bankrupt me. I went in hoping that he would find something wrong with me, but terrified that I couldn’t afford the medication to make it right. When I did finally get there, after a thorough exam, he said that he couldn’t find anything wrong, but he thought it necessary to test for Mono. Realizing that I could barely afford the “February Blues” diagnosis that he eventually gave me, I knew there was going to be no Mono test. As I sulked my way to the office door the Receptionist informed me that my bill for the visit would total $80! I can’t ever remember a feeling of being so thoroughly sunk. I almost broke down in the office; I was still sick, exhausted, terrified of the suggestion of Mono, and would have to either bounce a rent check or find a way to avoid paying this bill immediately. The receptionist must have sensed my desperation and with a hand on my shoulder told me that she could put the bill in the mail, delaying the inevitable confrontation with my depleted bank account. How embarrassing; I’m nearly crying over an $80 doctor’s bill and still have no clue why I’m sick. Oddly enough, that bill never showed up at my door, and when I called the doctor he pretended he never treated me. I still get a knot in my stomach thinking of the generosity of that Doctor (or receptionist), but cannot help but feel a little resentment for having gone through it at all.

I feel fortunate to have survived that period of my life without serious illness or injury, (that I am aware of). A broken arm or even bronchitis would have been financially catastrophic. But I did incur small injuries that I couldn’t afford to treat. The stubborn discomfort in my hip that never really healed, colds that wouldn’t subside, the untreated flu, a stomach virus that eased minutes before acceding to both dehydration and an emergency room visit. During the summer of 2002 when I got pink eye and spread it to my girlfriend (also without health care), she had to participate in an independent medical study to get eye drops, and then used them on both of us (luckily we didn’t get the placebo). I still worry that because these things weren’t treated immediately that they will have long term effects on my health.

Only adding to my stress is the mental strain associated with not being able to diagnose a problem when it arises: strange looking veins on my leg that I spent months worrying about, mysterious chronic headaches, and heartburn all became the worst diagnoses in my mind and there was little I could do about it but hope it disappeared. For all of these aches and pains, I actively sought home remedies that I could afford; herbs, aroma therapy, and diets with varying results. In the end nothing can supplant proper health care. There is no amount of library books, Google searches, or asking friends of friends (who may or may not be a nurse), that one person can do that will give you the same relief as a diagnosis of a certified medical doctor. I feel fortunate that I was able to stay out of the Emergency Room. But it was only that, luck, and I spent nearly 5 years fearing the ramifications of a possible injury or illness. There is something inherently wrong in a system when a person fears the emergency room more than they fear the emergency. I can’t think of addressing a more important political issue.


I think this is seriously one of the best posts we have ever, ever had on YPP.

Welcome, Scott.

And, yeah, we need Health Care for all now in PA.

Scott, hope you consider submitting this an op-ed piece

I agree. Scott, hope you consider submitting this an op-ed piece in Inquirer or DN

What's the deal now?

I agree. Thanks for the testimony. Do you have health care now? did you ever try to use a city health center? Did you know about them?

We need more folks to come forward about working and living without healthcare and the need for a real strategy to address it. Thanks a lot for putting this out there.

BradyDale OnLine
The R.I.I.C. Blog
The Philadelphia Unemployment Project


I am fortunate enough to have finally found a job at a small retail store downtown that has provided me with suitable health care. Thanks again for your feedback.

Great post man. I have met

Great post man. I have met several female activists who have jumped from non profit to non profit. The sad thing is that when they finally get a job that gives healthcare, they are relieved that they can go to the Dentist and the OBGYN. This is a pretty universal statement. It’s pretty scary.

Hey, unions....

Scott, thanks so much for sharing your story.

I hope that Rendell's proposal will pass, but in the meantime, there are things we can do for workers in the non-profit, cultural, and public service sector in Philadelphia.

Everyone knows that most art or activist jobs usually come without healthcare. I always thought it would be great if some of Philly's unions could figure out a way to cover those folks. It could be an amazing act of community service. And that demographic is ripe with folks with might want to work in the labor movement as organizers.


Re: Hey, unions


A couple of questions related to your seemingly unequivocal support of unions:

1.) Have you ever been in a union?
2.) Have you ever served as a non-union manager of employees who were unionized?
3.) Have you ever owned or been the major shareholder of a company who employed union labor?
4.) Have you ever worked for a union, or had to negotiate in any formal way with a union representative?

Fran: 1. Nope. I'm just a


1. Nope. I'm just a college student, so I haven't had a lot jobs that would be unionized. Summer camps are not a high priority. However, my mother is a union member.

2. I have never been a manager of any kind, but I did once sit in a room with a copy of Philadelphians Against Santorum's budget.

3. I have never been a major shareholder or owner. My father owned a small glass company in Germantown for many years. They cut class for hardware stores and it was a completely unionized workplace. Allied Glass Cutters, which is a building trades local.

4. I was an intern at AFSCME DC 47 and AFM Local 802. I also graduated from the New York City AFL-CIO Union Semester program.


Ok, enough exposure. To

Ok, enough exposure. To editorialize, I can't believe you have that much exposure and still support them.

Ben, great post

Unions are great. I'm finally a UNITE-HERE member after years in the non-unionized cold. My boss invited them in and he's glad he has them and has been glad to have them for the last 20 years.

Unions are the greatest thing to happen to America since the Constitution. I don't think you'll find much support for anti-union sentiment among the regulars here. They are the single greatest force for civic engagement in our country. They are also, along with churches, just about the only widespread community building institutions we have.

Never mind what they've done for average wages, worker standards, the weekend, solidarity, the left in general.

We should all be in a Union. They are wonderful. End of story.

The idea of them helping to create a group for the uninsured professionals out there is a good one.

BradyDale OnLine
The R.I.I.C. Blog
The Philadelphia Unemployment Project

Unions are like any other

Unions are like any other organization. Some are great. Some are awful. Most, you could probably take or leave. Blind hatred of all Unions is just as stupid as blind support of all Unions. You seem to think that this is a Black and White world. Welcome to the Grey zone.

Oh, and a little bit of background on me. I am a software developer, so I have never been in a Union, and will most likely never be in one. This is one profession which Unions would do more harm then good.

My mother has worked in Labor Relations for 40 years. One half of that was working for Unions with people like Andy Stern way back in the day. And the other half has been in Management of a Unionized organization where she also works on the Management side of 1199-C’s training and upgrade fund. This is an organization that helps Healthcare workers get trained. Through it, many clerks have become Nurses and many other non professional workers have gotten higher skilled higher paying jobs. If you don’t think that Unions do any good, then you are crazy.

Scott's story now on

Thanks to Dan Rubin, Scott's story is now linked on the front of

We need Gov. Rendell's Prescription for Pennsylvania.

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