My mother fell through the cracks of the system and died


Recently, my mother died.

She was giving, kind, funny and would do anything in her power to help those who needed her. As a single parent divorced from a drug addict, she was all that I ever truly had in the realm of parenting and, as a result, she was everything to me. And she touched and was loved by so, so many people. She also had asthma and, most years, made a little less than 30k a year from her three, sometimes four jobs. Too much to qualify for state health insurance and enough to pay for (with the assistance of her employer) private insurance; but too little to consistently afford the high co-pays on her inhalers on top of the crushing expenses of electricity, heat, rent and food.

Thus, her asthma went unmanaged for long stretches of time, with my Mom relying on colleagues rescue inhalers and nebulizer machines to get through rougher spots. Sometimes, however, those things were simply not enough. One Friday, she went into respiratory distress. Despite a friend’s best attempt at CPR, it is clear that she went several minutes without oxygen reaching the brain. The damage was extensive and her chance of recovering was slim. She was, essentially, brain dead.

As a family, we decided to respect her previously made wishes and remove the ventilator and feeding tube. She died within twenty four hours. Obviously, nobody can say for sure what caused everything to go so, so wrong; but, just based on what I, as a layperson, know of asthma and of my mother’s prior heath history, I have a feeling that her asthma could be found at the root of this tragedy. More importantly, an unmanaged case of asthma could be found. An asthma that went unmanaged because, despite my mother working herself to her physical limits, she could not find the money to pay the co-pay on her inhaler.

As her daughter, her family, I’m furious. My mother gave her all to help and bring joy to others and, in her sickness, we, as a society, felt it too much of a burden, too anti-capitalistic to lend a hand to help her pay for a needed medication. Now she’s dead. I’ll never be able to see her, to love her, to hold her again; her sisters and brothers will be deprived of the same; her friends and co-workers will have to trudge on without someone who they could always count on; and a group of five year olds who she taught and cared for at the daycare she worked at will be left wondering where their teacher has gone.

That — every aspect of it — is wrong. And I’m left wondering how many others like my Mom are out there. People who, to no or little fault of their own, are left falling through the cracks of a system that has and continues to fail those it promised to help and protect.

Erika S. is a college student. 

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