Health Care

For Heather.

Nearly every Turk I’ve met has asked me the same question. First they politely ask where I’m from, and once I explain where Baltimore is, and they understand, they ask how long I’ve been here, and I tell them, and then it comes. They lean back, look at me appraisingly, and say, “Why?” and then chuckle.
I mutter something about a horrible job market and having had friends here, but they don’t understand why an AMERICAN would want to come to Istanbul.
I’m on the verge of getting a work permit here, which will give me access to all kinds of awesome health care. Free health care. I swear once I get it, I’m going to spend a solid week at the doctors office, just letting the pros take my blood and poke me. (It doesn’t take a lot to make me happy.)
When I explain American Health Care to a Turkish person, they’re genuinely (and may I say legitimately) baffled.
“Wait- your boss doesn’t have to pay for your health care?”
“It’s expensive for companies to pay for their employees health care. In my entire adulthood I only ever worked for one company that offered it. At the time, I was in my mid-twenties, and it cost me $80 a week.”
“Wait- you had to pay?”
“Yes. It came out of my check.”
“$80 a month?”
“A week.”
The person looks at me like I’m speaking in tongues.
“The last time I applied for health insurance, I was denied,” I say. “Pre-existing conditions.”
The person I’m speaking to takes a step back.
“Pre-existing conditions?”
“I had pneumonia twice and I have an ovarian cyst. Denied.”
The person looks at me like I’m speaking in tongues.
I go on to explain that I had pneumonia when I was uninsured. That the bill came to $27,000. That the hospital wouldn’t work out a reasonable payment with me and I walked away from the debt, credit ruined, even beyond what I’d already done to my own poor credit rating on my own.
That story has a hallucinatory, dream-like quality here. Sometimes I find myself wondering if it went down like that, even though I know for a fact that it did and that all the paper-work is safely housed (thanks mom) in a storage facility in Baltimore.
“So the government doesn’t pay for your health insurance?” the person might ask.
I shake my head ruefully.
“People are in the streets, protesting violently against the government providing health care.”
They look at me like I’ve just told them I might look like a woman but I have three penises.
“WHY?”
Indeed.

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