It started with a spider. Someone with a taste for narrative justice might call it retribution, but there’s really no moral correlation between the wisdom of absconding with a relative stranger after a party and waking up the next morning in Brooklyn with a rash of poisonous bites on your arm. When the angels of sexual continence want to punish you, they send crabs, not spiders.
I assumed, at first, that the maddeningly itchy marks were the work of common-or-flophouse New York bedbugs, but 12 hours later, with my right arm swollen to the width and purplish color of a prize turnip, my friend identified the hallmarks of the brown recluse spider and uttered words I had hoped never to hear on this side of the Atlantic: “You should really get that checked out by a doctor.”
I first came to New York to write about the emerging social justice movements associated with Occupy Wall Street. Through my conversations with the protesters in Zucotti Park, I began to understand how profoundly the stranglehold of US private healthcare keeps ordinary people cowed and compliant in the land of the notionally free.
It’s not just the 59 million Americans living without health insurance and unable to access treatment for everyday maladies without crippling expense. It’s the millions more who dare not risk a dispute with their boss for fear of losing their medical cover, who expect to remortgage their homes in old age to meet the costs of failing health or who live in fear of bankruptcy should they develop a chronic condition or have an accident.
The notion of a society that sanctions companies to profit from sickness feels barbaric enough, without then forcing ordinary people to choose between medical treatment and the financial future of their families. US President Barack Obama’s attempt to reform the system in 2009 roundly failed to remove healthcare as a source of perennial anxiety for most US citizens or to lighten the dead hand of the market on medical provision in the US.
Socialized healthcare is in my British blood, but unfortunately, on Wednesday last week, so was a hefty dose of spider venom and several billion extra bacteria — the unfriendly sort that make an infected limb sweat and swell. I had travel insurance, but no idea if it stretched to the snacking habits of urban arachnids.
So I uttered the words familiar to any uninsured or precariously insured American: “I’ll just wait for a little bit and see if it gets better.”
Had I waited another 24 hours, I might have lost my arm. By the time I was persuaded to go to the emergency response unit at Beth Israel Hospital, I could no longer move the limb, which was developing worrying purple track marks.
The triage nurse sent me straight through to ER, where I was given a bunk next to a groaning man in his mid-30s who, like me, had been so worried about the cost of treatment that he had allowed an infection to spread, in this case from a rotten tooth. He was already missing several teeth. He told me he was a postal worker with no health insurance and that he wouldn’t have come for treatment had his girlfriend not driven him to hospital when he collapsed with a fever.
Compared with the accident and emergency unit at my local London hospital, the waiting period was civilized; it was a mere hour before a stern-looking registrar arrived to take my money. He explained the covering clauses of my travel insurance and showed me where to sign on several complicated forms. When I explained I was unable to do so because my arm wasn’t working, he gave me a look that suggested I’d have had to find a way to sign even if I’d come in with all four limbs off. I signed with my left hand.
After that, the service was exceptional. I was whisked off to intensive care for intravenous antibiotics. I was put in a quiet bed near a window, with no cracks or mildew in the walls, and brought cool water and a clean towel. And when, in the middle of the night, I went into near-fatal anaphylactic shock, the staff’s reaction was swift and efficient. I felt, in other words, like a valued customer. However, it also meant that, at 2am and thousands of kilometers from home, I was left wondering how I would possibly afford the prescription for all the antibiotics I needed.
This is the difference that social medicine makes to the fabric and quality of life in a civilized country. When I finally wobbled out of the shiny lobby of the Beth Israel, clutching a bag of drugs, follow-up advice and complimentary hospital toiletries, I understood what it really means to be without means in the US. Those who are wealthy enough to afford decent healthcare have their needs met in relative luxury, while those who are poor live in fear of getting ill, worrying that one misadventure might leave you with yet more debts to pay off.
No amount of fresh towels and edible breakfasts can make up for the feeling that your health is less important than the capacity of your checkbook. Which is why children and pensioners are still standing in Manhattan’s financial district with placards telling the world they cannot afford healthcare, as police patrol the perimeter. And why, when I got out of hospital, I went straight back down to Liberty Plaza to stand with them.
With its passing of Hong Kong’s new National Security Law, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) continues to tighten its noose on Hong Kong. Gone is the broken 1997 promise that Hong Kong would have free, democratic elections by 2017. Gone also is any semblance that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) plays the long game. All the CCP had to do was hold the fort until 2047, when the “one country, two systems” framework would end and Hong Kong would rejoin the “motherland.” It would be a “demonstration-free” event. Instead, with the seemingly benevolent velvet glove off, the CCP has revealed its true iron
At the end of last month, Paraguayan Ambassador to Taiwan Marcial Bobadilla Guillen told a group of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators that his president had decided to maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan, despite pressure from the Chinese government and local businesses who would like to see a switch to Beijing. This followed the Paraguayan Senate earlier this year voting against a proposal to establish ties with China in exchange for medical supplies. This constituted a double rebuke of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) diplomatic agenda in a six-month span from Taiwan’s only diplomatic ally in South America. Last year, Tuvalu rejected an
US President Donald Trump on Thursday issued executive orders barring Americans from conducting business with WeChat owner Tencent Holdings and ByteDance, the Beijing-based owner of popular video-sharing app TikTok. The orders are to take effect 45 days after they were signed, which is Sept. 20. The orders accuse WeChat of helping the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) review and remove content that it considers to be politically sensitive, and of using fabricated news to benefit itself. The White House has accused TikTok of collecting users’ information, location data and browsing histories, which could be used by the Chinese government, and pose
US President Donald Trump’s administration on Friday last week announced it would impose sanctions on the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, a vast paramilitary organization that is directly controlled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and has been linked to human rights violations against Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. The sanctions follow US travel bans against other Xinjiang officials and the passage of the US Hong Kong Autonomy Act, which authorizes targeted sanctions against mainland Chinese and Hong Kong officials, in response to Beijing’s imposition of national security legislation on the territory. The sanctions against the corps would be implemented