January 14, 2011
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Sonya Huber's book Cover Me: A Health Insurance Memoir explores how the lack of affordable medical care affects our lives, and in a broader context, the need for quality and accessible healthcare for all. Huber recounts her own experiences without health insurance with cutting humor and compelling prose in this irreverent yet socially important memoir.
ForeWord wrote of the book:
"Huber’s tale resonates. Who hasn’t encountered obfuscating obstructions in even the best health plan, to say nothing of the millions of un- and underinsured who will read with head nodding (and maybe fist pounding). Amid her many joyless ironies—like working without benefits for a coalition advocating universal healthcare—Huber injects humor and wit, tinged with a humanity clearly honed by experience at every rung of the slippery healthcare ladder. The rest of the story—about love, friendships, motherhood and career—keeps the reader rooting for Huber, hoping she’ll find not just healthcare but a happier, healthier life."
I wrote Cover Me: A Health Insurance Memoir to try to see my life so far through the lens of a health insurance card. I had about twice the material I needed and about seven times the rage, so along the way I did a lot of cutting and cutting, trying to get to a perspective that was readable, approachable, and maybe even funny. But in this playlist, I've let some of the sheer rage back in. I mention in the first chapter that I really wanted to see a punk-rock throwdown about an uninsured root canal. I'm still longing for that, which I think would be a sign that the demand for good healthcare had permeated every element of our culture. I put songs in my playlist that roughly match up with the feeling and the ideas in each chapter.
"Waiting Room" by Fugazi Ian McKaye and company gave me so much to chew on during my college years. I love their smart anger, and the song "Waiting Room" has the literal element of being in a doctor's waiting room combined with the agonizing captivity of waiting for something to change. What I love about the song is that the narrator is sarcastic about the waiting, playing to be "a patient boy" who explodes with rage and promises to not "sit idly by." This fit for me with the first chapter, "Waiting for the Placebo Effect" partly because I start my story in an anonymous dumb moment in a natural food co-op in Columbus, Ohio, enraged but with a sliver of clarity.
"World Without Tears" Lucinda Williams
Chapter 2 is a look back at the relative safety of my childhood in terms of medical care, formed in the 1970s before the dawning of managed care and the for-profit health system. Still, in looking back, I was drawn to this sad and sweet childlike song because it explores the universal presence of suffering and how I came to understand the medical need and poverty of past generations through family stories.
"Touch Me, I'm Sick" by Mudhoney
This was the book's working title. If you haven't heard this mess of guitar and vocals, check it out. I love the screeching need and the roaring madness of this song, which connects to me to the visceral bloody reality of our lives. We're all sick and dying, and we all need connection and occasionally need medical attention. Chapter 3 was about my anarchist days and the limits of the do-it-yourself ethic when it comes to healthcare.
"Pink Houses" by John Mellencamp
This might go best with the last chapter, but I was listening to Mellencamp through the living and writing of the whole book. Mellencamp was one of the first artists I heard who spoke deeply to me about class contradictions and being trapped by a job or location or lack of money. Chapter 4 is about living in Boston after college, when I was missing the Midwest terribly and experiencing the gaps between the American Dream and the American reality through the gaps and holes in my dental care.
"Shit List" by L7
This one's for those who trade in medical debt and those who profit from it. Chapter 5 deals with one of my tussles with a collections agency. I wasn't all righteous rage during that time, however. I just got really depressed and felt like a failure. That's part of the reason for the book; I took a lot of my "healthcare mistakes" personally and had to re-see the story in terms of the context and the cause. So I'm applying this rage in hindsight when I needed it.
"Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" by U2
Chapter 6, "Healthcare for All, Almost," is about my brief stint as a healthcare organizer—full-time but uninsured. The song itself is so suffused with longing and deep dissatisfaction, and although it's a love song of sorts, to me it is also about being so trapped that you can't even imagine other options. And I think it also expresses the sentiment of many healthcare activists about the state of the reforms passed: a start, but not the Promised Land.
"Poison Years" by Bob Mould
Chapter 7 deals with the years after 9/11, the "poison years" of descending into war and… well, you know the rest. On the healthcare front, non-profit health plans got the ability to become for-profit and the bad turned much worse. Mould's echo-y and shrouded voice was running through my head a lot: "Treason is the reason for these poison years," which to me includes the treason of lying to the public, fear-mongering, and the numbing of minds.
"Ball & Chain" by Social Distortion
Okay, now for a breath of fresh air! Chapter 8 is about getting pregnant and realizing I couldn't afford insurance, but I love Social D's bouncy anthem to getting absolutely nowhere. I got me a house and a (used) car and even got me a little (husband)… and as Mike Ness croons, "you can run all your life, and not get anywhere." Still, I was in grad school and surviving and excited about having a baby, so let's headbang.
"Punk Rock Girl" by Dead Milkmen
This song has nothing to do with the subject of Chapter 9, which is about being hugely pregnant, having a baby, and dealing with thousands of dollars in medical debt. But there is the line, "Let's have a child—We'll name her Minnie Pearl." I did not name my son Minnie Pearl, but this chapter has a happy or at least relieved ending. I was bumming myself out with this playlist so far, and somewhere in here had to come the secret survival element of silliness, which has been a key player in my first aid kit.
"Not Ready to Make Nice" by the Dixie Chicks
This awesome roll-down-the-windows-and-turn-it-up belter is perfect for Chapter 10, which tells about my transition to public healthcare and the ways in which I had to learn to keep bugging people and channeling rage to get healthcare for my son. Natalie Maynes had to endure a public flogging in 2000 for simply saying she disapproved of the president, and she turned it around by launching herself in a new direction. She inspires me.
"This Land is Your Land" by Woody Guthrie
When I was in grade school, we sang the first few verses of this song but strangely never got to the last verse: "In the squares of the city - In the shadow of the steeple Near the relief office - I see my people And some are grumblin' and some are wonderin' - If this land's still made for you and me." Chapter 11 is about getting support from my friends and trying to be there for them as we all try to find healthcare shelter for our families. And this song reminds me of the way I want to pass on a sense of community to my son. The last few chapters of the book talk about my growing sense of loving this country, not in a blind and simple way, but in a concrete way that makes me fervently desire healthcare safety for everyone.
"Sabotage" by The Beastie Boys
Chapter 12 is about the ways in which a period of no insurance or under-insurance in one's life can explode later in the form of neglected or buried health issues. The lines from the song, "Can't stand it—I know you planned it" also played on repeat in my head last year after the healthcare bill passed without a public option and with many of the elements hand-picked by the sabotaging for-profit insurance lobby. This one's for you, American Medical Association, AHIP (American's Health Insurance Plans, a lobbying front group), and the major insurance companies.
"Cover Me" by Bruce Springsteen
I didn't come up with the title for the book for a long time, not until I met the man who appears at the end of the book, my fiancé Cliff Price. His Springsteen obsession got me back into Bruce's beautiful music, and the title—with its desire for a relationship as a shelter from the battlefield of life—appeared one day in my head after a conversation with Cliff. The end of the book is partly about the desire to not settle down and find personal safety in this chaos, so I'm still hoping for Bruce to do a remake of the song with the title, "Cover Us."
Sonya Huber and Cover Me: A Health Insurance Memoir links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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