I could stay strong, even when he couldn’t

Photo of doctors performing surgery

Nearly ten years ago I lost my father. He was one of my best friends, my cheerleader, the safe person who I accepted criticism from, and a terrific provider. Ask any of his friends or colleagues, and they’d all say that my older brother and I were his whole life. He passed away after spending nine months in a coma, all of it spent in either an Intensive Care Unit or a care center, depending on how much actuarial scientists valued his life at any given point in time. 

I saw the insurance statements as they flooded in, and dollars tally up into the millions for his care. He never once woke up, but I had an agreement with him that I uttered every day before I left him for the evening, “I’ll keep fighting for you everyday until you decide there’s nothing left to fight for.” When it was my father’s time to pass, it was on his own terms. This is something that his union membership and specifically his union benefits afforded him and my family.

I cannot begin to count, but will certainly never forget the numerous families I interacted with in the multiple intensive care wings. You’d have some polite chatter about families you’d see day after day, and start to pray and hope for their loved ones to recover too. So many families though, after a few days would assess their ability to find the financial resources, to find family members who could afford to be there full time, or even in the best of the worst-case scenarios, be able to be full-time caretakers for their injured loved one should they ever wake up and be ready for discharge. So many times families would, with a heavy heart, call a member of the clergy to perform the final rites. I never once had to consider that, even when doctors told us the fight to recover would be long and painful. Never once did I have to give up, because the healthcare coverage my father’s union fought so valiantly for afforded us the best opportunities to recover, the ability to whisper softly to my father that I’d fight for him every day he felt like fighting. 

Knowing how much my father was interested in research, we participated in a familiar voices study that confirmed that comatose patients responded the same as awake patients by assessing MRI images of both. This, although, I already felt it confidently in my heart, confirmed what I always felt true, that he really did hear my calm voice, my determination to fight for him, and to give him every chance to wake up from the coma his motorcycle accident placed him in. I made a day chain celebrating every day he survived his injuries to remind his providers of how many days he had survived his accident. I know that each one of those links I owe thanks to unions, because these exceptional benefits afforded him the ability to fight, and for us to never have to liquidate his assets, let alone sell off equipment or the family farm.

Not everyone is in this place—with healthcare coverages providing a wide range of coverages—those that his union family fought for made all the difference when we most needed them. My brother, who rarely emoted these intense feelings we were all making peace with, said that even though we were losing ours, it was like we were gaining hundreds of fathers. This is so true, because his union family continues to watch over us, today.

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