The Long, Dark Night
By BOB HERBERT New York Times
Published: October 23, 2007
I was making small talk with Dan and Sharon Brodrick in a waiting area filled with anxious-looking patients on the first floor of St. Thomas Hospital. Mrs. Brodrick seemed tired, but she managed a smile. Her husband, a former truck driver who is now an ordained minister, was the talkative one.
“We found out five days after her 56th birthday,” he said. “How’s that for a happy birthday?”
While maintaining a pleasant facade for the outside world, the Brodricks, married 37 years and still deeply in love, are spinning toward the abyss.
“We’re in big trouble,” said Mr. Brodrick.
Mrs. Brodrick learned last May that she had cancer of the duodenum, and it had already spread to her liver and pancreas. Not only is the prognosis grim, but the medical expenses will soon leave the couple destitute. Mrs. Brodrick has no health insurance.
The emotional toll has been nearly as devastating as the physical. Mrs. Brodrick told her husband that she wasn’t ready to leave him. “I don’t want to die,” she said. When he told her they had to cling to their faith in God, she replied, “I know that God can take care of this. But how’s he going to do it?”
The American Cancer Society has been campaigning to raise awareness of the desperate plight of people trying to deal with cancer without health insurance. I offer Dan and Sharon Brodrick as Exhibit A.
The Brodricks never had much money, but they raised two boys and managed to buy a modest home in Gainesboro, a rural town about 90 miles east of here. Dan Brodrick severely damaged his back in an accident at work several years ago and is disabled. His wife has suffered from a variety of illnesses.
But by carefully managing their meager income, they have lived in reasonable comfort. “With a little bit of savings,” said Mr. Brodrick, “and with what I’ve been drawing in disability, we figured we’d be all right.”
But the absence of health insurance for Mrs. Brodrick left a gaping hole in their financial plan, and they knew it. She had been covered by her husband’s health insurance while he was driving a truck. But that coverage ended when he was forced to retire.
“We tried to buy insurance for her,” said Mr. Brodrick. “We applied to dozens of companies. But they wouldn’t touch her because she already had health problems.”
Without insurance, Mrs. Brodrick received treatment for her various ailments under a special program for uninsured patients at St. Thomas. But the cancer diagnosis was an entirely different story, a step for the Brodricks into a realm of dizzying, unrelieved horror.
First came the biopsy, accompanied by reassuring comments from doctors. Then came word that the tumor was indeed malignant. That was followed by surgery.
“They opened her up, and then they closed her right up again,” said Mr. Brodrick.
Not only had the cancer metastasized, it was moving very aggressively. Various estimates were given, each one shorter than the last, about how long Mrs. Brodrick might live.
While his wife was being prepped for chemo, Mr. Brodrick sat in the corner of another room and spoke about what it was like to have one’s life all but literally blown apart.
“It tears you down,” he said. “You’d like to fight this with your bare hands, but you can’t. We’ve been married 37 years Sept. 2, and when I think about it, it was the quickest 37 years I’ve ever seen go by in my life. It went by in a flash. And we have leaned on each other that whole time.”
The hospital is not billing the Brodricks for its costs. “But,” said Mr. Brodrick, “I’ve still got to pay the doctors’ bills and pay for the drugs. And the drugs are very expensive.”
He reeled off a long list of charges that are coming at him like machine-gun fire, bills that he cannot afford to pay.
“So we’re selling the house,” he said. He sat quiet for a moment, then added in a soft voice, “You shouldn’t have to go live in a tent somewhere just because you don’t have insurance.”
He said he wanted to tell his story publicly because he knew there were millions of others without health insurance, and that there are many families, like his own, facing the long, dark night of devastating illness.
“Something has to be done,” he said.
Mr. Brodrick was able to get his wife into a renowned cancer center in the Midwest to get another opinion on the course of treatment she was receiving.
“They said it was the perfect treatment for her and they wouldn’t change a thing,” he said. “They said the success rate with that treatment was 5 percent or less.”
He looked at me. “We’ve got faith in God,” he said. “Without that you might as well throw yourself off a cliff, because there’s nothing else left.”