I live in Texas and own a small medical billing company. I hear lots of stories. Sad stories, mostly.
Some of those stories start with assumptions on both sides of the conversation and end up in unexpected places.
(This was originally a comment in http://www.dailykos.com/... that I was encouraged to expand into a diary)
"Hello, this is the billing office, may name is Mark. Can I help you?"
"I hope so. I've been calling doctor's offices all day to see if they accept my new Obamacare insurance plan. This shit is a nightmare thanks to that jerk in the White House."
"It can be confusing", I say.
Ok. Opening with calling President Obama a jerk isn't exactly endearing, but every call I get is from someone who is disgruntled about something so I just sit back and try to relax. Another day, another asshole.
I tell him that the physician accepts his BCBS plan and that I'm sorry he lost his old plan but hope he'll be happy with his new circumstance.
"Oh, I didn't have insurance" he tells me. "I'm 55 years old and got diagnosed with Addison's disease 3 years ago and couldn't get insurance. Do you know what Addison's disease is?"
I know exactly what Addison's disease is.
"Not really", I say.
He launches into a long, detailed narrative about his medical condition and I listen because I'm intrigued as to how this man reconciles his dislike of "that jerk" in the White House with his new insurance.
He's had a rough time. His condition is serious, chronic, potentially life threatening and he's obviously scared, but since he led off the conversation calling President Obama a jerk, I kind of want to see where this goes.
"So can you afford the plan, I mean even though you have to call around and see which doctors accept your new insurance, do you feel better knowing you can get care now?"
Admittedly leading, but his response kind of floors me.
"My friends hate Obamacare, they talk about death panels and I tell 'em I know all about your death panels, I was on one. If I hadn't gotten insurance I'd be dead, so there's your goddamn death panels."
I'm not sure what to say, so I just listen.
"People like me are different from everybody else and until you get sick you don't have a clue what it's like and it's easy to say sick people deserve what they get and complain about them getting insurance and think you'll never get sick but I'm telling you right now that if I hadn't gotten insurance I'd probably be dead."
"My doctor asks me what my pain level is and I tell him it's 10! It's always 10. I wake up in hell every fucking day. Everybody tells me they know what I'm going through but that's just crap."
I get it. This guy is a Republican and he just assumed when we first started talking that I was one, too. He's had an epiphany and I'm probably the first person he's actually been able to talk to and vent.
So I say;
"I hate it when people say that, 'I know how you feel', because they never do. I took care of my best friend who had AIDS until he died and at times I would get so frustrated and actually angry with him because he would treat me really badly and I would wonder, why am I even here? Why am I putting up with this bullshit? How can he not appreciate what I'm doing for him? I thought I knew exactly what he was going through."
"And then I got sick with the flu. It was the kind of flu where you just lie in bed and wonder if you wouldn't really be better off just dying because you felt so horrible and there was no escape and it just went on and on and on and then I realized that Larry felt that way every day of his life and he would feel like that every single day of his life until he finally died. And it was that day that I learned that I knew nothing of other people's suffering and pain and that my job was just to help out however I could whenever I could and stop bellyaching and worrying about myself and just do whatever I could to help my friend."
There was a long pause and I didn't know if I'd crossed the line or how he would react to my even knowing someone with AIDS, much less my best friend.
His voice cracked a little and he said, "That's the most profound thing anyone has said to me since I've been sick" and I could tell he felt a little better and I felt a bit better it was one of those cool perfect moments that life unexpectedly offers up to you and I thought, "this guy is alright".
So I guess my point is that I hear more and more of these stories every day.
And stories like this do change my mind about people, and they change the minds of his friends and family and people who care about him and these stories spread and they change hearts.
It's the old cliche of a pebble dropped in a pond and the effect rippling out and every day there are more and more pebbles dropped in that pond and more stories are told and more people learn to listen and understand because it's personal now.