Poverty is not a 3rd world phenomenon.

A friend who lives in Bennington writes poignantly about it:

“In Bennington there are three very distinct classes.

First, there are the ‘fancy people’. They are the ones who rule and control everything. They are on the boards — the hospital board, the library board, the select board, the school boards.  They attend the formal fundraisers for the hospital and other institutions. They have the power — even the power over life and death. They, occasionally during a medical crisis in the hospital, make the decision to pull the plug or allow life to go on.

Then there is the large group of ordinary citizens. Some are blue collar workers.  Most work hard. Love their families. And have had family in Vermont for generations.  They acknowledge the class system in conversation often.   They call it the ol’ boys network – cronyism.

The third group consists of those who are in need. Those on the bottom of the economic pile.  At
a recent conference some of the most impressive comments were made by a poor mother of two disabled children. She talked about the oppressive avalanche of redundant paper work required to get any tiny benefit.  The social services system is designed by nameless, faceless, unelected bureaucrats.  It is set up to assure maximum job security to the workers in the system. To a struggling family it often feels like an attack of the ‘paper churners’.   Being poor is a full time job.  Sadly, it often takes precious time away from the children.

Below are some observations, made during many years of studying the culture, not only in Vermont but across the US.

  • Poverty means living with shame.
  • Poverty means working three jobs, and still not ‘making it’.
  • Poverty means that you go to work when you are sick.  Worse than that you send your children to school when they are sick.
  • Sometimes poverty means that you skip meals so that your children can eat.
  • Poverty means that your housing is never secure.
  • Once in a while, poverty means that your child will be stereotyped and misjudged by his teacher.
  • Poverty means having no dependable source of transportation.
  • Poverty means that you will receive inferior health care – maybe no health care at all.
  • Poverty means that you have no access to dental care. Remember the death of Diamonte Driver – a 12 year-old Maryland boy.  His mother could not afford dental care for him. He died of a tooth abscess. An $80 tooth extraction would have saved his life.
  • Poverty is not like that described in The Waltons. Poverty can mean isolation from family and friends.
  • Poverty can mean missing your mother’s funeral because you had to go to work.
  • Poverty means you are invisible and voiceless.
  • Poverty means that no matter how hard you work, you will still be on the wrong side of the desk.
  • Poverty means that your hobby is not skiing or surfing.  It is surviving.
  • Living in poverty means that you will probably never hold elective office.
  • Poverty is declaring bankruptcy because your wife has cancer.
  • Being a low income father means that you will miss your son’s games because you have to work.
  • Living in poverty means that you have no options – no choices about where to live, what to eat.
  • Poverty means that you pay for the family groceries with a credit card – until it is maxed out.
  • Poverty means following all of the rules. Then graduating with oppressive student debt so that the president of UVM can be paid $447,000 per year.
  • Being poor means no access to gyms, fitness centers, etc.
  • Being poor means that you do not have equal access to the legal system.
  • Being a poor child means that you will be at increased risk of being bullied.
  • Being poor means that you dread the holidays. Your family celebrations are not like those depicted in Norman Rockwell paintings.
  • Being a baby in a low income family means that you might spend all of your infancy strapped to a plastic baby carrier in a day care center, while your mother goes to work.
  • Being poor could mean that you are the waitress serving Mothers’ Day dinner to other mothers in a fancy restaurant.
  • Being poor keeps you on the wrong side of the digital divide – no computer, no ISP, no cell phone, no Facebook, no Twitter.
  • Being poor might mean that you never get to see the ocean – never get to see your children playing in the surf…
  • Being young and poor in Bennington might mean that you never get to go to a library that doesn’t ban books.
  • Being poor means that you feel disenfranchised when there is so much focus on the middle class, and so little on the poor.
  • Living in poverty means that you care more about what is in your grocery sack than any news about Goldman Sachs.
  • Poverty means that your life-span will be shortened.
  • Even in death you might not escape the chains of poverty.  Being poor might mean that you have no say in the final disposal of your remains.  Cremation might be imposed, even if you would have preferred burial.
  • Being poor means that you carry the burden of the misjudgment of others.

Will the United States ever rise above the evils of classism and  racism?   Is ‘poverty’ the new black?”

Comments | 6

  • The decision "to pull the plug."

    According to the commentary:

    “They, occasionally during a medical crisis in the hospital, make the decision to pull the plug or allow life to go on.”

    That allegation is too serious to just reel it off in a list as just one more in a list of assertions. There can be no argument that there are class privileges and class discrimination as well as an unfair imbalance of power, and that these power imbalances can make living in poverty hell. 

    But the charge that certain members of the elite in Bennington have at times arbitrarily sentenced hospital patients to death is shocking to the extent that it is irreponible to make that charge without presesenting even a scintilla of evidence. How about a couple of specific, verifiable example?

    When did this happen? In which hospital? Names of victims? Who was responsible and how was the decision made? What documentation supports this allegation? Can the author of this essay produce copies of such documentation?

    As a patient, at times I need to trust my life the the medical community. Some medical people have been heroes, even though I have also seen a lot of stupid things done by medical personnell, some of which has impacted me. 

    There is already plenty for a patient to worry about: But if someone in the medical community is actually killing paitients in the manner described, that is really scary and it should not be published as fact without including the evidence. 

    • Response

      I have requested my friend who originally wrote this to provide evidence. If she does, I’ll post it.

      • Ronald Comeau case

        Here is the response that I just received:

        The Ronald Comeau case made national news. No one knows how many other cases such as this there are. The elderly without local family members to keep close watch are at highest risk.

        Insight on the News – Hospital Euthanasia: Compassion or Murder? By Johnson, Sally
        Article excerpt
        As far as his guardian and his doctors were concerned, the time had come to let Ronald Comeau die. The 30-year-old drifter, hospitalized since suffering severe brain damage three months earlier, was being kept alive with feeding and water tubes. According to doctors at the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center who decided to remove the tubes, the situation was hopeless. Ronald Comeau, they said, was in a “persistent vegetative state.”
        To most people, the words conjure a patient lying still, eyes closed, dead but for his breathing. But videotapes of the emaciated Comeau aired on the evening news in late November clearly showed Comeau in his hospital bed with eyes wide open, pointing, grimacing and hugging a stuffed animal. His mouth seemed at times to be laughing, at other times to be silently screaming. He semed, in short, to be very much alive.
        “I was amazed,” said one Vermont woman who saw the tape. “That’s not at all what I expected to see. I had to wonder what they were doing down there at that hospital.”
        So did Comeau’s family. Alerted by a story about Comeau in their hometown newspaper, his brothers hastened to Bennington to see if the patient was indeed the sibling they hadn’t seen in many years. “I was expecting to see a tomato with a bunch of tubes coming out of him” says Renald Comeau, Ronald’s older brother. “When we walked in the room, he opened his eyes, smiled, cried, shook hands with everyone. We were elated. And then we began to wonder what was going on.”
        The story of how Ronald Comeau almost came to die is seen as a cautionary tale by the right-to-life proponents who intervened in his case, setting in motion a court struggle — still unresolved — that went to the Vermont Supreme Court. They say it is a taste of things to come in a resource-conscious society in which costs will outweigh compassion in medical decisions, As a result, they have asked the Vermont Legislature to pass laws that would ensure that such a case never happens again.
        “We want to make it difficult, if not impossible, for the government to practice involuntary euthanasia,” says Mike McHugh, a fundamentalist pastor who stepped in to stop the process.
        But the hospital staff and the man, Joseph Schaaf, who made the decision to pull the tubes, say their actions were motivated solely by compassion for Comeau and that their decision was correct in the context in which it was made. “I tried to do for that man what I would do for my son or my brother or even myself,” says Schaaf, Comeau’s court-appointed guardian. “I am 68 years old, and I wouldn’t want to live like that. He seemed without hope of any substantial recovery. better to let him die.”
        To anti-euthanasia activists, Comeau’s story is an unusually visible example of a common practice in hospitals and nursing homes. “The removal of food and fluids from non-dying patients happens every day,” says Rita Marker, director of the International Anti-Euthanasia Task Force.
        “Over the last 10 years, there has been a redefinition of food and fluids provided through a tube as medical treatment. Therefore, when you withdraw medical treatment from a nonrecovering patient, you remove the feeding tube. What’s unusual about this situation is that someone brought it to the public’s attention and, as a result, Mr. Comeau is still alive.”
        But Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Biomedical Ethics at the University of Minnesota, says the notion of food and fluids as medical treatment is well established and has been reaffirmed again and again by courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court in the Nancy Cruzan case. “Food and water outside the hospital sounds different,” he concedes, “but withholding food and fluids doesn’t predict death with any more certainty than withholding insulin from a diabetic or antibiotics when the patient has an infection. There’s also a common perception that it is a terrible way to die, but it’s not if managed humanely. …

  • Thank you for writing this!

    Thank you for writing this!
    I will add, without evidence, that the last 2 times I went to Dartmouth I was asked to (1) sign a Living Will, which I refused to sign. I told the doctor I am opposed to being an organ donor, and she clearly either stated or implied that her position was entirely opposite mine;
    (2) I was told by the receptionist in the internal medicine department that I had to sign a form and I asked if I was still allowed to see the doctor if I refused to sign, and she reluctantly said “yes” after I kept saying there is indadequate lighting at the counter to read the form, the lighting was cleverly aimed at her desktop leaving the counter top not well lit, I said I just can’t read this in this light and finally she said I could see the doctor anyway.
    My health care is covered by Vermont Medicaid and Medicare. Later I read the form and it stated that I agree to be experimented on. I probably ripped it up.
    I haven’t been to see any medical doctor or physician’s assistant since last October. I am now studying herbal cures. The heck with them. Dartmouth has no right to demand my body as well as payment from Vermont Medicaid and Medicare.

    • Uninformed consent

      Medical offices and hospitals routinely ask patients to sign documents without reading them.

      Recently, at the Retreat Visitor Center, where you sign in to visit a patient: I was handed a Confidentiality Agreement, which I was told I must sign in order to visit a patient. It was clear that she expected me to sign it without reading it. I asked for a copy of the Agreement. The receptionist said that I do not get a copy.

      I asked how I would know what I had signed if I do not have a copy. Referring two a two-page set of Rules that she also handed me, and which I could keep, she said that everything that is in the Confidentiality Agreement is in those Rules. That turned out not to be true: The Confidentiality Agreement — but not the handout of the rules — says that if you recognize a patient (other than whom you are visiting) you must not show any sign of recognition unless they speak with you first.

      When I asserted my right to get a copy of any document that I sign, she backed off and said, “Oh, I can make you a copy,” which she then did. Apparently Franz Kafka authored the Retreat’s Policy and Procedures Manuel: You must agree to follow rules that we have not disclosed to you. We will tell you what the rules are after you have violated them.

  • Sure is...

    “Being poor is a full time job.”

    Those of us doing slightly better than poverty often forget just how stacked the deck is against someone without a pile of money.

    – Many necessary services cost more if one is poor. Don’t have much money? You may to come up with a deposit before a company will take you on as a customer.

    – Being poor means living on a schedule that doesn’t always line up with regular bill payments. Miss a payment due to cash flow problems? That can impact a credit history, making life harder and more expensive for you. You’ll also pay more by paying late fees and reinstallation charges.

    – Don’t have the extra cash? Your social life is impacted. You can’t go out to eat with friends or go to that fun event.

    – Don’t have transportation? Then you will pay, in money and/or in time.

    – Food costs more. Limited budgets often mean one is unable to buy in bulk for savings. Poor people pay a premium.

    – You get harassed. Endless automated robocalls from bill collectors threaten you daily.

    – You often have to give up “quality” for cost – which is a more expensive way to live in the long-term. You might want that really good one that will last, but you can’t afford it so you get the similar-looking but not-so-good model instead. Then it breaks and you have to replace it.

    – Taxes are higher on wage-earning low-income folks. Be rich and live off investments instead!

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