Lifting the Burden of Being a Burden (2008)

Close up of older man's face: He was a man who always paid his debts, but how could he even begin?

Three times a week for more than three and a half months, Herbert Brock drove his wife Maggie to the Winship Cancer Institute at Emory Crawford Long Hospital.

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Let Us Worry About That

When Catastrophe Outpaces Insurance

When Children with Cancer Grow Up

Lifting the Burden of Being a Burden

The couple had devised a mantra that they whispered to each other while chemotherapy dripped through the catheter attached to her arm: We can beat it, we can beat it. 

But, as it turned out, they could not.

The cancer took more from Brock than his childhood sweetheart and wife of 30 years. He had spent so much time away from work, taking care of Maggie, that he lost his job, not that it had ever offered health insurance. He sold the family house and moved into an RV. His own health worsened. What he feared more than sickness or death, however, was becoming a burden to his already hard-pressed adult children. Thank heaven Medicare was paying for his late wife's treatment, based on her illness and disability.

As it turned out, Medicare paid only part of the cost of Maggie’s infusion therapy. After selling his house and paying the cost of Maggie's funeral, he had only $3,245 to his name. The remaining infusion bill was $15,000. He was a man who always paid his debts, but how could he even begin? Would his health hold up if he could get a job at the grocery store? If he sold the old RV, where would he live?

When the people at Emory Crawford Long Hospital contacted him, he began to ask, apologetically, for more time. Instead, they explained that they believed he was eligible for charity care—which meant that Emory Healthcare would take care of his remaining bills. He was confused for a minute. The bills will just vanish? Not for us, said the social worker, but for you, yes.

Brock’s health did worsen, and he required care himself. The hospital picked up those bills as well. And his worst fear following the death of his wife did not materialize.