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“Prepare for uncertain times with faith, health insurance"

Delvyn C. Case
Award of Outstanding Merit - $1,000

Dr. Delvyn C. Case, Jr. practiced clinical hematology/oncology for thirty-two years and is now consultant to the Department of Pastoral Services at the Maine Medical Center.  He has had articles on religion and medicine published in a number of national magazines and is a regular contributor to the Reflections column of the Portland Press Herald.  He has won a number of writing awards and is a previous winner of Amy Writing Awards.  Dr. Case is also Director of Drama Ministry, First Baptist Church, Portland, Maine.  His one-act play The Nziza, based upon his interviews in Rwanda with survivors and perpetrators of the genocide of 1994 was produced at a high school for orphans and homeless children in Kigali and has been selected for production at the 2010 Maine Playwrights Festival.

It was an entry-level job Sam garnered from the job fair at college.  Not all he wanted but all he could get without experience.  On his daily commute through he would pass the company with the engineering position he ached for.  With his application “on file” he waited, yet pined for a phone call with an offer. 


After two years he got the call.  Unfortunately because of the timing of contracts, there was a two week gap between the termination of his present job and his exciting new opportunity.  His benefits would lapse but there was not much in the package he cared about at his age.  Except for health insurance...maybe.  Noting his own medical issues, Sam's father was not happy there was a break in his son's health insurance coverage.  With a patronizing shrug he quipped to his father, “You're ancient.  What could happen to me?  I'm twenty-four.  I won't ride a Harley for two weeks!” That hurt his father and he backed away.


Two days after quitting his job, Sam developed a sore throat and fever.  He waited until Monday but did not feel any better.  By then he developed large lymph nodes in his neck.  The ER doctor recommended a biopsy.  Too large to be infectious the doctor claimed.  By the end of the week Sam was diagnosed as having an aggressive lymphoma.  After consultation and testing, he entered the hospital to begin the first cycle of intensive chemotherapy.  The treatment was successful and Sam was able to start work in six months.  However without any health insurance, none of the costs of Sam's biopsy, testing, hospitalization, chemotherapy, and doctors' visits was covered.  For Sam the lack of preparation cost him big time.  His finances were battered for years after his treatment. “It was like paying for four more years of college.”


Sam was stunned in other ways by his illness.  His only previous experiences he had with doctors and hospitals were when his sister was in Labor and Delivery, resulting in healthy outcomes and joyful family experiences.  Sickness and sorrow were for old people like his dad.  Sam conveniently forgot there are pediatric departments and pediatric cancer units in hospitals. 


Sam also struggled spiritually.  He knew he was in God's hands but “didn't that mean God would give me a full life to follow my dreams until old age?”  Rather as Sam sought guidance from the Bible, he soon discovered the scriptures challenge us throughout to consider the brevity and uncertainty of life:  From the Old Testament we learn:  “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth” (Proverbs 27:1). From the New Testament we hear a frank admonition:   “Now listen, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.'  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say, 'If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that.'” (James 4:13-15).


Preparing for uncertainty may appear to be an oxymoron.  When we satisfy our own definition of what is grown up, we have no trouble planning for problems that will occur with old age. Then we will return to church, restore stressed relationships, maximize our 401K, and call the insurance man.  Yet catastrophes can happen at any age, as a child or youth or a 20-something.  We should prepare for the unexpected by keeping our relationships with family and friends the best they can be, developing our spiritual life so we can cope with the existential issues and questions, and establishing personal and financial plans so not to burden ourselves or families in sickness or death.


For twenty years there has not been any recurrence of Sam's cancer, any complications of treatment, or other medical illnesses.  His wife brings to the annual visits pictures of their three children and I have watched them grow.  For the last two decades Sam's life has been on track actuarially for his age.  However the events of twenty years ago devastated him physically, spiritually, and financially.  Sam's company was sold last year and he had to find another job.   This time he did not let his health insurance lapse.  “Not after what I want through,” he sighed.  Sam has had a second chance.  Will we?



Published in the June 13, 2009 issue of the Portland Press Herald;  Portland, ME.

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