(WOMENSENEWS)--The day the U.S. House of Representatives passed President Obama's health care reform bill was one of the worst days of my life.
But it had to do with my oldest son, Jack, not anything going on in the capital that day.
Jack, now two and a half, had come down with a minor cold, the kind he gets about once a month. Spring had sprung, so we decided to take Jack along with us to walk the dog. We hopped into the car to drive to a dog park. He fell asleep in the car, his fever spiked and he began to seize. His eyes rolled back; his jaws clenched; his limbs thrashed.
My husband hit the gas pedal, heading toward the nearest hospital, but pulled over when I told him Jack's lips had begun to turn blue. I opened the door in the middle of the street, ran around the car and unbuckled Jack, who had gone limp, and carried him to the curb. For a few long moments, I thought my magical little boy was going to die right then and there in my arms, on that street corner in the city.
Long story short, Jack had had a fever-induced seizure, as his father also had as a toddler. He is now fine, after a terrifying ride in an ambulance and afternoon in the hospital.
Since surviving all of that, I've had time to consider the health bill.
I know it has its flaws, and I haven't had time yet to really dig into the bill. But overall and bottom line: It makes me happy to know that more than 30 million people--many of whom are also parents of young children--now have access to health care coverage.
Focus on Health, Not Bills
When these parents and their children get sick or injured, they can now focus on their health rather than their bills. And that's so important for young families who are confronted with so much chronic illness. I've certainly had my share.
There was the night a couple of years ago when Jack got his first ear infection. The little guy, bless his heart, waited until my husband had left for a two-week junket to Africa to show me just how excruciating this minor ailment can be for humans who have not yet developed tilted canals.
After enduring several hours of his lung-busting wails, I finally decided to head to the doctor. Naturally, I got lost on the way (the nearest urgent care center under his insurance plan is a half-hour drive away and I couldn't hear the directions over the phone because of Jack's wails). But the two of us eventually made it to the doctor's office and we both eventually stopped crying.
Then there was the night last fall when the whole family--minus the newborn, thank goodness--came down with some flu-like virus. Jack started the evening off as a typical sick toddler: puking on everything but the nearest bucket. My innards started their own protest a few hours later. Having just had a baby, I was advised to head to the hospital. I climbed into a cab in the middle of the night with barf bag in tow, leaving my husband, whose own heavy heaves were just kicking in, in charge of the sick toddler and the six-week-old. How he managed to care for them that night I'll never know--and I'm not sure I want to.
But for all these stories--and I have many more under my belt--I still consider myself extremely lucky. I've had two normal pregnancies, two uncomplicated (but long!) deliveries and have two healthy boys. Our family is also covered under an insurance company, so we never have to think twice about going to the doctor when a concern arises.
Key Social Crutch
I also have another key social crutch: paid sick days. My husband and I (knock on wood) are both healthy adults, but since Jack's birth we've been attacked by an army of germs. I've been sick more times in these past three years than in the last three decades. And even when I am healthy, I'm often responsible for making sure my sick kids get better.
After Jack's seizure, for example, my husband and I had to monitor him for 24 hours to make sure he didn't have another one. We headed home, pulled out the sofa bed and turned on the tube. I took the first shift until 3:00 a.m. and then woke up my husband for the pre-dawn shift. The cycle continued throughout the next day and I had to take time off from work to stay with Jack. That day I picked up Jack's cold. And then I found a tick. More bad news followed: I had to take antibiotics for Lyme disease!
I had to take two days off of work that week alone. I can't imagine having to weigh whether it would have been worth the risk of going in to work and tossing up my breakfast in the office bathrooms--as many people without the benefit of paid sick days have to do. At least four out of 10 private-sector workers--and four out of five low-wage workers--don't have a single paid sick day to recover from common, short-term illnesses, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families in Washington, D.C.
Movement on Life Support
Yet, while many in the nation celebrate the recent passage of the historic health reform law, the movement to enact paid sick days legislation is on life support.
To be fair, the bill is getting some attention these days. The Obama administration recently held a forum on workplace flexibility and the House of Representatives held a hearing on the Healthy Families Act, which would provide most workers with up to seven paid sick days a year to recover from an illness, care for a sick family member, see a doctor or seek help to cope with domestic violence, stalking or sexual assault.
Few expect the bill to pass any time soon, though, especially in the current hard-pressed economy and in an election year. But we all need paid sick days now.
So contact your political representatives at all levels of government and tell them to get behind paid sick days legislation. Sick kids and their parents--all of us, for that matter--need it.
Allison Stevens is a writer in Washington, D.C. She writes for clients who lobby on behalf of women's issues, including paid sick days legislation.
For more information:
National Partnership for Women and Families Paid Sick Days Campaign
9to5 National Association of Working Women