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Before I Had Health Insurance

As I was having an outpatient procedure done this past week at St. Mary’s Hospital in Amsterdam, (Hey to Faye W. and Kelly F.) I thought back through all the years as a young adult when I never thought about health insurance. I was an aspiring actor and therefore had no health insurance coverage.

So let me set the stage.  It’s 1986 (I’m 26 at the time) and I’m living in New York City. I start noticing signs of something “wrong” with numbness on the right side of my face, tingling in my arms and legs and slurred speech.

I was doing a play off-off Broadway and the director thought I was having some sort of “personal problem” because he couldn’t understand my speech and assumed I was drunk. At the time I got angry because I didn’t realize how difficult my speech was to understand. My roommate and best friend Jacques Lorenzo looked me squarely in the eye and said, “Kathryn, he’s right.”

Thus began my journey with MS into the as yet un-sailed waters in which I am now a seasoned sailor. Started with a hearing exam, as all hearing on the right side was missing. I assumed this is why I was speaking “funny.”

This was particularly festive, the highlight being when I flipped out, pounding on the glass walls of the cubicle they put me in for the test. Thing is, you are put into a soundproof box, given headphones, so the only thing you can hear is what the person testing you is saying.

I can see the guy who is about to test me and my ears. He gives

me the pre-arranged thumbs up sign, indicating testing is about to begin.

Roger. I shoot back thumbs up, smile, all systems go. I see the testers' mouth moving, and hear nothing. All bravado fizzles, and I become an insane person.  I'm banging on the windows, crying with real tears, and

absolutely convinced that I am now deaf. The hearing tester-person gets on the headphones, and says, (which I can finally hear), very self-deprecatingly, "Heh-heh. Sorry, I forgot to turn on the sound."

I remember thinking, “How’d this guy get this job?”

At the time I had no health insurance so I borrowed the money from my mother and father. These days, various organizations like Actors' Equity Association ("AEA" or "Equity"), founded in 1913, go to bat for actors to help with things like health insurance.

AEA is the labor union that represents more than 48,000 Actors and Stage Managers in the United States. Equity tries to promote live theater and negotiates wages and working conditions and provides a wide range of benefits, including health and pension plans, for its members. Actors' Equity is a member of the AFL-CIO, although I never made enough money to qualify for their benefits.

This is a common plight for stage actors.

I feel very fortunate to be covered by insurance these days so I can have my health needs met. I certainly see the need for health care reform for all those who don’t have some kind of coverage. And I now am stepping off my soapbox.

About Kathryn Spira

Kathryn Spira, a native of Cleveland, OH who pursued an acting career in NYC and Los Angeles, now pursues freelance writing from Caroga Lake in Fulton County, New York. Previous columns may be accessed at her web site