by Kellen Squire
This Fourth of July was my first as a political candidate. It was surreal, like nothing I’ve ever done before. I’ve been to plenty of parades, but to be the one smiling and waving at folks, walking the crowds – being cheered! – just… incredible and humbling, all at the same time.
We walked the parade route; the kids had a blast (the two boys, anyway; my daughter was way too cool to be in the parade, heh). My 14-month old bounced up and down and pointed at all the tractors and fire trucks, the three year old struggled to comprehend why we insisted on throwing perfectly good candy out of the back of the pickup to complete strangers. At the end, they were ready to crash, so my wife took them back home to rest, and I went off to participate in my first ever Candidate Dunk Tank.
Waterlogged and dripping wet awhile later, I wandered back to the Greene County Democrats’ table, thanked everyone, including our dozen or so campaign volunteers, for their help, and squished my way back to my truck. I opened the door, trying to decide if I was going to go straight to the parade in Earlysville, or if I had time to sneak home and change and dry off first, when I noticed a text I’d received from my Aunt.
Now, my uncle hasn’t been well for awhile. He’s suffered from an incredibly early onset of Pick’s Disease; which, if you’re not familiar with it, is like Alzheimer’s, but worse. Much worse. For instance, one of the ways you can differentiate between Pick’s Disease and Alzheimer’s is that with Pick’s people get incredibly hostile – argumentative, vulgar, violent – towards family members first and most aggressively, behavior they won’t exhibit or inflict on people they’re not familiar with.
He has been in clinical trials at the University of Virginia, some incredibly cutting edge stuff, to test whether or not they can retard the progression of Pick’s disease; to restore a modicum of functionality to the lives of those suffering from it, especially for their family’s sake. And he was able to get into a really good facility not too far from his doctors, and where he could always come to the ER I work at if he needed to.
All of this is fantastic as can be, considering the situation… but.
There’s always a catch. Experimental drugs aren’t cheap. Neither is high-quality, cutting edge neurological expertise, or specialized nursing facilities for advanced conditions like Pick’s disease.
My Aunt has had to destroy a lifetime of their savings, ALL of their retirement; and then had to sell her house and move in with my cousin and his kids to avoid having to declare medical bankruptcy. She had to take a full-time job at seventy years old to be able to afford all of the medical care I just described. She has had to commute two hours each way anytime she wanted to see her husband, just so he could be where the best care available to him is. She has juggled how devastated my cousins were to see their dad, at such an incredibly young age, go through what he has, and wondering how the genetic dice were going to come up for them, and their kids.
All the while, standing by him without a single moment’s hesitation, even though he exhibited the worst Pick’s disease can bring out of someone, and bore the full brunt of it at her. She is still one of the most kind, down-to-Earth people that you could ever meet. How she’s able to do that, I will never, ever know, but she is my heroine because of it. I hope I can be even half the spouse to my wife my Aunt has been to my Uncle.
My opponent in this state legislature race refused to expand Medicaid coverage in Virginia, leaving something like 450,000 Virginians, working families, to go without. But he thinks we’ve got plenty of money to fund prisons to house more inmates, to conduct “voter fraud” investigations, to declare a “Day of Tears” to shame women, to mandate “transvaginal ultrasound” bills. Absolutely; the Commonwealth has plenty of money to devote to that; that’s where he’s decided to dedicate his time as a legislator. He doesn’t have the time to engage in some compassion or self-introspection, to see what we can to make sure every Virginian has the same opportunity for success, regardless of their zip code, their background, or their economic status.
I know some would argue he, and others like him, do what he does what he does because he’s evil. But I don’t believe that; not in the slightest.
He does it because he just. Does. NOT. Get. It. If he was in touch with working folks and their concerns ever, it’s been long gone now. That’s what happens to career politicians, regardless of the letter in front of their name, who run for years or decades unchallenged. Who take six-digit donations from corporations, lobbyists, and dark money sources. Who sequester themselves in an echo chamber, and let that “Yes man”-ism supplant the actual needs of their constituents. Who have no qualms whatsoever with their name being used to brag that “Trump values are Virginia values!”
That’s why they have their argument about healthcare, about “repealing Obamacare” and “socialism” and whatever else, and it revolves entirely around whether or not people deserve to have that sort-of care.
You know what? That’s fine. They can argue with themselves about whether or not people like you, me, my Aunt, my uncle, et cetera, deserve care. Suits me fine. I’m going with a different argument, which is: “Everyone deserves it- now, how are we going to get it done?”
And I’m not going to rest until it DOES get done. Nobody should have to go through what my Aunt went through, choosing between getting the care she needs for the person she loves, the father of her children… or whether she has to sell her house, empty a lifetime of savings, to try and stave off declaring bankruptcy on top of it. I refuse to declare that okay. I refuse to ever be in a place where I can simply ignore the real plight of people, so out of touch that I don’t find a single frickin’ thing wrong with arguing whether or not they deserve it.
But it’s too late now for my Aunt. At least now, if my uncle goes home with her on hospice, he’ll be able to finally able to be at peace, and pass away with a modicum of dignity, surrounded by family; by the people that have loved him and supported him unequivocally through everything life’s thrown at them.
Kellen Squire is an emergency department nurse from Barboursville, Virginia, running for the Virginia House of Delegates in the 58th District this fall. Donate to our people-powered campaign to fight for hard-working Virginia families today.