What Makes Me Nervous


The plinky writing prompt was What Makes You Nervous?Well, let me tell you.

The man who was bagging my groceries yesterday couldn’t have been a day under seventy-five. There’s a woman from eastern Europe who’s a cashier at my local Walmart who has to be at least that old as well. And it really freaks me out to see an old man sweating away during this Austin summer getting shopping carts together in the HEB parking lot.

When I first came to America, I worked at a public library in the Rio Grande Valley. The lady at the sort of reception desk near the entrance was around seventy, was my guess, and she had the most horrendous hacking cough you’ve ever heard. Being new to the country and still having Dutch standards and points of reference, I felt it was really bad PR for the library to have someone with such a terrible cough be the greeter. And other than greeting people, she didn’t seem to have any function. I felt the library should make her retire. Later I heard she had died, and that she had been seriously ill (no shit) for a long time. And now I realize that she had had to work to pay her medical bills for being so sick. And that she was lucky that the local public library was as generous as it was in creating completely unnecessary jobs so she could literally work till she dropped.

Now I’m fifty and the thing that still scares me the most about living in this country is getting old here. In Holland retirement was a given. A non-issue. The only question was whether you’d retire at age 55 or 65 or anywhere in between, dependent on what the government decided was a good retirement age for the state of the economy.

Not only was retirement a given, but I didn’t have to worry whether I’d have enough money to live for more than a few years after I stopped working. My pension would have been I believe 90 or 95% of my last income for life. And of course getting old and sick is also a given, but there is never the worry of medical bills.

Here you get social security, but that’s about $2000 a month and there are old folks who pay that much just on their medicines. And anyway, the future of social security is no longer a sure thing, either.

“What if I live to be ninety–how can I afford that?”  is a serious question in America and to my Dutch mind it’s still a complete absurdity, but at the same time it’s reality. And any serious illness can easily cost tens of thousands of dollars even after the health insurance company has reluctantly handed out a small portion of the expenses.

To say that this makes me nervous is an understatement. It scares the living shit out of me. Well, at least that’ll keep my colon healthy.

8 responses to “What Makes Me Nervous

  1. Thing is, this has changed a lot over the past years in the NL’s, they are nibbling away at all these ‘givens’, it looks like they are trying to get up to American ‘standards’!

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  2. Your column makes me realize — once again — how fortunate I am to be living in Canada. Between the Ontario Health Insurance Plan, the drug plan that the province runs for seniors (65-plus), and the extended health care insurance that I have through my former employer, medical expenses are simply not an issue.

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  3. Barbara Backer-Gray

    Hi Michiel, yes, Canada has a much better safety net. Y’all keep it that way up there!

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  4. Barbara Backer-Gray

    Hi Hanneke,

    I know they’re nibbling away, but $2000 a month for medicines? No retirement if you’re sick because you need to pay your medical bills? Hospital bills in the tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands? I remember when we in Holland were up in arms because the government was going to require that everyone pay a rijksdaalder (about $1.75) for each prescription filled. That was heading for ‘Amerikaanse toestanden’ — American scenarios. I think Holland has a long way to go before it would be like America. At least, I sure hope so. But that’s one of the reasons I have this blog–to show what it’s like here. In Holland I thought I knew pretty much how bad it was here, but I had no clue how the policies affect daily life in detail.

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  5. My mother in law was in hospital for a knee replacement surgery, and although all that is paid for, they wanted to send her home with a very thick, swollen leg and no home help! She could not walk much, let alone get up the stairs to her bed and bathroom, family is expected to take care of family these days, she was ‘lucky’ to get some irregularities with her heart so she was sent to a home for 7 days to recuparate and get physio, she’s 80 and doesn’t have that much family close by. Neighbours don’t take care of neighbours any more like they used to 😉

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  6. Barbara Backer-Gray

    Oh! That is a big change. Holland could always boast excellent home help. Also sad that neighbors don’t help. That will have to change too, but it will take longer, until everyone’s been in that boat and then they’ll help because they know what it’s like and because they want people to return the favor if they ever need it.

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  7. Maybe neighbours will start to do that again, some time, but I see it here too now, people live in their own little world as much as possible..

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