Non-Holiday Holiday Expenses


The holiday season is coming, and I can’t stop thinking about brain surgery.

In July, Vox magazine did an informal assessment of the cost of the blood clot surgery that Senator John McCain underwent. Because he would be the deciding vote in the Senate’s repeal of the Affordable Care Act, the discussion in Vox’s article centered on what that same surgery might cost someone with no health insurance at all. Their best guess, determined based on both public reports on the name of the procedure and Mayo Clinic estimates of their own costs to perform that procedure, was $76,000. It is an impressive cost, and one which would be daunting to anyone, let alone someone struggling financially to the degree that they cannot afford health insurance.

Imagine you have a child who needs that surgery in one of the states where CHIP funding (federal Children’s Health Insurance Program) is about to run out. If the budget passes as currently proposed, the program dies, along with tremendous numbers of tax breaks for middle-income families.

Fast forward to the holidays, and the cost of a procedure like that leaves no money in anyone’s pocket for even a string of blinking holiday lights.

The holiday season is coming, and I can’t stop thinking about Alice and her four children.*

In our community, a group of generous souls has organized an informal clearinghouse for outside-the-system needs. Families on the brink of homelessness, newly-unemployed parents, recent high-school graduates with no job prospects, women and their children about to leave domestic violence shelters: all have needs that cannot be easily met by social service agencies. In our little online community, the needs scroll down our screens all day long. Someone needs dishes, sheets, a mattress, a coat for their one-year-old. Someone needs a bus pass to get to work, a ride to get WIC paperwork, someone to help them pick up their furniture from their ex-partner’s house. On the same screen, those of us on solid ground offer what we have: a warm coat, barely used; a box spring; half a box of diapers; a bicycle.

Alice wrote to the group and explained that she had an enormous cyst in her ovary which required surgery, but she could not possibly take the three weeks off of work in a warehouse to recover. She’d gone through all her savings taking days off of work for the pain; the only option remaining for her was to take the narcotics her minimal insurance would cover. She was desperate not to start with narcotic pain relief, hearing so much in the news about opioid addiction. No social service organization would offer her rent assistance until the landlord threatened eviction.

What did she want from the group? A few strings of holiday lights. She couldn’t afford presents, but she wanted to make her children’s holiday festive.

The holiday season is coming, and I can’t stop thinking about Tomariya.

Tomariya is two years old. She has Acute Myeloid Leukemia. Her mother started a GoFundMe page not just for the cost of her treatment, but for every cost associated with having a sick child: transportation, time off work, medication, parking. Any parent with a child in the hospital can recall the stress of the treatment itself. I can’t stop thinking about the addition of financial stress.

I’m thinking about the Jackson Chance Foundation, which helps pay for the parking costs of parents who have babies in the NICU at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago.

I’m thinking about the Ronald McDonald House, which helps families stay near their older children in the hospital at a rate they can afford.

I’m thinking about all the needs that never get met, and all the ones that could.

Mostly, I’m thinking about people like Tomariya’s mom, who has to hold all of these needs in her heart this holiday season while she watches her precious baby daughter go through chemotherapy.

Maybe you know someone like Tomariya’s mom, or Alice, or a family about to lose their children’s health insurance. Maybe they are your neighbor, a member of your church or synagogue or mosque, or the classmate of one of your children. Click on one of the links in this post. Donate the cost of a string of lights, a fuzzy sweater, or a box of candy. Go without a flavor of cookies. Help fund someone else’s holiday or someone else’s mere survival of the holiday.

What are you thinking about this holiday season?

*I’ve changed most of the details of Alice’s story, including her name, to protect her privacy.

This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post, hosted by Kristi of This week’s sentence is “The holiday season is coming, and…”

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6 thoughts on “Non-Holiday Holiday Expenses

  1. What a scary world we all live in right now. Things are not greatly better over here in the UK. Our government attacks the vulnerable and disabled first in everything it does and I fear for the future for my daughter especially. We’ve been donating to the homeless shelters.

  2. Thank you for sharing these stories. The state of the country is just heartbreaking.

  3. These stories are heartbreaking, and there are way too many of them. Thank you for spreading awareness not just of the large charitable organizations, but the individuals and families they help.

  4. It’s heartbreaking and overwhelming to know so many stories of families who truly need help. I try to donate where I can, what I can (sometimes, it’s clothes or something), because it feels so hard to not be able to help everybody. I have a friend whose daughter (six) is going through chemo right now. There are so many! I wish our health insurance was universal and FAIR. xoxo

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