I met Annie at the beginning of 1991, just before I was to quit my job to move west. I got a job two years later in Colorado Springs where Annie had two cousins and a son. She moved to Denver two years after that, in 1995, to work for CIGNA.
Annie was a nurse. She had worked in the Emergency Departments of hospitals, and other hands-on nursing jobs, before becoming a patient’s contact for Aetna, CIGNA, and other insurance companies. In the latter roles she was always a patient’s advocate. She wanted to help people. This isn’t always easy because insurance companies are profit-making corporations. They seek to process patients. They also seek to maintain a benevolent image to the world. Their view of patient contact is to check all the boxes representing services that should benefit the patients while spending the least amount of time and resources doing it. But each patient has a different set of needs. Annie tried to service those needs.
As time went on, she worked for numerous insurance companies: Pacificare, CIGNA again, and finally Aliere. While at Pacificare she developed back problems from dragging around electronic gear from facility to facility. This led to her second spinal fusion operation. Aliere, her final employer before retirement, was a contractor for Blue Cross of California. They had to justify their employee’s work to their Blue Cross customer. Annie was constantly getting criticized for her work. It’s hard for someone who has sworn an oath to help people to just recite a script and check the boxes. I persuaded her to retire at 65, rather than wait for her full Social Security retirement age of 66. I was afraid that she would lose her job before that.
During the last 10 to 15 years of her career, Annie’s best job was at Vencor Hospital in Denver, eventually taken over by Kindred Healthcare. She was responsible for counseling and advocating for the patients. For her, it was ideal. The only trouble was that the job was hourly, not salaried. Annie would gladly put in extra time to do the job. Sometimes she would clock out, then go back to work. This was very bad because she and Vencor were then violating the law. She had to leave and return to the insurance industry.
Annie has always been a donor to causes, and an activist. One of my roles since she retired has been to keep her from over-donating, to keep her solvent. Unfortunately, the recipients of most of her donations recently have been insatiable political causes and candidates. It is almost impossible to turn these vultures off, whereas legitimate charities will usually go away with some urging. For the past three years Annie has housed and supported a teenage girl who otherwise would be homeless in a city 70 miles from here. It is therapeutic for Annie to do this, but it is a strain, not only on her finances.
Annie spent most of her adult life worrying about contracting Alzheimer’s disease. Her father and an aunt had had this disease and had ended up in a care facility, not recognizing family members. The latter stages of Alzheimer’s are not as portrayed in “Still Alice.” The sufferer is fully aware that they are losing their capabilities. They are witnesses to their death as persons while their bodies continue to function. Annie now has contracted the disease of her fears. She often wails, “I used to be an intelligent person!” She also repeats that she doesn’t want to live like this. But no one can assist her. It is illegal. There aren’t even lethal sleeping pills anymore. Our society is intent on ensuring that people suffer as long as possible, as long as their bodies will continue functioning. There is no recognition that the person lives in their mind, not their body. The medical profession is not allowed to prescribe potential possible cures until they have gone through a long series of trials and approvals. It doesn’t matter that the patient would willingly volunteer for treatment. It doesn’t matter that there is no spontaneous recovery from this disease.
I’m not a patient person. I try to help Annie when I can and to see that she sees people and attends events that give her a positive feeling of life as usual. But I fail frequently in being a kind friend. I snap or act annoyed. So it goes.