I am a South African, by birth and citizenship. I’ve been in the United States nearly three decades, but my language, culture, and family are all South African. I am an immigrant working in high-technology entrepreneurship. I have created a dozen jobs, and intend to create as many more as possible in the coming months and years. My maternal grandmother, Rosyln Peteni, is a nonagenarian: she is in her nineties. She was born and raised in South Africa, where she saw World War II from afar, the institutionalization of Apartheid, the decolonization of nearly an entire continent, and the eventual liberation of her own people, led by her late husband’s old classmate, Nelson Mandela. In her words, she cried, and ever cried, when her baby girl married ‘that activist refugee’ in Botswana, because what were they ever going to do? Would they be safe? She tells and often retells the most interesting stories I’ve ever heard. I call her Makhulu. I’m happy she’s alive.
Earlier this year, Makhulu expressed interest to my uncle in coming to the United States to visit – and stay – with her baby girl, my mother. A few weeks later, she hopped on a plane for a trip around the world, landing in Andover, Massachusetts, where my family lives. Makhulu is sprightly and spry. She follows the national polls closely, worrying that Romney will defeat Obama in November, but acknowledging that anyone is better than Palin. Her tennis fandom is real and delightful. On her way to the hospital, she insisted above all, that we tape the quarter- and semifinals of Wimbledon, in case she made it back. She wanted to watch Serena. The week of July 4th, Makhulu had a heart attack. Getting new health insurance for a nonagenarian is almost comedic folly: not worth it. But it came with real risks. She isn’t American, after all.
I arrived late on July 4th on a flight from San Francisco, harried and heavy of heart. The doctors were amazed that she had survived, and transferred her from the emergency room to the ICU for further monitoring. Soon, the attending physician came to give us our options. He said we could do a catheterization, an invasive surgery which runs in the tens of thousands of dollars. I was soon to find out that MassHealth, the universal health care program in Massachusetts, included coverage for family members who were visiting Massachusetts residents, citizens or not. My grandmother got what she describes as “the best care she had ever received in her life”, and from “the nicest white people in the world,” no less. She was comprehensively treated, and returned home in time to watch Serena win singles and doubles in the same day. She was happy for Serena, and to be alive. We paid a co-pay, and for prescription medicine. Massachusetts, in our weakness and helpless mortality, gave us a chance.
That Fourth of July is my most memorable to date. The United States saved my grandmother, even though there was nothing in it for them besides level-headed compassion for its citizens, and their loved ones. And the great irony of the evening fell upon me when I realized that this MassHealth law, a federal version of which is under fierce debate, was invented and deployed by the very man who campaigns against it on the national stage. It is efficient, compassionate, carefully written and wisely deployed. Thank you, Mr. Romney. And by God, America!! – lets do our part for Obamacare.