So, obviously I’ve been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic the same as everyone. There were plans I was looking forward to that got cancelled and I had to do without the businesses I normally patronize for months the same as most people. Compared to most, I’ve been extraordinarily lucky. I have yet to catch the virus myself, I don’t know anyone who got seriously ill from it, and I live with my boyfriend who has a house and steady employment. This meant that, while I personally got laid off due to the shutdowns, I was fortunate enough not to have a landlord breathing down my neck for rent.
Where my story differs from many is that I developed another ailment during the craziness, and the reactions to COVID complicated my efforts to receive treatment. That’s the reason why I’m sharing the general outline of my experience here, because this is a facet of the US response which I feel hasn’t gotten a lot of attention. Now, I want to make it clear upfront that I largely support the governors acting as they felt best, shutting things down to “flatten the curve” and control the rate of new infections. I don’t support the protesters who were trying to force early reopening of the states and their demands for haircuts and other non-essential services to be provided to them earlier than was safe to do so. At the same time, I understand that small business owners were in a precarious position having to do without income for so long. It was a complicated situation all around, and I don’t envy those in power who had to make these decisions that would impact thousands if not millions of lives.
What I took issue with during all of this craziness was the reaction to COVID in certain essential services, which I felt could have been better thought out. I’m offering my two cents in the hope that, if something like this happens again, the policy-makers do a better job acknowledging those in similar situations to mine.
Gotta Love the US Healthcare System
So, I was unfortunate enough to develop asthma/allergies this year of all years, and the COVID scare complicated my ability to get fast, effect treatment. Some of my misgivings are due to the US private insurance system in general.
- During a particularly bad flair up I tried to go to a MedExpress for a prescription and/or nebulizer treatment. Their service representative told me over the phone they could provide that service to me. I drive out there, struggling to breathe the entire way, and they won’t even see me because I was coughing and admitted to having shortness of breath. They tell me they won’t help anyone with those symptoms because “it might be COVID though!!” even as I tried desperately to explain I wasn’t running a temperature and my shortness of breath was the result of an acute asthma attack. You can hopefully understand why that was frustrating to say the least.
- They told me I may be able to see another MedExpress who was still accepting patients with cough and shortness of breath. I drive all the way out there, still panicking due to my inability to take a full breath, and this second location doesn’t accept my insurance. I forget the price they quoted for out of pocket expenses, it was something like $150+ dollars just to be seen.
- I go to a third (!) location, one who accepts people with such common symptoms as coughing and takes my insurance. Even then, they simply tell me it might be COVID and wouldn’t give me a script to take to the pharmacy until I got tested. (This test occurred a few days later, and came back negative as I knew it would.) I should mention that by going to a MedExpress covered by my insurance I still had to pay $50 upfront.
- As a result of all this, I had to go to the emergency room to get immediate relief for my asthma. They ran their tests to rule out other potential causes–who am I to say “no” when I’m struggling to breathe and desperate for the doctors to be able to help me? So, they give me an inhaler and tell me my insurance covers my visit. I was told there would be no copay. I had to make a second trip to the emergency room a week or so later after I had yet another unbearable flair up. It is only then that I received the bill in the mail for that first visit: $850. The prescription inhaler was another $55 even with my insurance. The bill for the second hospital visit was the same.
- I scheduled a follow up with a pulmonologist after the hospital visit but it took over 2 weeks (!) for him to even see me by teleconference. That’s two weeks relying on the limited-quantity scripts I got from MedExpress and the hospital, otherwise subsisting on over the counter remedies. The doctor thankfully wrote me some more scripts but I actually couldn’t afford one of them which cost $450 even using my good-for-nothing insurance and GoodRx. It was another two weeks before I could get a follow up, in-person appointment as well. I learned from one of the nurses in the clinic that apparently a lot of other lung-treatment centers either closed or severely restricted their patient intake during all this COVID shutdown business. So that possibly explains the delay in being able to see me, but it didn’t make the wait any more bearable.
- The OTC remedies I was buying during all this ran me up about $150 give or take. My prescriptions helped alleviate symptoms somewhat but there are times were, even with them, I needed to use some Vicks vapor rub or high-menthol lozenges to bring complete relief.
I don’t blame any of the individual doctors, nurses or healthcare workers for my experiences. But I do wish the administrators, bureaucrats, the local politicians writing these shutdown rules or whomever, would understand that just because COVID is the new scary headline-grabber that doesn’t mean other health ailments stopped existing. When you close down or restrict patient intake at your clinic, it creates bottlenecks at others which delays essential treatment for people. When you refuse to treat people with very generalized symptoms at a MedExpress or other such clinic, you force them to go to the hospital and accrue ridiculous emergency room bills. That’s all I’m trying to express by sharing the broad-strokes of my story. People like me who needed relief from other illnesses were allowed to fall through the cracks during all this (at least to a degree) which should not have happened and I hope if there’s another pandemic/shutdown in my lifetime, the powers that be keep this in mind.
Also, it goes without saying but our privatized insurance-company-profits over people healthcare system is terrible and needs to be done away with. I am disgusted that once again the progressives were shut out and now we’re locked into another pair of out-of-touch, rich privileged old men who don’t know or care how bad the system really is. I’m sorry, but “tweak the affordable care act” is not good enough. I have insurance through the ACA and it’s terrible. I pay $300 a month just to pay another $50 to be told I need to get tested for COVID, almost $1,000 for emergency room visits and the Rite Aid Savings plan (as well as GoodRx coupons) are more generous than my own insurance in terms of bringing down prescription costs. Expanding the ACA means nothing because the ACA is shit insurance. (Pardon my French but as you can hopefully understand, I’m at my wits end over this nonsense.) Anyone who doesn’t support some form of universal healthcare is, at this point, standing in the way of progress and needs to sit future elections out. Nobody should lose a significant bulk of their life savings because they were unlucky enough to get sick. Period.
Potentially Bad Precedents Set in Politics
Speaking of elections…
There’s been some worrying trends during this COVID response which probably warrant their own essay; I’m talking about the billionaires getting richer, Senators shorting stocks for a profit, big corporations applying for the bailout that was meant for small businesses, Congress dragging its feet even just to give us a measly one-time payout…you get the point. But we all agree these trends are bad already so I’d just be preaching to the choir.
There was one lesser-known instance of wrongdoing which, if my social media friends are anything to go by, inspired mixed reactions. I’m referring to the state of New York cancelling its Democratic primary election, and while that decision was ultimately reversed, the fact that it was even considered (and encouraged by many laypeople) really bothers me. I’m going to explain why, using a hypothetical argument with an admitted strawman:
“Lets just suspend the general election because so-and-so’s ahead in the polls. No big deal. It would divest too many resources for a foregone conclusion and keep people from getting sick.”
^See the issue? It’s a slippery slope and once you start relaxing democratic values then before you know it there won’t be elections anymore at all. While this may initially sound like a ridiculous scenario, it is possible that the idea of fair and transparent elections may suffer a death from a thousand cuts starting with rollbacks like these. Imagine an outsider-progressive like Bernie winning the early primaries only for the DNC to cancel the rest due to trumped up scare tactics (“Russian tampering!” / “Terrorism!” / “Coronavirus 2.0!” take your pick) and then covertly compelling the remaining non-pledged delegates to vote for the establishment favorite at the convention. Considering how far they went to shut Bernie down in 2016 and 2020 (plus how anti-Trump the RNC was initially) I could totally see that happening if we don’t push back hard now.
“Oh that’s hyperbolic, they would never go that far!”
That’s what Rome, Weimar Germany, Cuba and every other failed republic that descended into autocracy said. It can and will happen here if people get complacent and make excuses for authoritarian measures. That’s how it starts, with a plausible excuse, an appeal to protecting children, platitudes towards religious values, uniting against an “other.” But once certain rights or democratic traditions are suspended they don’t come back. Case in point: the PATRIOT Act, NSA surveillance, TSA feeling us up at airports and all these other statist oversteps we are still suffering from 20 years past 9/11.
“But the coronavirus!!! How can you justify putting people at risk when it’s pointless because Biden has already won!!”
Because it’s not pointless, even if the other candidates have suspended their campaigns. Suspending your campaign means you’re still on the ballot and ready to jump back into the race if need be. A vote for Bernie or Yang or whoever else is still a declaration that you want the DNC to include the policies they campaigned for in the party platform and/or you want Biden to recognize their popularity when it comes time for him to select his VP nominee. That may be frivolous to some of you, but to millions of others whose champion lost before they even got to cast a vote it may mean the difference between getting some conciliatory measure or nothing at all. (Not to mention it gives those of us in late-states some small feeling that our vote still matters.) You talk about human lives, well maybe a protest vote in favor of a pro UBI or pro M4A candidate could be seen as a long term action in favor of preserving human lives by those who’d have liked to vote. (After my experiences this year, now more than ever I consider M4A a necessary position for any candidate to have.)
When it comes to justifying the removal of democratic traditions, the appeal to safety rings hallow to me. It’s like Hillary using “think about the children!” to justify the government censoring video games and, just after ’16, censoring the news media as well. It’s a classic authoritarian tactic, masking your power-grab under the veil of benevolent protection. At the end of the day, the fact is there are mail-in ballots. And please, let’s not act like there was never any danger in leaving the house before COVID either. Hundreds of thousands die in car accidents and from the flu every year too. Now, am I downplaying the severity of COVID? No. But if this country could hold elections during a goddamn civil war, I think we can do better than shut down our democratic processes and cower in fear every time there’s a new threat.
And Now…Shantae! (?)
Speaking of video games…
For me, the Shantae series has been a much needed bit of lighthearted escapism during the clusterfuck that is 2020. I played Half Genie Hero to cope with getting laid off and COVID now I’m playing its predecessor, Pirate’s Curse to take a break from asthma worries, losing the majority of my savings overnight, and the ongoing protests for a little while. It may seem weird to talk about this alongside such a serious topic but in my mind the two are, and always will be, interconnected. This series has done a lot to keep me sane during one of the most stressful periods of my life and I want to give it a quick shout out for that.
I remember when my boyfriend got Half Genie Hero as a free download on XBox One arcade. I admit I thought it looked like a cheap shovelware game at first glance but he played through the first level for curiosity’s sake. After dying, he passed the controls off to me and I was hooked pretty quickly. The game play was solid, the soundtrack was fantastic, the art style was charming and the script was full of lighthearted humor. But what really impressed me was the level design. I loved that “counterfeit mermaid factory,” and what a creative concept it was. It reminded me of the weird inventive settings in the best Super Nintendo games of old, and how they stimulated my childhood imagination. This was the first new franchise I’d discovered since I grew out of my GameCube around age 14 which made me feel that same sense of immersion in a video game as I had when I was a kid.
Shantae is, on the surface, a Mario-style platformer, but there’s some Zelda-esque RPG features like buying items to keep it fresh. There’s also some Metroidvania elements like the labyrinthine dungeons which reward you with new abilities upon completion and encourage backtracking. In that sense, Shantae is Nintendo’s three oldest franchises bundled into one awesome package. But even beyond all that, I love the random one-off segments, like in Curse where you have to carry Rottytops at high speed through an obstacle course without getting hit once, or the stealth section in the desert world. Hero is somewhat lacking in that “surprise genre-shift” factor but I did certainly appreciate the Donkey Kong Country inspired “slide” levels. That keeps things fresh, and those were my favorite parts of both games.
In Hero, and (as I understand) most of the series, our titular protagonist’s main distinguishing feature is her ability to transform into different animals via belly dancing. With Curse, this mechanic is notably absent and in its place, you get tools like a pistol, cutlass and high-speed boots. I missed the magical genie transformations but I appreciate the designers trying something new as the series wore on. Whether it be pirate gear or mystical powers, new abilities unlock secrets in earlier levels, encouraging repeated exploration of the world. (I feel like Hero got the most mileage out of its stages, with the transformation abilities providing the player with more options upon returning. But Curse‘s courses are more complex to start with.)
My New Favorite Video Game Protagonist
What I find most endearing about these games is that the titular protagonist is so good natured and naive to where you want her to succeed, both in her quest and as a person. I like Jammies mode in Hero where Shantae’s going around innocently asking all these intimidating super-villains to come to her sleepover. And in Curse, the main campaign has a similar vibe because Shantae has to team up with her arch rival, Risky Boots, who orders her around and makes her do all the grunt work. But rather than allow herself to fall into resentment, Shantae happily defeats the enemies and even puts on some pirate garb to get into the mood! She’s like a young-at-heart, playful soul who goes out of her way to make a daunting task fun, similar to the player themselves. This allows the games to capture the feeling of an interactive Saturday morning kids show and inspires a protectiveness from the player towards their protagonist, like you don’t want to see anything bad happen to such a kind-hearted person. I couldn’t help but compare her to the similar games I played as a kid on Nintendo, which usually have a silent protagonist in order for the player to project themselves entirely to the role of their avatar. While that approach is fine too, it’s nice to experience something new with a loud and colorful hero for a change.
Now…to address the elephant in the room…Shantae’s art style, and certain levels in particular, are the definition of fan service. I can understand if maybe that’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and if it’s not then don’t let me convince you otherwise. But personally, I find it empowering. To revisit an idea I brought up in an earlier post, I don’t believe women (real or fictional) need to bury their femininity in order to be strong. (I can already smell the backlash from certain circles at the idea of me even weighing in on this as a trasnwoman.) To clarify, being objectified because of your body or feeling the need to cater to the male gaze to succeed are absolutely demeaning. And I can understand why a lot of women in positions of power, or those writing female characters with the intention that they inspire young girls, would downplay sex-appeal as a result. But I feel an argument could also be made that disregarding traditional feminine presentation/roles may also be construed as a signal of surrender, an acknowledgement that to be seen as strong and taken seriously, one must be masculine. Personally, I think true progress and equality are accomplished when we can all do whatever we want, mix the masculine and feminine as we so choose, and nobody judges anyone else for it.
With all of that in mind, I like Shantae for her relatable flaws (quick temper, naivety, etc) and the way she’s able to save the day and look cute doing it. She partakes in a stereotypically alluring profession like belly-dancing not to please any man but because she enjoys it. My problem with this modern, hyper-politicized era is that more and more pop-media seems tailor made to send a social message above all else. With regard to women lead characters, my issue is that more and more seem to be written solely as an archetype of “badass empowered womyn” as opposed to three-dimensional, unique and overall fun individual people. In this current era of pop-culture, littered with Mary Sues (Rey “Skywalker”) and overly confrontational personalities who seem to be looking for something to get offended by (Captain Marvel) having a carefree, unapologetically feminine protagonist like Shantae is a breath of fresh air. You can be adorable, you can be sexy and you can be a badass who saves your community on a regular basis, and all at the same time. Like Wonder Woman and her pro-BDSM creator. One quality doesn’t cancel out the other and that, to me, is the most inspiring idea of all.
The rest of the cast is great too. I’m not going to go into each but my favorite dynamic comes from Shantae and the aforementioned Rottytops. There’s this segment in Pirate’s Curse where you go to the underworld and meet her lost soul. (Rottytops is an undead zombie whom Shantae is besties with.) In this realm, the ghosts of people who can’t move on are forced to wander aimlessly for eternity, eventually forgetting what their unfinished business was in the first place. Rottytops’ soul knows that she always wanted to tell her friend how much she means to her but never got the chance to do it in life, and now she can’t even remember her friend’s name. When Shantae leaves the underworld and hangs out with Rottytops’ reanimated corpse back on Earth, she takes the initiative and says it all for both of them, how glad she is to be in Rottytops’ life. That’s admittedly a scenario which sounds so ridiculous when you see it written down, but the way it plays out in-game is very wholesome. This cast of characters really would be perfect for a tongue-in-cheek anime show, like a cross between Adventure Time‘s weirdness and Sailor Moon‘s girl-power theme. Someone should pitch it to Netflix.
A Parting Word in These Trying Times
Guys, I don’t know what your situation is and I don’t presume to know how badly this virus, and now the protests are affecting you. But if you can, put all this ongoing nastiness aside for a little while. If at all possible, step back from the soapbox and enjoy a little frivolity for a few hours. The rest of us will still be here to read another status about how much you hate Trump or scroll past that twelfth article about how the protesters/cops are evil. Just, assuming you’re not strapped to a ventilator yet, take some time to yourself and imagine. Not the pretentious John Lennon song the self-important celebrities are singing on Twitter, but imagine yourself living out a pleasurable fantasy…
…play a shameless fan service mode that helps you cope with the girl slumber parties you never got to partake in growing up…
…watch some Golden Age Porn or look up some Giga Mermaid rule 34 and imagine making love to the beautiful woman outside of your league…
…experience an adventure story and imagine living a life as interesting as its protagonist…
…just escape from the weary reality for an hour or two and try to embrace the beauty of life in the darkest times. A little immersive fiction never hurt nobody, amiright Jesus?