In Nicole Chung's Memoir, 'A Living Remedy,' She Blames U.S. Health Care for Her Parents' Early Deaths

Chung's memoir tells the story of watching her aging parents get sicker from illnesses they couldn't afford to treat.

In Nicole Chung's Memoir, 'A Living Remedy,' She Blames U.S. Health Care for Her Parents' Early Deaths

She tells of the pain of seeing both of her parents die within two years. Chung says that the broken healthcare system in the country is at least partly responsible for her father's death at the age of 67 and her mother's at the age of 68. When her father sought treatment at a low cost health clinic, the doctor informed him that more than 90% function had been lost in his kidneys. Chung also describes how the illnesses of her parents could not be grieved for their meaning alone, and they caused financial problems and fear. Chung's parents' health is deteriorating, and she tries to be a writer while caring for her two daughters. But these efforts are often accompanied by frustration because she can't help her parents more. Chung's experience is likely to be shared by many. Annie Nova: You parents faced a lot insecurity at work. It's difficult because you can't hear the financial conversations between your parents when you are a kid. At that age, it would have been inappropriate for them to place that burden on me. It's upsetting to see your father as he ages managing different pizza places because he is often mistreated. Was retirement ever discussed? My parents had a hard time planning for the future because they didn't know who might get sick or lose their job. Both your parents delayed seeing a doctor because they were worried about money. When my father was finally able to get into a clinic for community health and receive the care and tests he required, the staff said that they should have seen him a year earlier. Your kidneys are no longer functioning at 90%. It's harder to pinpoint with my mother. In the book, I describe her fight with cancer. She was receiving disability and Social Security at that time, so she received adequate medical care. When I was in highschool, we were not insured and she was having health issues. One night I had to drive her to hospital, where it was discovered that she suffered from endometriosis. She hadn't seen a doctor for months. She never said, "I didn't come because we didn’t have insurance," but we did not. All of this happened fairly recently. After my father's death, I spent many months trying to understand why I felt so angry. Why wasn't just sad enough? Why was I so angry at the time? It's because he died much younger than he should have, due to years of poverty and lack of health care. It felt important to discuss.

Your father's experience at the community clinic was a real turning point. It was difficult for my mother accept the fact that they had to go to a clinic. It didn't work. It did prolong his life. Dialysis was prescribed after he was diagnosed with kidney disease. He was granted disability. All kinds of help was provided, including a medical shuttle that took him to his appointment. This visit to the clinic opened up all these services and support. This is not always the case in terms of how health care works in this country. They were hesitant to give me anything, because they knew I didn't have much money and that I had two small children. They knew that I did not have a lot of money. It was a bit devastating to learn that they didn't ask because they had no expectation. When my mother came to visit me, she'd secretly leave money behind. After they left, I found it. I wrote this book partly because I wanted write about my own grief. It felt important to mention that the experiences of so many people are influenced by what my family has gone through. The majority of people who die or get sick in the United States are not wealthy. All of these things will continue to happen at some point to many people. How can we meet these challenges as a community? The book asks, "How can we take care of one another?"