Uninsured, Unchecked Ulcerated Mole, Malignant Melanoma, Returned to Canadian Healthcare Too Late


(Interview w/ family 6/2010. Oil on linen, 40 ins. x30 ins.)


UPDATE 2021

One thing emerges from all the 2021 death portrait story updates. Families do not move on from their loved ones' early deaths at the hands of the US healthcare system (especially before healthcare reform). The anguish throbs as chronic pain in the human body and mind. The families stop talking about their losses. They never stop feeling the loss.


John's wife Karena wrote me. "I never remarried, and only had a couple of boyfriends before giving up. Nobody could ever stand as tall for me. The children and I are well."


Artist Note (2010)

Consumer Reports reported John's story in a 1990 issue about healthcare. (The link no longer works.) Families of the deceased often wish me to name their loved ones as a way to honor them. This is John Andrusyshyn.


 

A study. Oil on canvas, 24 ins. x 20 ins.

(From a 2010 interview with John's wife)

Keno Supervisor for Reno, Nevada Casino in 1987, Uninsured and Insured, Deceased at 54 in 1989


In 1987 John scratched a mole that did not heal. The family was uninsured.


John's wife Karena believes John felt they had no extra money for him to see a doctor. John minimized the importance of his symptom and "put a band-aid on it."


In 1987 the family earned $80 too much to qualify for Nevada Medicaid, a federal/state funded health insurance program for low income individuals and families.


The suspicious mole could no longer be ignored. John's wife insisted he see a doctor. She found a dermatologist who would see him for $50 ($118.95 in 2021 dollars) but they could not get an appointment for 16 weeks.

The emergency room would have cost $300 ($713.71 in 2021 dollars). They could not afford it. By the time John saw a doctor, the mole had ulcerated. John was so desperate to get care that he paid for the visit with a bad check.


Finally, John was diagnosed with malignant melanoma. When the receptionist left her desk, John's wife borrowed her husband’s file. It said, "Patient has no money so we'll do the best we can."


John's wife called the American Cancer Society to ask what the terminology in the doctor’s notes meant. "Breslow 3." John had 2-5 years to live.


Six weeks after John's diagnosis -- and just before his scheduled surgery -- John qualified for his employer-based health plan. The insurance policy had a $30,000 limit. The policy covered John but not his family. John's wife had to come up with $56/week to cover her husband’s share of the monthly premium. The policy covered the hospital bill but not the the $4,000 surgeon’s fee.


The family sold some of their belongings to raise money. They carried the insurance only a short time. John's wife took her husband home the day after his operation to avoid reaching the insurance limit, and to also save coverage for a possible second operation.


John and Karena sold their mobile home. They bought a 1962 Airstream then borrowed money from family to go to Canada, John's country of birth. John's wife is American.


As a Canadian citizen, John was entitled to receive care in Canada. At no cost to him, he received various cancer treatments even brain surgery. All too late.


By Sept. 1989, subject had more than 40 tumors. He died on October 30, 1989. John left behind two children ages eight and eleven.


John's wife admits that she once waited for a hernia operation in Canada, but she likes that people who had emergencies were also taken care of. John’s wife believes her husband's delayed treatment caused his death. She says that "if he had gotten care when the mole first appeared, the cost of his treatment would have been a few thousand dollars. My husband would be alive today at 75."


John's wife, Karena, remembers him in her poem 3 years after his death.

Summer Inspiration

I can still see your silhouette, cowboy hat in hand,

as you rode your hobby horse around the roaring campfire.

I can still smell the warm, humid evening among moss-draped trees,

where Honeysuckle and Oleander perfumed the air.

I watched you capture fireflies. You and the children

chasing the small insects that glow so brightly was a portrait of purest joy.

I was your firefly. You saw me so much brighter

than I really am, and just your proximity made me shine.

I moved mountains, because you said I could,

and I was wonderful, because you believed it so.

Now, without you, I too, like the firefly,

would be only a small, drab creature,

but, in shining for you, I learned how.