(Interview w/ family 5/2011. Oil on linen, 40 ins. x 30 ins.)
I paint my subjects half in and half out of life when accessing the healthcare they need is difficult and they die prematurely.
Fietta could not lie flat in a bed. She slept in a recliner and died in her sleep on September 11, 2008 due to congestive heart failure.
Most of my subjects open their hearts and sometimes their homes to me when I interview them.
Fietta's husband and daughter played home movies, and lovingly showed me little pottery pieces Fietta enjoyed painting. They pulled down framed pictures on display so I could get a closer look at Fietta.
We might ask ourselves what love looks like. It's easy to see when a beloved family member dies. Love gushes out of every chipped $10 painted bowl, and grainy home movie frame.
I hear the ache in the cadence of their sentences, and in the way a word trails off like a note going flat.
Fietta and her spouse took on so much medical debt while she was uninsured that they declared personal bankruptcy.
I took Fietta's portrait to the US Supreme Court in Washington DC. I'm wearing a heavy coat. It must have been January or February 2012. There aren't many tourists, demonstrators, or people milling about the plaza when it's cold. I know it was early in my time standing with portraits because my sign is small. I realized not long after starting my DC stint that I needed a BIG sign if I did not want to get dwarfed by the massive federal buildings.
The Supreme Court Police are always present. Sometimes it was just me and one lone officer braving the weather. I have stood with portraits when the snow blew so hard it was hitting us sideways. My feeling was that if I was to bear witness, I was going to do it no matter the weather. My standing was a symbolic gesture to draw attention to healthcare inequities and to honor the my subjects' spirits and the millions they represent.
Fietta's husband, Ron, passed away in 2020. When I heard the news all I could think of was what a joyful reunion he must have had with Fietta.
A study. Oil on canvas, 24 ins. x 20 ins.
(interview with husband May 2011)
Volunteer Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), Wife, Mother, Grandmother, Uninsured, Age 51, Deceased
Families of the deceased often wish me to name their loved ones as a way to honor them. This is Fietta Nietz, beloved wife of Ron.
Fietta earned her Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) certification in 1992. She taught CPR.
During the time Fietta was insured, she underwent several operations due to complications from knee replacement surgery from which she never fully recovered.
Fietta had various jobs with and without insurance throughout her life. Fietta needed medical care in times when she was uninsured. Medical debt buried her.
Fietta had dreams of becoming a licensed practical nurse but did not finish school. She worked in home health care for the elderly for four years without health insurance.
Her job as a packer for a potato chip company came with health benefits. She also received health benefits while working for a direct mail company.
Fietta's hospital job as a wheelchair van driver also came with health benefits. At one point she needed to sit when doctors found what is commonly called water on the knee. The hospital moved Fietta to a job in the answering service department. But Fietta still needed to work a second job at a big box retail store to make ends meet.
In 2007 the hospital eliminated Fietta's desk job leaving her with no job and no health insurance. Eventually Fietta found a job with a telemarketing company in June 2008. She could work from home and stay off her feet. The company offered health benefits after a 3 month waiting period.
Fietta and Ron took on so much medical debt while she was uninsured that they declared personal bankruptcy. Fietta's daughter took out a personal loan, and gave the money to her mother to help with expenses. In 2011 Fietta's daughter is still paying $95/month on the note.
During the waiting period for insurance benefits at her telemarketing job, Fietta suffered with breathing problems caused by her pain medicine. Her daughter watched her mother's body swell. Her daughter joked that Fietta had "Flintstone feet."
Fietta's family doctor did not charge to see her. Her doctor ordered tests which Fietta did not get because she did not have the money or health insurance to pay for them. She did not want any more unpaid medical bills.
Fietta could not lie flat in a bed. She slept in a recliner and died in her sleep on September 11, 2008 due to congestive heart failure. She did not live long enough to qualify for insurance with the telemarketing company.