Mixed-up priorities

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Miriam Braunstein was one of the funniest, sassiest and most brilliant students I've ever taught at Wayne State University. Actually, she could have gone to Brown, or probably any Ivy League school.

Delightfully irreverent, she was always happy to lampoon the too-politically-correct on either the left or the right. Soon after she began a class with me, she walked up to see me, leaning painfully on two canes. She had, I learned, a congenital degenerative disorder called mitochondrial disease, which would soon relegate her to a wheelchair. How, I eventually asked her, did she think people with disabilities should be called? "In my case, crip'!" she said, laughing.

That was more than a dozen years ago. Mimi became a wonderful writer who was on the staff of a California magazine for a while, but gradually the disease has claimed more and more of her body and her time, sparing only her brilliant, acerbic, magnificent mind. Frankly, I think that if it hadn't been for Mimi's damned screwed-up mitochondria, Dorothy Parker might someday have been remembered as her forerunner. She still writes, but it is painfully hard. 

In recent years, she has spent fewer days out of Beaumont Hospital than in the small Oak Park home she shares with her devoted partner, Matt. Now 33, she hasn't been able to eat for a long time, other than intravenously. She has lost muscle coordination, and doesn't like to ask for help, so she chips her teeth trying to open things, etc.

Ever since I've known her, she has absorbed blow after blow that would have sent me running to Jack Kevorkian. (Unlike much of the disability community, she was not quick to condemn what he did, though she sagely noted back then that "he likes it a little too much.")

Mimi just takes a licking and keeps on ticking. But this month, she took one below the belt from a source she least expected: Gov. Jennifer Granholm. She faxed me the letter she got from the Michigan Department of Community Health. "Dear Beneficiary" it begins warmly.

"Due to Michigan's budget problems, the State cannot continue to pay for some Medicaid-covered services." Starting July 1, Medicaid will no longer pay for any services whatsoever provided by a chiropractor or a podiatrist. Routine eye exams, glasses, contacts — forget it.

Dental services will be covered only for emergencies — treatment of pain or infection. Routine dental exams, cleanings, fillings, dentures or other non-emergency work won't be covered after July 1.

What if they've started fixing your teeth but haven't finished? They "may still pay for it," Big Sister advises. (The only names atop the letter are Granholm's, and Michigan Community Health Director Janet Olszewski's.)

"That's ridiculous," Mimi says. "So, they won't pay for a regular exam that might reveal if you have cavities, but they will pay the far greater cost if you end up having an abscessed tooth and a root canal."

Ditto when it comes to vision. Why pay for a simple, cheap eye exam now when you can pay the cost of treating an advanced infection later? What concerns Mimi most is that hearing aids won't be covered any longer, and she's gotten to the point where she badly needs one. She and Matt plan to scramble to order a hearing aid this week.

Braunstein knows very well the condition our state's condition is in. I recall teaching her how to read a state budget way back when. But she also knows that this is a state where the governor goes on many a costly junket, allegedly to recruit jobs, and Detroit pension fund trustees take $56,000 junkets to Singapore, as the Free Press exposed last weekend.

And Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop (R-Rochester) is always happy to assure us that the world will end if we raise taxes a tiny, tiny bit to cover urgent medical expenses for folks like Mimi.

Someone's priorities are out of whack here, and I suggest that it may not be Miriam Braunstein's. If you agree, you might want to let your state senator and state representative know, and ask what it would cost to get this funding restored. Then, on the other hand, maybe you think she should suck it up, decline what puny assistance she now gets, and ask that the money be sent to our wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. 

Incidentally, the infamous Kevorkian once said something rather wise on this topic: "There really are only two kinds of people in this world. The disabled, and those who hope they live long enough to become disabled." Sooner or later, the catheter may call for you.

Same-sex marriage
: State Rep. Pam Byrnes, a Democrat from just west of Ann Arbor, is one of those understated but quietly effective leaders in the Legislature whom we keep losing, thanks to term limits.

Last week, Byrnes, a happily married heterosexual, launched a petition drive to allow same-sex couples to marry. She was immediately vilified by far-rightniks like Gary Glenn, who say that morality dictates that marriage be only between a man and a woman.

Yes, our current system fosters morality, all right. Here's an interesting case: A friend of mine recently got divorced. Her settlement provides that she gets a certain amount of money to live on for the rest of her life … under one condition: that she not remarry.

What if she moves in with a man richer than Bill Gates? She still gets her alimony, as long as they "live in sin." Since she has an IQ higher than her age, you can bet she is going to opt for government-encouraged sin. Thank God at least our morals are being guarded by the courts.

Farewell, Tiger Stadium:
To this day, I wish the Detroit Tigers had spent the money needed to renovate Tiger Stadium, and were still playing there. Like most baby boomers, I can recall the perfect strike I saw Al Kaline throw from deep in the outfield to get some runner at home plate. When I close my eyes I can see 325, 440, 340 on the old green walls.

But I am glad the city is finally tearing the remnant down. I would not want part of any loved one's ghastly corpse to remain above ground, and this is what that was. Face facts: There was no money to renovate it.

No money for the proposed museum and sports complex. No money to keep up the field. Detroit is in a depression, and kids shiver hungry and cold at night. If they had renovated the stub that remained, a lot of suburbanites would have come and seen it. Maybe once. Yes, we should have kept it around longer, but it had one hell of a run. And the Tiger Stadium Fan Club and the preservationists not only tried.

They did accomplish something.

When I was editor of Detroit Monthly back in 1988, the city was claiming the stadium was structurally unsound. There was talk of building one of those ghastly concrete bowl stadiums in vogue at the time. But we exposed those claims as a myth, embarrassed the city, bought Tiger Stadium another decade, and ended up with a much better park than we might have. My heart is at the corner, with Kaline and Lolich and Freehan and Trammell, and the ghosts of Cobb and Ruth and Gehrig and Gehringer. But Comerica is one of the finest new parks in the nation.

Now let's go play ball with some of our bigger problems.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Contact him at [email protected]
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