Chicken Soup for your Health Insurance Ass

Robert Sullivan was so distraught when, arriving at work, he heard of the death of his friend Darren Jakobsen, whom he had dined with the previous evening, that he was in a state of shock.

He remembered the previous evening so vividly, even little things like the way Darren, being such a gracious host, had been upset by the failure of his friend Silas to show up. And strange things like how, driving home, he had called the police on an Asian man who had been behaving suspiciously in his neighborhood.

That morning, while still reeling from the news, Robert had a meeting with Jerry Armantrout, who needed a liver transplant. Robert was in terrible shape and unable to pay attention to the conversation. He tried to explain that a liver transplant was considered an experimental operation and therefore not covered by the terms of the HMO. That Armantrout's condition was terminal, Robert explained, was irrelevant to the basic terms which he recited more than once.

More than once Robert drifted out of his private grief at the loss of his friend to realize that Armantrout had asked him a question he hadn't heard. Fortunately, he was well-practiced at avoiding questions, and it was not necessary to know a question in order to avoid it.

Armantrout was upset. Crying, he tried to explain that he couldn't understand how a big corporation like the HMO could have such a small heart. He referred to the tombstone-engraving business his father had begun thirty years ago. Armantrout's declining health, and a hopefully temporary lull in the demand for tombstones, would force him to close down. He explained that he paid himself a salary that was barely enough to live on—his wife worked as well—in order to pay his workers a living wage with benefits, and so the company could sponsor a little league team.

At lunch, Robert canceled his only afternoon appointment—a woman who claimed she was sick because she had been poisoned at work—and went for a walk to clear his head. It did not make sense to him that Darren, whose life seemed to be going so well, had had to die in a stupid accident.

It made him realize how precious life was. For the first time in years, he felt some affection for his six-year-old daughter Anne, and even a sort of detached love toward his wife Gladys. He was afraid that Gladys drank too much, and might become an alcoholic if she didn't quit. Normally this did not concern him, but today he felt a peculiar sense of being alive.

He walked past the day care center where his daughter Anne spent her afternoons after kindergarten. He considering going in to see her, perhaps retrieve her early and spend the afternoon with her, then remembered that her child care provider was Sally Armantrout, the wife of the man to whom Robert had denied the experimental liver transplant that morning, and he kept walking.

He found himself at a sports bar and, although he didn't drink, ordered a glass of beer and a plate of liver and onions.

By five PM he was dead from food poisoning.

Sally Armantrout had been forced to stay at the child care center late when nobody had shown up to pick up Anne. The center had no means by which it could offer her overtime.

At 5:00 Sally received a phone call from the hospital explaining that Anne's father was dead. She tried to call Anne's mother at home to see if she could come pick up Anne, but the woman on the other end of the phone sounded very sleepy and incoherent and did not seem to understand what Sally was saying to her.

Sally, who was very tired and hungry and upset about the news that her husband would not get the liver transplant, realized that it would be up to her to explain to the six-year-old that her father was dead. She was now the closest thing Anne had to a parent.


Chicken Soup for the Vegetarian Soul.