Sample Book Review On Mama Might Be Better Off Dead Summary
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Mama Might Be Better off Dead is a profound rendition of the story of a poor African American family, which is plagued by health issues and poverty. Laurie Kaye Abraham presents a poignant picture of how the family struggles to come to terms with the complexities of the health care system, and how they become the victims of both illness and the red tape. The author, by tracing the hardships experienced by the Banes family, places the personal within the social, and exposes the gaps and inconsistencies of the national health care system.
The book highlights the shortfalls of social welfare programs in this country and how they fail to benefit the people who need help most. The book was written in 1993, and follows the life of a family from Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood. The author stayed with the family for about a year and observed how the poor family, beset with various devastating illnesses, copes up with their mounting medical bills.
The family is headed by Jackie Banes, who has to find a way to treat a grandmother suffering from diabetics and old age and a husband with kidney problems, and additionally care for her three children. Tommy Markham, who is Jackie’s father also figures significantly in the story and drops by mostly when he needs medical attention. Within these family members there are a number of medical problems, and the book shows how medical care either did not come or came late for this family, on most occasions.
The book clearly explicates how a segment of the American population has been left out of the urban health care system, due to bureaucratic negligence and because care was too often denied to them. The year spent by Abraham with the family unravels to her how the system is so complex that some patients just give up trying to figure it out. She says,
“Only by following a family for an extended period of time was I able to understand the oft-repeated phrase ‘lack of access to care.’”
For example, if Jackie reports an income higher than she currently draws she can move into a decent neighborhood. The Lawndale neighborhood is one of the sickest communities in the country and Jackie yearns to move to a better neighborhood. However, a higher income would deprive her family of certain free/concessional medical benefits, and she would have to pay more for medical bills. Thus, she is defeated by the system and has no way of escaping the vicious circle of poverty and illness.
The characters of the book are real persons with their own frailties and doubts that make the story more chilling and real. The men of the family are weak and are plagued with health issues. Tommy Markham won’t take his blood pressure medications because he feared it might cause impotence. Robert Bane indulged in drugs which might have lead to his kidney problems.
“Robert used drugs stopped giving Jackie money to pay the bills. She was broke.”
The protagonist Jackie after struggling to provide proper care to her grandmother wonders whether her grandmother is better off dead. She is a strong character who puts in a heroic effort to save her family from medical problems, and such expression just showcases the exasperation of a person defeated by the system.
The book also throws light on problems such as transportation costs and attitudes of certain medical workers who show blithe indifference to the Banes family. Cora Jackson had to miss several doctors' appointments because she had no car and the ambulance cost was unaffordable as it is $70 for the two-mile round-trip. Abraham also delineates how doctors sometimes think that the poor cannot make right decisions about their treatment and do not share with them all the necessary details about their illness. She says,
“Most doctors relate to patients whose backgrounds are similar to theirs’. “
The book puts up a strong argument that urges the government to take action towards health care reforms. It deftly puts across mind numbing statistics along with the plight of a family as a support to its argument. She warns that the Banes family is not alone in its struggle, but it is representative of the plight of most urban middle class/poor families. The book warns that modest insurance reforms that would ease the doubts of the middle class would not provide social justice to the poor, and comprehensive reforms are the need of the hour.
Abraham, L. K. (1994). Mama Might Be Better Off Dead: The Failure of Health Care in Urban America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
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