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October 6, 2003 2:00 PM   Subscribe

Would you like fries with that? Saturday's Washington Post has a touching story about a 58-year-old grandmother who thought she'd be retired by now, but instead finds herself popping four different prescription medications at 4 in the morning while beginning her shift at Hardee's. As a journalist, I found this incredibly detailed story an example of newspaper writing at its rare best.
posted by GaelFC (44 comments total)

 
Depressing and frightening. Thanks, GaelFC.
posted by GriffX at 2:20 PM on October 6, 2003


"She gets depressed sometimes."

No kidding, I got depressed just reading the story. Good article, GaelFC.
posted by homunculus at 2:29 PM on October 6, 2003


"Where's the real war? Who's the real enemy? The enemy is within," another says. "I got two weeks till I'm laid off. Two weeks to go, after 11 years."

This is a wonderful bit of writing - thank you for sharing it with us. I pray I don't end up in her shoes, but who knows.

Next time you go to the grocery store, McDonalds, Home Depot, wherever, notice all those employees who remind you of your Grandmother or Grandfather - many of them are share Patsy Sechrest's shoes.
posted by anastasiav at 2:35 PM on October 6, 2003


I'm reeling with bummed-ness. The numbers here are hard to imagine -- the amount of medication, the hourly wages, the years of employment, the shift schedules, the factory jobs lost, the annual incomes they live on. I feel ashamed for any whining I've done about my own lot in life.
posted by Tubes at 2:39 PM on October 6, 2003


Patsy is an inspiration. I had my first heart attack and the subsequent bypass when I was 38 and still as fit as a 20-year-old Marine. It knocked me on my ass for years. I cannot imagine how she managed it, in her 50s and probably in average shape to somewhat overweight. She may not have much of a life, but at least she has a life. She is a Survivor.
posted by mischief at 2:42 PM on October 6, 2003


Ugh. This reminds me of being in Publix the other day when I noticed a lot of older women, sitting absent mindedly by their samples that they were trying to get people to take. Some people have it hard, or at least were never handed anything, and some people (like me) were born into a white middle class family and had a lot of things handed to them, including a college education that is supposed to get you a great job. Makes you feel undeserving. Or at least it does to me, knowing how much of your place in life is determined by the status you are born into (outliers not taken into account), and how much you really waste it.
Must go drown my guilt now...
posted by dig_duggler at 2:53 PM on October 6, 2003


A moving piece of journalism, thank you for sharing it GaelFC
posted by ruelle at 3:10 PM on October 6, 2003


This brought back scary memories of Fast Food Nation. I highly recommend it to anyone who hasn't read it yet.
posted by krunk at 3:19 PM on October 6, 2003


I think the individual story is sad, and depressing, but the overall point is what, exactly? That 58 year old women shouldn't have to work to support themselves? The story doesn't seem to object to the idea that Patsy's husband works, presumably he's of a similar age. It's not even focused on the fact that he's about to be out of work. Given the choice between having to work and having a job, and having to work and not having a job, I'd say he has the bigger problem.

I'm being facetious, of course, but there's just so much stuff buried in this story - cost of health care issues, unemployment issues, depressed economy issues, aging issues, health issues, wage parity issues that it's hard to find anything to say other than, 'Well, gee, that's sad.' It's being held up as a shining example of journalism, but I just don't see it. It doesn't even begin to look at solutions, or even a focused view of the problems. It's just a hard luck story backed up with statistics.
posted by jacquilynne at 3:20 PM on October 6, 2003


Thanks for injecting some sense, jacquilynne. Personally I think that this utterly unsubstatiated statement disqualifies this piece as decent journalism: the mystery smell that turns out to be unemptied garbage left by some night-crew member, a teenager probably, bored out of his mind, with no concept of what it's like to be a woman nearing 60 who is opening a restaurant in the dark hours because she needs the money to live on. Some of us did work for our food and shelter as teenagers, you know.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 3:52 PM on October 6, 2003


I'm with IshmaelGraves on this one. Taking a mostly unfounded jab at teenagers just because they're going for the 'woe is me' angle isn't good journalism.

Fucking kids. Never doing their fucking work. Right?
posted by angry modem at 3:59 PM on October 6, 2003


Some of us did work for our food and shelter as teenagers, you know.

the operative word being "did". as in the past. my recent experience with teenagers at fast food places is atrocious. they cannot count, they are impolite, and often speak some odd bastardization of ghettorapMTV. took me a few seconds to get that the sloppy apathetic kid who i so annoyed by taking my custom to his place of employment wasn't suffering tourettes or worse when he uttered "abbagut'n", he was wishing me a good day. i guess.
posted by quonsar at 4:01 PM on October 6, 2003


Rural North Carolina is full of stories like this. Factories and plants have layoffs or even shut down...one factory can be THE major employer in some of these counties, and displaced workers usually can't find something else at the same pay level. These are high school graduates whose daddy went to the plant, and then went to the plant themselves. To even have a chance usually requires more job training, assuming they can afford it and/or it is available.

Remember all this when you buy your winter outfits and the tags say Sri Lanka or Thailand or China.
posted by konolia at 4:07 PM on October 6, 2003


konolia: Since the plants have closed down where do we buy the made in America equivalents? And you're saying that American workers are more deserving of the jobs? Just to be clear about your position.
posted by billsaysthis at 4:18 PM on October 6, 2003


They aren't all gone yet. North Carolina is/was a big textile state.

And if we are talking about American companies moving overseas for cheap labor, heck yes, American workers are more deserving of the jobs.
posted by konolia at 4:22 PM on October 6, 2003


>Remember all this when you buy your winter outfits and the tags say Sri Lanka or Thailand or China.

Good point.

I'd better make sure I chuck all the North American outfits I have and support China. I don't want people to continue in this cycle. Best for them to break out of it now before those towns get worse.

>heck yes, American workers are more deserving of the jobs.

...why? Do Americans work harder (HA HA HA)? Do they work for less? (Like hell they would).

What counts as deserving nowadays? Sitting on your lazy overpaid ass refusing to cut square holes because you're a circle cutter (*)?


(*) - This is a true story and the separate departments were real. These "unusual" requests by management resulted in a long strike and a lot of vandalism at my dad's first place of work (Vicker's Submarine Plant, Barrow-In-Furness, UK).
posted by shepd at 4:41 PM on October 6, 2003


we might have a deficit, but at least we don't have stories like this. well, that often.

cheers, canada.
posted by mrplab at 5:39 PM on October 6, 2003


While USians may not be more deserving of any job - if we keep shipping all of our jobs overseas and across the borders - there will be no customers left in the US to buy anything, because we won't have money because we won't have jobs....

A company that is making money because the US government allows it to work within our borders DOES have a responsibility to give back to the US, and the best way to do that is to hire USians.

If you wish to be a part of a community - you must give back to the community you take from - else it dies. The US is a big community - and coroporations that operate out of or within in the US are members of that community - and would do well to remember that in deciding on their fiscal policies.

(Of course - the US is a member of a larger community...but that's not the topic of conversation...)
posted by jaded at 6:13 PM on October 6, 2003


About her life: "I chose it, I guess," Sechrest says

Simple fact: life doesn't always turn out "perfect." It's not even always "fair," depending on how you define that word.

Sounds like she's doing OK, and going about her work in a dignified manner. It's not particularly a "sob story," as the journo clearly intended, IMO. I salute Patsy and her husband, and hope that they continue to improve their lot, but I don't feel "pity" for them, nor am I heaping tons of unearned guilt on myself or anyone else.
posted by davidmsc at 6:13 PM on October 6, 2003


shepd, apples and oranges.

Unions are not too common here in the American South, so the scenario you just described isn't very likely. And I deeply resent your characterization of these people as lazy . The work ethic in this part of the US is quite strong, and all these people want to do is support their families. We need new industries, and we need more ways of bringing money into the economy besides tobacco (the main product in this area.) Education is not well funded in many of these counties because of the lower tax base, and without a better educated populace it is difficult to attract more jobs.
posted by konolia at 6:26 PM on October 6, 2003


I think the main question, konolia, which you seem to have sidestepped, is this: why are Americans more deserving of jobs than anyone else? Because they were accidentally born in the same arbitrary geopolitical designation that you were accidentally born in? I've never understood this argument, and I'd truly like to hear why people think this way. Sure, our team is obviously better than their team, but it must go deeper than that. Right?
posted by majcher at 6:59 PM on October 6, 2003


Interesting, depressing article. I couldn't help wondering, though - why does she need all that medicine? Is that, for lack of a better word, normal? Just a consequence of getting old, having to take six or seven different kinds of pills every day?

Seems like that (or the associated cost) is a big, if not the biggest, part of the problem. And on that note, the bypass too, and the lifestyle that may have contributed to the need for it.

(Evolutionarily speaking, we live longer than almost any other animals - long after we're of any reproductive use. Why? Some think it's because old people are valuable repositories of survival information. But I digress.)

I dunno, maybe it's just a subconscious desire to assign this woman some sort of responsibility for her terrible situation, but still, I honestly wonder.
posted by gottabefunky at 7:09 PM on October 6, 2003


Hell, if there's a main question here its: why the world's richest country can't get universal healthcare going. US economists were always telling Europe "Well, yes, you can have those things but you'll always have 7 percent unemployment and your currency wont go as far." Now in 21st century America we're happy to see jobless recovery and our dollar has less buying power than it did just thirty years ago.

Great, I'm paying European-like taxes and living in a European economy without the perks.

Does Squid-Bristol-Myers have some kind of feudal lord/serf program? Maybe we can just set up grandma to work there and cut out the middle man. Every week they can pay her in pills. Everyone wins.
posted by skallas at 7:13 PM on October 6, 2003


apologetic derailing: Call me crazy, but part of the issue here is that the woman is on so many pills that they make her nauseus. She takes Temazepam for insomnia? Your body doesn't really want to sleep at 6pm -- no wonder she needs the pills. I don't mean to sound insensitive -- and clearly she's got some health issues that need medication -- but for some reason what I took from the article was how scary it is that no one bats an eye when people work their fingers to the bone so that they can take their 10 prescriptions a day. America does indeed have a drug problem.
posted by arielmeadow at 7:22 PM on October 6, 2003


Part of the reason I posted the story was because it reminds me of Studs Terkel's WORKING, a collection of oral histories in which people from all walks of life talk about what they do every day. I don't think the writer's job here was to solve the social problem of older women working. I firmly believe his article succeeds at what many say journalism is there for: To comfort the afflicted, and to afflict the comfortable. I'm comfortable, and I was squirming in my seat.
posted by GaelFC at 7:27 PM on October 6, 2003


gottabefunky : many times elder people really need a lot of medicines. Sometimes they're scared the hell out by their "pushers" the "medics" who suggest this and that and this other medicine, sometimes they're needed sometimes there's only a sales agenda.

jacquilynne: I think the point isn't "should a 58 years old woman work to support her life" but rather "why should anybody with health problem (many times they DON'T choose to have it, they just come) be so incredibly dependant on job to -survive- ? "

I'm not going to start a story about how can a country that invest billions in research & developement resemble so much UK during Victorian era ..that's another story ..but I wonder how many people is living the same kind of misery in USA as well as in Europe.
posted by elpapacito at 7:29 PM on October 6, 2003


I couldn't help wondering, though - why does she need all that medicine? Is that, for lack of a better word, normal?

What is "normal"? I'm considerably younger than Patsy, and I take more medication than her daily. (Through no fault of my own, that I can determine - I was not overweight, ate healthily, cholesterol was well within normal range, blood pressure excellent, non-smoker, exercised regularly.) So why did I get sick? I don't know. In the meantime, I've had two strokes, and now take 10 different medications daily. And, like Patsy, I have to work because I need my health insurance.

That's my story. Folks Patsy's age have their own problems. Back when they were young, cholesterol wasn't yet a buzzword, and people ate red meat and foods cooked with lard not knowing it was dangerous. Other ailments just come with old age....hearing loss, arthritis, cataracts, you name it. My mom has mentioned many times that at her age, you schedule your life in between doctor appointments.
posted by Oriole Adams at 7:35 PM on October 6, 2003


I think the main question, konolia, which you seem to have sidestepped, is this: why are Americans more deserving of jobs than anyone else? Because they were accidentally born in the same arbitrary geopolitical designation that you were accidentally born in? I've never understood this argument, and I'd truly like to hear why people think this way. Sure, our team is obviously better than their team, but it must go deeper than that. Right? posted by majcher


I think an "our team" mentality plays into it, but I don't think it's the sole reason why some of us prefer American made products. See, when Americans are employed, they have money, which they can then use to buy products, you know...the whole capitalist structure depends on people having money to buy stuff.

So, if the stuff they buy puts money back into the same economy where it came from, then everyone in that economy benefits. I'm not responsible for the economy in China, or Banglador or any of the other countries where American consumer dollars may get spent. Those people don't get our money and then turn around and spend it in Bob's hardware store down the street from me, they spend it in their own neighborhoods. As well they should.

But some Americans prefer to spend our money on American products, that keep Americans working and keep Americans fed, clothed, educated and able to pay their taxes...rather than living in a van down by the river.
posted by dejah420 at 8:34 PM on October 6, 2003


Stories like this make me wholeheartedly support the universal healthcare system we have in Canada. Up here if her problems were medically serious enough, she would get a disability pension until old age security and Canada Pension Plan kicked in, and her health costs would be covered. I have no problems paying higher taxes in order to let that happen.

Now, the fact that I pay higher taxes for government boondoggle after boondoggle, then see cuts to healthcare cause we're supposedly "broke"....well, that's a whole other thread. Hell, it's a whole other 'filter.
posted by Salmonberry at 9:28 PM on October 6, 2003


rather than living in a van down by the river.

hey! i like my van by the river.
posted by quonsar at 10:32 PM on October 6, 2003


Up here if her problems were medically serious enough, she would get a disability pension until old age security and Canada Pension Plan kicked in

We have disability too, but it's mostly based on a medical opinion of whether or not you can work, so I suppose she'd be unlikely to get it. My mother has MS and hasn't been able to get it because it (thankfully!) hasn't progressed that far yet.

and her health costs would be covered.

We have medical insurance for poor people. It's called Medicaid (as opposed to Medicare, which covers more-or-less everyone over 65).

One of the problems down here is that a lot of this stuff is very on/off, and people who make a smidge too much get screwed. Another problem is that lots of people don't avail themselves of aid to which they're entitled, either because they don't know about it, or out of misguided pride.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:05 PM on October 6, 2003


"Prescriptions have a co-pay of $30; that's $3,600 a year. Doctor visits are $25 apiece; that's $300 for a visit a month. The cost of triple bypass surgery after she had a heart attack was $3,800, which she knows is a bargain because the total surgery bill was more than $100,000 -- but it was still $3,800."

Christ... thank fuck for the National Health Service
posted by derbs at 2:24 AM on October 7, 2003


One thing that struck me was the plans her co-workers have for their retirement. They appear to be delusional, if they're all on the same pay that Sechrest is on, and believing the same thing that she herself believed when she was 25 or 32.

And what derbs said re the NHS - even though it can be pretty crap at times, at least we're not utterly backward.
posted by biffa at 2:36 AM on October 7, 2003


I feel bad for the woman's health issues, that's a raw deal, but since when is 58 too old to be working? I assume that I'll still be employed at 58 even if I don't financially need to be, otherwise I'd feel useless and be extremely bored.
posted by zarah at 9:56 AM on October 7, 2003


I'm not responsible for the economy in China, or Banglador or any of the other countries where American consumer dollars may get spent.

Okay, so it is just a "screw those other guys, America rules!!!" thing. Gotcha.

It still baffles me that a person in, say, San Diego, feels more neighborly to his fellow Americans in Maine than they do to his real neighbors living just south of some imaginary border.
posted by majcher at 10:35 AM on October 7, 2003


Has she considered suicide? I've often figured that would be my retirement plan. A nice big load of that dangerous heroin I've always been hearing about...
posted by hellinskira at 10:39 AM on October 7, 2003


Where the fuck is Banglador? About halfway between Bangalore and Bangladesh?
posted by Mo Nickels at 10:51 AM on October 7, 2003


Okay, so it is just a "screw those other guys, America rules!!!" thing. Gotcha.

If factory workers in other countries' lives were really benefiting from the cash I dropped when I buy a foreign-made piece of clothing this argument might hold water. Unfortunately it's a case that these were relatively decent jobs for people here that allowed them to raise a family at least, and have been replaced by whichever corrupt government will allow the company to pay their new workers the least and get away with treating them the worst. Gotta love open markets.

The way I see it, if I buy American (or Canadian) I'm probably making more peoples' lives better, because labour laws and collective bargaining and all those other things that we enjoy in our part of the world mean that having a job isn't a life sentence away from your family in a dark room breaking your back to sew logos onto cheap material. By buying something made in factory conditions that would be unacceptable here you are buying into the idea that you should benefit from other people's suffering buy getting to save a buck or two on your poorly-made, logo-emblazoned garments. (though the people who really benefit are Sam Walton's heirs and very few others)
posted by Space Coyote at 11:23 AM on October 7, 2003


It still baffles me that a person in, say, San Diego, feels more neighborly to his fellow Americans in Maine than they do to his real neighbors living just south of some imaginary border.

Maybe because the Californian and the Mainer live in the same country, and the Californian and the Mexican live in different countries.
posted by Holden at 12:57 PM on October 7, 2003


Also, why do you think the U.S.-Mexican border is imaginary? Last time I crossed it, it was very real. It separates two nations that speak different languages and have different political systems.

Some people need to have the obvious stated to them.
posted by Holden at 1:01 PM on October 7, 2003


Not an example of great journalism, if you ask me, just a guy with an opinion who's looking for examples to back it up and ignoring everything else. Not to mention the ridiculously prejudiced comment about teenagers and the utter absurdity that people should be able to retire by 58, leaving them with nearly as many years of retirement as years in the workforce.
posted by dagnyscott at 1:15 PM on October 7, 2003


The "ridiculously prejudiced comment about teenagers" is part of a stream-of-conciousness passage reflecting the point of view of the 58-year-old woman. It's obvious in context to anyone who can read critically. Maybe you weren't paying attention in English class when you were a teenager.
posted by Holden at 5:57 AM on October 8, 2003


I read the article, and I didn't see it that way. If the phrase had been "probably left by one of those lazy Mexicans," that would never pass the editorial board, even as reflecting someone else's point of view.
posted by dagnyscott at 10:07 AM on October 8, 2003


Any non-lazy teenager would e smart enough to sell drugs instead of working at McDonalds.
posted by Space Coyote at 1:35 PM on October 8, 2003


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