It was a beautiful, crisp day on the North Shore of Minnesota. Our Swedish hosts led us up one hill and down again. We hiked through the thick white stuff on the ground, and through the flimsy flakes in the air. Because these were exemplary hosts, they had warned us well: “Watch your step; there are ice patches under the snow.” We heeded them well: up the hill, then down it again. But within twenty feet of their front door, clutching a few Lake Superior stones in my left hand, I carelessly placed my booted foot – and the solid Earth slid out from under me. I fell hard on the open palm of my straight right arm.
The pain shot up the length of my arm; I couldn’t get myself up. When I was helped to my feet, I started to black out. Our hosts offered the local hospital for an x-ray. But the price of health insurance was never factored into the life that ‘Iokepa and I have led. Eating remained our priority. I demurred.
We spoke at a gathering the next night. I compensated with my left hand – turning doorknobs, using forks – awkward, but possible.
A week later, still unable to use my right arm, we were in Rochester, Minnesota, for another gathering. Our host, a scholarly research nurse at the unrivaled Mayo Clinic, offered us a tour of her place of employment.
Enthusiastically, I hopped up from the laptop computer to go – and the wire that went from computer to wall snagged my ankle. I fell – this time forward. Again it was my straightened right arm that absorbed the brunt of the fall. It was excruciating. I pretended (shake it off) that it was nothing at all. I joined the walk to the Mayo Clinic (in a gusting, below-zero blizzard). I cradled my bent right arm in my good left hand.
We toured this magnificent facility, studied its unquestionably first-rate art – all of it the bounty of grateful donors. And yet, I was told, I could not make it through the doors without health insurance. A step into their emergency room might produce a $7,000 bill.
So I strolled through this iconic, celebrated medical facility that employs 30,000, clutching an arm that I thought was broken, and there was no one to help me. ‘Iokepa and I whispered to one another behind the history exhibit, sharing the medical irony.
Our gathering that night was fabulous. If there reside in Minnesota folks who are less than gracious, warm, and welcoming, ‘Iokepa and I have yet to encounter them. The morning afterwards, before we left for Winona on the shores of the frozen Mississippi River, I relented. I asked our nurse host to check my arm for a break. She did. It was not broken. But clearly my wrist needed to be immobilized. Her employer, the Mayo Clinic, wasn’t her choice. She called her husband, an amiable physician’s assistant at the Migrant Health Service, and asked him to help.
On our way out of town, we stopped at this unassuming, one-story building on the edge of the city. We were warmly received and we hunkered in among the migrant farm workers and their families in the bilingual waiting room.
‘Iokepa’s grandmothers have repeatedly instructed: “There’s no such thing as a coincidence.” Here’s the evidence.