Did Stevenson Die because of medical care delays caused by rabid right wing hate?
by : Elizabeth Ferrari
Friday July 15, 2005 - 02:16
The Stalking of Andy Stephenson
Did Stevenson Die because of medical care delays caused by rabid right wing hate?
by Elizabeth Ferrari
I have lived for the last ten weeks with Andy Stephenson’s cancer. And in the most useless way. I couldn’t take it away, couldn’t relieve him of it, couldn’t mind it for a few hours so he could be freed to do the election reform work he so loved.
Andy was one of the most luminous people I have never met, because we never shared room temperature. I read his posts to a discussion board, then exchanged email with him. Later, when he was casting around for access to medical care, we had phone contact, increasingly as his situation became more obviously urgent.
And through the unfolding of our friendship, I understood that this being on the other side of the keyboard or the phone line was remarkable, was a gift walking among us. Sometimes a prickly gift or a demanding one but, all gifts have their peculiar qualities, if only to soften brilliance that laid bare would be blinding for most eyes.
I’ve heard Andy jubilant and terrified, laughing and sobbing. Playful and petulant. My deepest regret is that I won’t hear him again.
When Andy knew his ill health was serious, I offered to make calls for him. I have made calls for families unable to find resources for over a decade. The public health care system nearly killed my husband, and when we were given a reprieve, I swore I’d work to help anyone to find the care they needed.
I had little real success in finding resources for Andy, except in the sense that we widened the circle of friends who helped us look. One of them struck gold, and was able to get Andy taken on as a patient by a respected doctor at Johns Hopkins. This seemed no less than a miracle to us. There are many cancer patients in the world and no matter their net worth, they are not taken on easily by doctors at Johns Hopkins.
That left only the money. Out of state patients must be prepared to pay the full costs of their surgeries in advance. So, a group of Andy’s friends set out to try to raise the funds needed, armed with only love and hope and a very narrow window in which to come up with the cash before the hospital would turn us away.
That we did indeed raise the $50,000 fee in 11 days, in small donations and in many currencies, is a measure of how beloved Andy was. None of us had the skill to open wallets, per se. This was for Andy, for his dedication to clean elections and his boundless generosity to the movement.
And at this point, the story becomes bifurcated. One fork is the progress of love and hope and generosity that he elicited in the progressive community who shook junk drawers and upended sofa cushions and did without one trip to the mall to send in a donation. They made Andy’s surgery possible. And it is true that when I announced to an incredulous employee at Johns Hopkins that we had raised the money, I’m sure she heard me say, we found Monopoly Money and would she accept that? Paypal and Amazon accounts seem not to be used very often by the Johns Hopkins clientele.
But the other fork of this story is the profound disturbance it created in the Bush right wing. I didn’t understand this until much later. But, the watchers saw our effort, watched the community response and were inspired with what can only be called hatred. Because only such a reaction could account for the vicious attack that was set into motion.
The first weekend of our fundraiser was without incident, but our jubilation at raising $25,000 in only one hundred hours must have goaded the Bush right. Before the week was out, the rumors of fraud and malfeasance crept over the internet. I began to get anonymous email demanding to know Andy’s most personal information. During the second and last weekend of our effort, the contact information I had made available to donors resulted in my email box being spammed with hate mail. I at that point ignored it. It simply never occurred to me that our effort for our friend would become a political death struggle.
I was in no way prepared for what followed. And, although I have no proof, what followed was a concerted political attack on Andy, on our progressive community, and especially on our ability to raise funds for our projects, as well as an attack on Andy’s productive work as an elections reform activist and watchdog.
What followed was a coordinated effort to block Andy’s medical care or his benefit from the medical care we could secure for him. In specific, the opposition had its agents make small donations so they could then call Paypal with allegations of fraud that froze Andy’s account. They also called Paypal, misrepresenting themselves as the hospital, to “verify” that this effort was a scam.
And it got more vicious from there. Due to the frozen funds - exacerbating Johns Hopkins’ mislaying of a deposit check — and the confusion it caused us all, Andy’s surgery date was canceled by Johns Hopkins. It was with great difficulty that we were able to persuade the doctor to be put Andy back into the surgical rotation. That cost him two weeks while he suffered from the most aggressive, invasive form of cancer.
The smears and the rumors were seeded all over the internet. Ill, on hold waiting for his surgery, Andy and the rest of us cast about trying to answer questions that were more often simply calculated accusations meant to discredit us all, meant to make Andy’s health care as difficult as possible.
Andy called me one day, happy because he’d been given a new date. Then called again, because they’d moved the date up. He was terrified, sobbing and I was caught flatfooted. Torn between trying to mind Andy’s care and trying to stop or answer the horrible accusations being sown all over our community, I had very little to offer his terror, dealing with my own.
After Andy was admitted to the hospital, the rumors turned into threats. A bounty was offered for anyone who could sneak into his hospital room. It was said he was getting a face lift. A telegram was sent just to see if it could be successfully delivered. The harassment was nonstop. We tried to shield Andy from it, with less success than we would have liked.
A day or so after his surgery, Andy called me from his bed in ICU. I picked up the phone and he began to sing to me, “Come out, come out, wherever you are.” I started crying. And when we hung up, I offered that bit of good news to our on line progressive community at the Democratic Underground. Immediately, the opposition took that as evidence that Andy was not in fact recovering from a surgical marathon. And this was their pattern. Every specific I offered to comfort the community was taken up by Andy’s stalkers and used as evidence that we were frauds.
Andy left the hospital and spent two weeks recovering at a friend’s house, learning how to eat again, learning how to move, weaning himself from the morphine that he’d needed post surgery. During this time, one of his supporters in Baltimore had her car vandalized - a message was sent. Shortly after he left to return to Seattle, his second East Coast hostess was stalked to her home and she watched as someone tried to open her front door. His supporters everywhere were systematically intimidated and all the while, they tried to keep it from Andy.
Andy then went back home to Seattle, preparing for a medical course of chemotherapy and radiation. Once he arrived, he found that an anonymous tipster had managed to get his Medicaid shut down. It took us two weeks to get him back in the system. Andy had anaplastic pancreatic cancer and was again forced to wait weeks for follow up care.
By this time, Andy’s stalkers had set up a website. It purported to be concerned that the funds for his surgery were raised fraudulently. Thankfully by this time, Andy spent very little time on line. But it wore on his core advocates who were repeatedly attacked, defamed and baited.
We were threatened with everything from the FBI to the Washington State Attorney General. And of course, because our first concern was Andy, his attitude and his care, our response had to be measured or none. On a good day, we didn’t want Andy logging in and reading that he would soon be visited by federal agents to answer for the mythical hundreds of thousands of dollars we’d supposedly raised.
As late as a week before Andy died, we couldn’t keep this poisonous campaign from him. One of the last times he felt well enough to log into to his email, he found a multipage denunciation, supposedly being filed with his state’s attorney general. He called me, not so much in a panic. Panic was no longer a speed Andy had. He called me in despair, because he could no longer fight the barrage of hatred being leveled at him. I don’t remember what I said to him but I hope it helped for a moment.
The attack from the Bush right never paused, not even through the agony of Andy’s last days. Not at all. Even the fact of his death is being disputed. Two days after his passing, his advocates are still being harassed, still receiving anonymous hate calls, “It was a scam.” The friend planning his service was visited by two men impersonating sheriffs on the morning after Andy passed. They were there to ask about fraud, they said.
Andy’s physical death has not stopped the attack, has not slowed the hatred, has not stemmed the steady stream of intimidation.
But, we’re not afraid. And we take up Andy’s work to secure our elections in his honor and in your face.
Bio: Elizabeth Ferrari is a writer and a family mental health advocate in San Francisco, CA. She is married to comedian Doug Ferrari.
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