Like me, you probably woke up this morning to coverage of Jimmy Kimmel’s monologue from last night. It was a tearful, emotional accounting of his newborn son’s birth story and his heart defect that was discovered just hours after delivery, requiring emergency surgery at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Oh, yeah, and a plea to all Americans—regardless of party affiliation—to unite and leave the politics out of health care.
Basically, you will use all of the tissues.
Through tears and several pauses, Jimmy described the surgical intervention his infant needed as, “the longest three hours of my life.” And for his wife, Molly, he described it as, “the worst nightmare a new mother could experience.” He's not wrong.
And I should know.
While it's not the same as watching your newborn struggle, my husband and I cared for our daughter who was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor at just 20 months old. We spent the next two years in and out of Chicago’s Children’s Memorial Hospital (now known as Lurie Children’s Hospital), including a few stints in the pediatric ICU.
Seeing your child, this perfect but heartbreakingly broken creation that you love more than you ever realized was possible, so vulnerable and dependent will rock you to your core. The wires and tubes and beeps and alarms and needles and numbers and unending stream of doctors and nurses and techs is enough to break any parent.
I still remember the very first time we sat in the surgical waiting room. It was filled with moms and dads and grandparents and siblings and fear.
So much fear.
It’s hard to describe, but I remember that for each surgery our girl endured (and there were many), the room was full. Today, right now as you read these words, no matter what time it might be, those surgical waiting rooms are still full of nervous and scared parents.
Watching Jimmy brought back so many memories of our own time with our daughter while she was treated for cancer. Children’s hospitals are sacred places. As he took out his folded piece of paper to thank each doctor and nurse who helped his son, I recognized his immeasurable gratitude. The people who work with sick children are heroes who wear scrubs instead of capes. That gratitude you saw is something he will never lose. How can you ever repay strangers who save the life of your baby?
It seems that the newest Kimmel, little Billy, is doing well and will fully recover after a few more interventions. The relief and joy seen in Jimmy’s face was palpable. I love a happy ending, especially when it means a healthy child.
What I love most about Kimmel’s monologue, aside from his exceptional vulnerability and gratitude, is that he gives America an out.
Except, Jimmy wasn’t done.
After telling the harrowing story of his infant son’s birth and cardiac surgery, Kimmel kept talking. He made the personal political. And I salute him for that.
It would have been easy to focus only on his son and happily push that baby stroller off into the proverbial sunset, but Jimmy used his voice and his platform to bring much needed attention to our current health care crisis at a time when our country is terribly divided.
“If your baby is going to die, and it doesn’t have to, it shouldn’t matter how much money you make. I think that’s something that whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat... we all agree on that right?,” Jimmy asked his cheering audience.
“Whatever your party, whatever you believe, whoever you support, we need to make sure that the people who are supposed to represent us... understand that clearly. Don’t let their partisan squabbles divide us on something every decent person wants.”
What I love most about Kimmel’s monologue, aside from his exceptional vulnerability and gratitude, is that he gives America an out. He offers the average voter an opportunity to blame the current mess on our elected officials in Washington, who, believe you me, will have top shelf insurance regardless of what happens to the rest of us. Let the politicians duke it out, but the rest of us? We need to unite and demand common sense coverage for all Americans.
Pediatric cancer and heart defects don’t discriminate. Black, brown or white, rich or poor, privileged or not, terrible things happen to children that require medical care, and, in the best possible outcome, will result in healthy adult lives that will require insurance coverage for pre-existing conditions.
Places like Children’s Hospital Los Angeles save babies every day, some of whom have wealthy celebrity parents, and some of whom have poor immigrant parents. For the kids lucky enough to survive and grow up, many will need ongoing specialized health care treatments the rest of their lives. These are the kids that Jimmy advocated for in his monologue.
He waxes poetic about a nation that is compassionate enough to care for one another, the America he grew up in. “No parent should ever have to decide if they can afford to save their child’s life. It just shouldn’t happen. Not here.”
When our late-night comedians begin using their platform to advocate for improved health care, you know we are at a crucial point in time. This week, it has been reported that Congress will vote on repealing the Affordable Care Act and replace it with the American Health Care Act, potentially with terrible consequences for the 30 million American children who rely on Medicaid or Medicaid expansion, some of whom are treated at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles or a children’s hospital close to you. All sick children, regardless of their insurance, will be made more vulnerable if pre-existing conditions are no longer covered.
Jimmy Kimmel pleaded with us last night, after telling us the story of his baby boy with the broken heart, “We need to take care of each other.”
It really is that simple.