Dave Scott

Shirley Branch never lived what most people would call the “good life,” just a long procession of factory jobs that kept her warm, dry and fed.

Sometimes the company was closed down. Sometimes she was the victim of what she perceived as racial discrimination. Sometimes she just moved on.

Even her childhood was difficult.

“I was too proud to accept handouts because when I was growing up, things were very, very hard for us,” she said. “I’ve had a hard life, but I’ve never been a vengeful or vindictive person about the life I’ve had because growing up was very hard for me.

“Because when I was 10 years old, my mom got sick, and I had to take care of me, my sister and my brother. I never had a childhood. I never learned how to ride a bike. I never had a doll because I had to take care of [my family].”

Branch’s physical condition prevents her from working. At 64, she’s about a year from qualifying for Medicare.

“I can’t afford to pay for the medicine I have because I take insulin. I take blood pressure [pills], I take water pills, I take beta blockers, I take [a drug] for my legs and I take another one for my acid reflux, so that’s five pills I take three times a day,” she said in November.

Without a job, she can’t afford health insurance.

“They wanted almost $400 for insurance. I don’t have that kind of money, and now I have a year … until I can be eligible for Medicare,” she said.

Desperate for help, she went to OPEN M and was directed to its health clinic. When she showed up, her blood glucose level was over 700. (A normal, fasting level is 100.)

A critic might say she retired too early. She knows, on a financial basis, that’s true. But after years of physical labor, she felt she had no choice.

“My mistake was my body falling apart,” Branch said. “My legs hurt real bad and the job I was doing wasn’t real hard.”