Stef Alexander made national headlines last fall when he was forced to cancel his tour in support of his latest album to undergo treatment for kidney disease. Since that announcement, the hip-hop artist (and new Current DJ) known as P.OS. has received over $42,000 in donations from his fans—which is both an incredible stride forward for P.O.S.’s healthcare, and a stark reminder that even insured patients in this country can be left with unsurmountable medical debt.
It’s just one of the many complex topics that I’ll be exploring this Sunday night at 10 p.m. on the Current as part of a Current Presents episode on music and healthcare. For a little preview, check out my chat with P.O.S. about his healthcare below.
Local Current: Hi Stef! How are you feeling right now? What’s the latest with your health?
Stef Alexander: The latest is I’m doing dialysis, I’m doing at-home dialysis three to four times a day, and it’s working. It’s giving me a lot of energy and I’m feeling, for the most part, pretty good. So that’s good. I had a handful of donors, like six or seven, and none of them ended up working out, for different reasons ranging from we weren’t good positive tissue matches, all the way to we were positive tissue matches but their kidney was like an inch or so too small to be a successful transplant. But since those first six or seven haven’t worked out, I have another handful that are trying out right now. And if everything goes well, I should have a match by September-October and then hopefully I’ll be good as new next year.
What is the recovery process for a surgery like that?
For the donor, it’s not very much. It’s a few days. They do it with lasers now, and magic suction cups and things like that. But for me it would just be a few months of getting used to the meds and being under close supervision, to make sure I wasn’t rejecting, and taking tons and tons of medication, forever.
I know you’ve been able to actually perform more lately. Has the dialysis process changed for you? Are you feeling better than you were last fall?
Yeah, definitely. I think before I started dialysis, without even my knowledge I had been experiencing years of blood poisoning. What your kidneys do is they’re supposed to absorb the toxins out of your blood. So before I started dialysis I had years of blood poisoning sitting on me, which was weighing on me more than I was even really able to understand until I started dialysis and started feeling better almost immediately.
You’ve been dealing with kidney problems for a long time now. What are some things you’ve learned about the healthcare system and the way insurance is set up for musicians?
I mean, everything about it is a challenge. Being a musician, there is no healthcare. If I was to start a co-op and find 200 people and we could all be donating to the same cause as a business or a nonprofit, maybe I could work something out. But just as one dude, it’s really difficult to get any really quality healthcare, especially with pre-existing conditions.
Do you feel like when Obamacare rolls out next year, will that help you?
Based on what I’ve been able to read, it should help me. I don’t know how much, I don’t know if it’s going to be the very best possible healthcare, but it will be something that will be affordable. Just in the last year I’ve had kind of a crash course on how insurance works, and if anybody was ever wondering, it’s a complete racket.
Can you tell me about making the decision to ask for help? What was that like for you to say, ok, enough is enough, I need people to help me?
It was kind of twofold. I had to cancel a tour, so canceling a tour, you’re not going to just cancel a tour and not say why. So I was able to say why, and then at the same time as saying why, say hey, I also make most of the money I make touring, so since I’m not going to be able to tour, if you guys are down to throw some money at this, that’d be really helpful. That honestly was—if I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have been able to get the care that I have now. And if I wouldn’t have been able to get the care that I have now, I definitely wouldn’t have been able to treat music like a job. You know, I would have probably had to go find a job somewhere, someplace that could cover me. Or find somebody who wants to get married that has a great corporate job that could just add me to their insurance.
It was kind of heartbreaking, because I don’t ever want to cancel shows, and I don’t want to ask for help. I mean nobody wants to ask their friends for help, let alone people they don’t even know. So it was a little mixed, as far as how it felt, but having people come out as strong as they did was heartwarming and actually kind of one of the reasons I was able to get through, and am able to get through it so well, is knowing that that support is out there. It’s kind of crazy to me.
I can’t imagine. And you can page through the list of all those people who backed you on your YouCaring page.
Yeah, and actually my friend, Mary, took the time to write everybody’s comments into a book, and then actually give me the book. So if I’m ever feeling in the dumps, which does happen a lot—it’s just depressing to have health problems, it’s really tricky to find people to actually share those feelings with. So it’s nice to be able to open up a book and kind of skim through and read everyone’s messages of support.
Having gone through this experience, does it make you feel more willing to play other people’s benefit shows?
Yeah, if I’m able to, definitely. And seeing how well it worked for me and how it actually helped me—I don’t think everybody should play every benefit, because there should be something about it that makes you feel, and makes you want to actually be a part of it. But when those things are all in place, especially when you’re talking about somebody’s health, somebody’s livelihood, yes, I’m definitely more interested now than I ever was before, having been a part of it.
It almost seems like that is the insurance for musicians, that you can rely on that kind of support.
Yeah, I don’t know if it is though. I don’t know if you can always rely on it. I think that I’m incredibly lucky, incredibly lucky to have not only generous fans, but fans that have been sticking with me for years and years and years. I don’t think that I can keep on counting on them, though. I think that’s a one time kind of thing. And I don’t think that counts as insurance. [laughs]
Yeah, definitely. Are there any other things you’ve taken away from this experience that you think would benefit other people in similar situations?
You know, I don’t know. I really feel like a lot of this stuff is personal and very directly related to the person it’s happening with. So I don’t know if what happened with me translates to other musicians or other people. But it’s just hard out there, man. It’s a really hard world, and it’s really difficult to have to look that kind of difficulty in the face. That’s really what it feels like; you feel really helpless, you feel really lost, and I feel like I would have been in some really seriously depressing times if it wasn’t for my fans and my family.
The Current Presents: Music & Healthcare special will air this Sunday night, June 9, at 10 p.m.