When I was born, all the way back in the 1950s, expecting parents didn’t have access to ultrasound images of their babies. So, you can imagine my parents surprise, shock, heartbreak, and confusion when I wasn’t born perfect. A bilateral lip and cleft palate is a pretty disturbing deformity, but aren’t they all. My Dad had just been accepted into radiology school with the prestigious Pacific University, but after just three classes, he had to give up his coveted spot and go back into construction to pay for the necessary surgeries that I would require.
So much for his hopes of breaking out of the poverty in which he was raised. My parents lived in my grandparents home for quite some time, and they never quite rose out of that financial and emotional setback.
A few weeks ago I was meeting a couple of friends for a quick bite to eat. My friend Paul tripped and fell in the parking lot and received a nasty laceration on his right eyebrow. Immediately upon inspection I told him we needed to take him to the emergency department, just across the street at Good Samaritan Hospital. He declined. I pushed, but he still declined.
After I’d cleaned up the wound, applied a crude butterfly, and bandaged it, thanks to the helpful folks at Laughing Planet, he explained that he couldn’t afford a trip to the ED. As a self-employed contractor, he could only afford health insurance with a very high deductible. There is no way he could afford a hospital visit for something this minor, but expensive. (I estimate that the total bill would have been about $2-3000)
@lyzadanger: Yeah–someone asked “Who is this gonna benefit ‘cept illegals?” I’m like ME! HELLO! Incurable disease! uninsurable!
(Lyza has written some incredible posts about her own health issues on
her well-written, beautifully designed, and poignant blog.)
While these stories capture beautifully the very real need that people face everyday, I could go on and on. I know too many people who avoid seeing a physician, avoid a trip to the ED, or simply let things get bad before they finally have to seek care.
- There’s my friend Debbie, who while struggling to take care of her dying mother, on a sub-poverty income, suddenly needed her gall bladder removed. Thanks to the generosity of a charitable trust fund at Peace Health St. John Hospital, she was able to have the $20,000 surgery.
- My friend Stefan, who made some very bad choices in his youth, which left him with rotting teeth. We worked with a dentist friend to begin reconstruction, but unfortunately that dentist moved away and Stefan was left with temporary crowns that didn’t last.
- And I have dozens of self-employed friends who are struggling in this economy to provide for their families. They are just one mistake, one accident, or one age-related disease from total bankruptcy.
My heart bleeds for these friends.
I have 20 years of experience working the streets as a paramedic. The majority of people requiring EMS care are low-income, high-maintenance people. I admit, because I’ve seen it with my own eyes, that a lot of people create their own problems. Either due to ignorance, stupidity, or very poor choices, people get themselves into the worst predicaments. Then they dial 911 and expect us to bail them out.
It is difficult to have a cheerful attitude of service when someone calls us out at 3am for the flu. However, as I’ve gotten older and recovered from some of my own dysfunctional past, I am much more compassionate than I used to be. Not to diminish personal responsibility, I now realize that many of these people came from very dysfunctional backgrounds. They hardly have a chance – let alone are they qualified to make good choices.
- One friend from my past was gang-raped by the neighborhood boys while her brothers watched. Another friend had essentially the same thing happen, at the hands of her cousins, when she was eight years old.
- I have a friend whose father used to beat him at the slightest provocation. The rage and depression persists in this friend.
- Sometimes when I read the news, I wonder how some of these kids who have been victimized by abuse (drug, alcohol, violence, spiritual and/or sexual) will ever have a normal life. How will they ever be able to rise above the trauma?
Think about this for a second. Not from your perspective (seriously, stop and think, not how you’re going to reply to me, but slip on these moccasins for a second or two…), but from the perspective of someone who doesn’t have your advantages. If you’re like me, you grew up in a relatively comfortable home. Two cars, nice home, parents that fought, parents that loved, and parents that struggled. Your life wasn’t great, but you were able to rise above most of the dysfunctions handed down to you. You have a strong work ethic, you have worked hard to carve out your life, and you believe that everyone could make it if they just tried harder.
This is the way I thought and believed for years. Work hard, stay out of trouble, stay in school, and you too can live a comfortable life. Yet, I’d like you to take a peak into the shadows of the broken hearted for a minute or two.
If someone is born with an extreme disability, we don’t really expect them to hold down a regular job or life. If they were to develop some disfiguring disease, we would make allowances for them to survive. If they were to be involved in a crippling accident, through no fault of their own, we would show some sympathy and grant them the latitude to live off the little Social Security Disability they are provided. We don’t seem to mind this level of socialism in our realm.
However, if someone eats too much, drinks or drugs themselves into a mindless stupor, or lives a life of depression, discouragement, and/or disempowerment, we (myself included) tend to think: “They got themselves into this mess, they better stop their abhorrent behavior and get their act together.” In other words, they need to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, get a haircut, get a job, and keep their nose clean. Why should I/we provide charity to someone who has drank themselves out of a job and a home? Why should I provide for someone who has eaten themselves into 600 pounds of inability? And why, for goodness sake, should I provide charity to someone who can’t get along with anyone?
That’s when I ask myself, “How did they get into this mess?“ They may not have a physical disability, but maybe they have an emotional one. Maybe they were born with all their limbs intact, but do they come from a long line of alcoholics? It’s possible that a person seems to have it all together, but is lonely and destructive to themselves. What emotional, spiritual, or physical abuse have they endured? Maybe none – but maybe their parents did…
I don’t say this to excuse poor behaviors or attitudes, but I just ask you to understand it. Some of us have clawed our way up from the depths of despair, and we think everyone should/could do the same. If they just worked harder, and quit playing the role of the victim, they could remove the pall of discouragement, depression, and dysfunction. The fact of the matter is, we don’t know what journey they have traveled. We don’t know what tools they’ve been given. And we don’t know what life has thrown their way.
It’s true, to provide charity to some would simply enable them to continue the same bad behavior. But here’s something you may not of thought about. No matter how much charity you provide to my friend Therese, who has been in a wheelchair for 35+ years, she is probably not going to get out of that wheelchair this side of eternity. That is a tangible reality, we can grasp that concept. We don’t seem to mind helping her out. The fact that she is bright, friendly, well-read, and interesting makes it all the easier to be gracious.
But then we encounter the 450 pound, unemployed, diabetic, alcoholic who does nothing but sleep, eat, and watch TV. He may be obnoxious, have no friends, and does nothing to improve his life. He has no friends. He has no outlets, hobbies, or outside resources. He may expect the government to provide for his needs and the EMS system to cater to his whims. These people are anathema to us. And if you’re like me, you think the best thing would be to cut of their aid and force them into a better way of living.
However, this is my question: Why is this man the way he is? Not to excuse it. Not to gloss it over. But to realize that he may have faced a trauma, upbringing, or setback in his life that few people would ever understand. Yet, is it my place, or yours to judge him? Is it my place to refuse to grant them grace? Is it my place to refuse forgiveness for the stupid mistakes made? Isn’t he (or she) still one of God’s kids?
In my Worldview, I believe I should love others as I love myself. Many of the people who are opposed to universal healthcare share this value. Yet, we treat our own kids better than the man down the street. And while this is normal, it isn’t consistent with this stated value. If, 20 years from now (God forbid, please!), one of my kids, or yours, ends up in a terrible state of substance abuse and worse, how would I relate to them? Would I stop loving them? Would I quit visiting – or calling? Would I refuse to provide funds for medical care, for them, or their kids? I doubt it, but it seems like some people are all too willing to cut off those who they have no emotional connection to. Why is that?
One of my friends is a veteran of the Vietnam Conflict. He was an MP and one of his primary duties was to go into villages after combat forces had been through. He spent much of the war putting body parts into boxes and bags – often these were the body parts of women and children. How does a teenage boy deal with this sort of carnage? If you were in Vietnam in the 1960s, you smoked dope, popped acid, or drank (not that this is right, it’s just what happened) – which doesn’t really deal with the issues of PTSD. In fact, current research shows that self-medicating with recreational drugs simply stunts the emotional development of people.
Now, 45 years later, my friend still struggles with drugs and alcohol. Every time I stop to see him, he talks about Vietnam. Every time he talks about Vietnam, some new truth comes to the surface. He is ashamed of his drug use, mainly because he belongs to a church that labels this a sin that will cause him to be excluded from Heaven. Yet I wonder, how many of us could have witnessed what he witnessed (and thousands of other young men and women), and not be radically altered, forever changed, and permanently disabled.
Are there lazy people? Yes. Are their people who would be better served by hitting rock bottom? Of course. Are their people who could pull themselves up by their own bootstraps? Absolutely. Are there people who are victims of their own stupid mistakes? No doubt about it.
But, there are many people who are veterans of a greater battle – a Great Controversy, if you will – between good and evil. Through no fault of their own, they were caught in the crossfire. They are wounded, broken, and struggling to recover from the trauma they’ve experienced, or witnessed. How can we, who have been given great gifts, ever deny these people access to a better life? How can we not forgive people, and give them grace, no matter what stupid choices they’ve made, or continue to make?
Not because they deserve it, mind you. I don’t believe there is an entitlement. This life isn’t fair. In fact, the Bible tells us that the “rain falls on everyone – good, bad, and indifferent.” However, Jesus taught that it is our responsibility to take care of those less fortunate then ourselves. Regardless of one’s beliefs and/or behavior, Jesus said, “Whatever you’ve done for the least of these,” this is what determines your place in the Kingdom.
Can one really argue against compassion?
“Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some sort of battle” ~Plato
A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine described a medical crisis he experienced. It led to him being seen in the emergency department and treated with pain medication. He concluded by thanking his neighbor, wife, and assorted friends for their compassion and empathy. He also thanked the staff at the hospital, where he happens to work. Because Mike has been an adamant opponent of universal healthcare, I asked him what people without these resources would do. He never replied.
What if someone doesn’t have the resources to deal with a simple urgency in their life? What if someone doesn’t have friends? What if they don’t have the emotional tools to deal with life’s everyday stressors? What if they don’t have health insurance? What if they have no one to take them to the hospital? What if they don’t have a phone to call 911? What if they live with this kind of back pain everyday, for years on end? What if, through no fault of their own, they are unemployed, disabled, or broken?