On Chronic Illness and Natural Disasters
On Chronic Illness and Natural Disasters
Looking out for #1 and passing the buck are ingrained and well-worn practices of human kind, going back to the Garden. As Fallen human beings living on a sin-sick planet, we come up with varied and plethoric ways to push to the front of the proverbial line. Our nature is to be myopic. Our lives are full and taxing and we are content to shut the doors, pull down the blinds and pretend that the only world that exists is the one within our walls.
But I don’t believe that the Bible teaches that that mindset is the “mind of Christ.” He sometimes has to slam the door to get our attention and he sends in an aide to help us in our quest to be more like Jesus. That helper’s name is Suffering. It has a very powerful way of not being ignored and is usually effective at prying our eyes off of our little world and pointing our gaze toward others.
I am going to make what I can imagine is an unpopular statement. As much as we hate it, avoid it and deny it, suffering is for our good. It is the spiritual equivalent to a kale and spirulina smoothie–looks awful, tastes awful, but down the road, you WILL be better off having had suffering in your life.
I can’t remember a time in my almost 50 years, of greater suffering for the United States, than now. First Hurricane Harvey dumped flood waters on 530 sq. miles of Texas soil (CBS). Forecasters estimated that 15-20 TRILLION gallons of water filled the houses, businesses and roadways of southeast Texas, destroying what the 135 mile an hour winds didn’t get to first (USA Today). At this very moment, it is estimated that 74 wildfires are/have destroyed close to 200,000 acres of perfect scenery in the western United States. Fires are turning everything people own into ash. Things we tend to take for granted like breathing, are even a struggle as ash from the wildfires fills their air. But wait! There’s more! We have three simultaneous hurricanes in the Atlantic and the largest, Irma, is headed to the United States with a “higher wind intensity longer that any storm in the Atlantic basin history” (CNN).
I know you know this information. They are the stats and blurbs and videos that fill up your social media feeds. I think that this is a time, though, as Americans, to refuse to allow ourselves to retreat into the comfort of our homes and pull down the shades. We have to get out of our comfort zones and wrap our minds around the fact that these are REAL people. How many of our fellow Americans have lost EVERY SINGLE THING THEY OWN over the last few weeks? Hundreds and thousands. They have no changes of clothes, no way to provide food for their families, no medicines or pillows or toilet paper or tampons. Their photo albums and keepsake boxes are either ash or water destroyed. I feel like the United States is on a huge, horrible episode of Naked and Afraid (although, thankfully most of us have at least clothes on our backs).
There are two segments of the population that are laying on my heart like a ton of bricks: the elderly and those with chronic medical conditions. I am sure you probably saw the photo taken of the nursing home residents sitting in cespool-like water up to their waists during Hurricane Harvey. I know, for a fact, that this was not an isolated incident. I used to be a social worker in a nursing home in my younger days. This picture perfectly sums up the attitude and treatment of the majority of elderly in residential care. How can it ever be okay to let another human being, sit in fecal sludge? Especially one who cannot get themselves out of it!? How can we deem someone as having less value because their bodies do not work optimally? Trust me when I say that no older person WANTS to have someone wiping their hineys for them! These people are fathers who have worked hard for their families and mothers who have caretaken for decades. It is just that now is the time they need someone to take care of them. They deserve consideration and common kindness. The Golden Rule is in the Bible for a reason, and it is to remind us to treat others with kindness, for soon, it may be us in that wheelchair.
That brings me to the second group of people heavy on my heart during this time of natural disaster in the United States–people with chronic illnesses. An emergency preparedness/evacuation kit usually contains items like food and water for 72 hours, batteries, first aide supplies, garbage bags, duct tape and cell phone chargers. It gets so much more complicated for those with chronic health issues. Distilled water is crucial, not just initially, but the entire time they are displaced. Prescriptions need to be filled in advance and stored safely. What about meds that have to be refrigerated? How do you keep medical supplies clean in the harshest of conditions? What if you run out? No running by the local Walgreens when natural disasters strike. What about medical devices and pumps that need to be plugged in or charged? What about special food replacement formulas? How does a person accumulate and quickly transport who-knows-how-much formula, that needs to be able to last until who-knows-when? What about people with life threatening allergies? What about those on dialysis? And what about the chronic illnesses that will be made worse by the natural disaster itself or the stress of having endured it?
In an article by NIH, research was done and the results found that “for chronically ill patients, interruptions in medications regimens and needed medical technologies, due to natural disasters, can exacerbate underlying conditions and increase mortality.” I can guarantee, you friends, that there are thousands upon thousands of chronically ill children and adults in the most dire circumstances right now. And I know there are some with chronic illnesses who are simply too ill to evacuate. There is simply too much “stuff” they would have to take. It would be like trying to move a hospital, by yourself, to the middle of a jungle with just a few days notice.
If there ever was a time for Americans to remove the myopic glasses, it is now! These are real, devastated human beings. This is the time that we tell God that we got the memo. Usually, I have found that those most helpful and compassionate in the midst of tragedy are those who are in fact suffering themselves. This makes me sad because they are the ones with the least financial and emotional resources to spare. But that is what suffering does. It is a meat tenderizer for the heart. By its very nature, it sensitizes us the the struggling around us. It forces us to realize that we can’t pretend that bad things don’t happen, because they do, and it propels us to action. When we take the hand of our fellowman who is suffering, often it is because we know how it feels to have to do “hard” alone, and we don’t want that for anyone else. Suffering brings beauty out of ashes. If we can’t find the blessing, friends, let’s BE THE BLESSINGS! Self-sacrifice. Bravery. Long-suffering. Others orientedness. Those are the stones on the path of Christ-likeness. Never was there a better time for us to be the hands and feet and (pocketbook) of Christ.