A couple of months ago, I went to see the doctor because I had been feeling tired. What spurred me to actually go was the fact that I was going to be turning 38 in July. The year my sister turned 38, she was diagnosed with a thyroid condition. One of her first symptoms was fatigue. She had encouraged me to have my bloodwork done, since there is a genetic component to thyroid issues.
So after explaining to the doctor about my sister, and my fatigue, and the fact that I have two children under the age of 5 and I just know that’s the real reason I’m so tired, but I just have to find out for sure, the doctor gave me a prescription for lab work – a complete blood analysis plus check for folic acid and B12. I went to LabCorp with my prescription in hand at 6:45 am on Friday, July 3. The sign in the window read, “CLOSED JULY 3rd DUE TO HOLIDAY.” So I went back home and spent two more tired days at home until I could go back.
I returned on Monday, again at 6:45 am, along with twenty other people! Everyone quickly formed a line to sign in and proceeded to sit down and wait. Everyone was thinking the same thing, I’m sure. “This is going to take forever.” To pass the time, I picked up a dog-eared Redbook magazine dated sometime last year. As I waited, I could hear the elderly couple a few seats away debating if they were going to stay and wait or go to breakfast. I was hungry too, since fasting was required before the blood draw.
Considering the number of people she needed to attend to, the woman behind the counter was exceptionally efficient and friendly. She called us up quickly, one at a time, and confirmed what the regulars were there for and added information about the new patients to her database. Finally, everyone was seated.
Then a man came in and approached the counter. His hair was disheveled and he was very thin. It looked like he was ready for a flood because his pant legs were much too short for his lanky frame. A thin belt held up the worn jeans he had on. I couldn’t hear what he told the woman at the counter, but I did hear her say in her commanding voice, “I need you to come around and step inside please.” She then told him that before she could do any additional lab work today, he would need to pay his balance in full. I actually could make out his quiet response. He said, “But I don’t have that kind of money.” They stood there looking at each other for several moments, and then she said, “Well, I’m sorry I can’t help you.”
The man quietly walked out of her office door into the waiting room and headed slowly, outside. I could see him sitting on the windowsill outside of Pizzano’s. He pulled out a cell phone and called someone. Then he lit a cigarette. And then he walked away.
A few things went through my mind in those short minutes. One was, I wonder how much he owes the lab? Another was, if I asked everyone in this room (which now numbered probably close to 30) to donate $5 to help this man, we could hand him $150 right here and now. If I asked for $10, there would be $300. And it didn’t look like anyone at the lab that day was hurting too much. Then another voice in my head said, “You don’t know his story. He’s got a cell phone. He must have some money, some means to handle this on his own. Let it go.” But ever since that day, I can’t stop thinking about him. I wish I wouldn’t have let it go.
Years ago, when I was fresh out of college, I lived in Seattle with my then boyfriend who was in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. Our circle of friends was made up entirely of optimistic young Catholics fresh out of college looking for some real world experience to put on their resumes. One friend in particular worked at a men’s shelter in downtown Seattle where panhandling was not uncommon. Rather than hand out money, which would likely go toward the purchase of alcohol or drugs, Adam handed out resource cards he made on the computer – listing shelters, emergency food banks, counseling services and their phone numbers. This young Republican insisted that there were plenty of agencies and programs out there that could help the needy and disenfranchised.
Well, on my drive home that morning I thought about Adam and his cards and I wondered what local agency or program would handle helping this man here in Lake Wales? I wish I had known. I wish I wouldn’t have been afraid to step out of my comfort zone, sitting there reading my magazine, waiting my turn so I could go back home to my home and my family.
When I got home, my husband said he sees the same scene on a regular basis in Orlando where he works as a firefighter. People who can’t afford health insurance or who don’t have jobs that provide it or those folks who simply have no means to provide for themselves (often due to drug problems) are very often the people they have to respond to in the middle of the night. These people have no network. They often have lost family and friends. They have often lost themselves.
So here I am, finding myself awake in the middle of the night asking myself these questions, “Am I my brother’s keeper? Is it enough to donate my time or money to churches or to causes? What kind of moral imperative do I have to answer to when we see strangers in need? What will I do the next time I am confronted with an unplanned choice in my daily life? Are non-governmental organizations and faith-based programs able to provide enough care to the disenfranchised without seeking the aid of our federal government’s dollars? Is health care a right for every American? What would Jesus have done?”
What about you? What will you do?