Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Looking Into the Eyes of Poverty

I looked into the eyes of poverty yesterday, and I wish all of those who believe in cutting the safety net programs in this country had been with me.  Please don't go all defensive on me.  I know there are a lot of people who cheat and take advantage of social programs; but, what we need to do, in my opinion, is tighten up our accountability so that these people are not allowed to receive help.  We should not cut the help to those who really need it to survive.

That said, after I got my grandson off the bus yesterday afternoon and his mother came home from work, I went to a local Urgent Care because I realized my cold had turned into a sinus infection, and I didn't want to wait until morning to make an appointment with my doctor.  The Urgent Care didn't open until 5:00, and I arrived at 4:20, so I grabbed a magazine and sat down.  A man came in and sat nearby, and I started a conversation.

We ended up talking for almost an hour, as we waited, and my heart broke as I listened to him.  He is in his mid-sixties, living in subsidized housing, on Medicare and Medicaid, and suffering from COPD.  He is alone, with a little parakeet for company.  He arrived early because the Medicab he called could not bring him at 5:00.  Because he is on Medicaid, the primary care doctors associated with this Urgent Care will not accept him as a patient.  He relies on the ER or Urgent Care for his healthcare needs. 

He is sick and confused about his diagnosis.  The doctors told him he has COPD and some lesions in his lungs -- he is worried that he has cancer, but either did not understand what the doctors told him, or was not told.  He lives in a tiny apartment in our town that costs $645/month and is happy here, but must move to an apartment in the city that is cheaper.  He is worried about moving his parakeet in a cab in cold weather, and really does not want to move back to the city.  He has significant back pain, for which he has been given pain medications, but he worries.

How sad to be old, sick, alone, and poor.  I have no idea what his history is, but I know what his situation is now, and it breaks my heart.  I heard empathy in his words and also regrets, and as I looked into his eyes, I thought, how can we justify destroying the safety net for people like him.  As Congress argues over budget issues, I wish each one of them could look into this man's eyes and realize that for each person who commits welfare fraud, there are several others who are hanging by their fingernails.  What should we do?  Cast out these poor people or offer them a measure of help? 

I hope, as budget negotiations proceed (if they ever really do), the members of Congress who so ardently profess to be Christians will remember the words of Christ:

"Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me"  --  Matthew 25:40

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