Around our ears
Challenges on all fronts: Very few escape the repercussions of a sick system. But can the system be fixed soon enough to save us?
When you read about these survivors, you will find yourself wondering if it’s fiction. It will be so tempting to categorize it that way — a relief. You don’t want the stress of knowing that it’s true.
But none of this is fiction.
These people are real, still alive, and deeply suffering.
I am sitting across from a person I once knew to be vibrant, ambitious, engaged. Now she just looks really sick.
“The world is either going to change in some really significant ways, or it’s going to end,” she says to me very slowly. Each word is clearly annunciated, pointed.
A fork clinks against a glass of ice water as she moves her hand on the table. Her aura is agitated. She keeps her eyes closed to limit external inputs, but it’s clear she’s in pain. Just the act of speaking is hard for her.
I remain silent and wait for her to continue.
“The seas are rising,” she adds, with a wry smile. “Pacific island nations are disappearing.
“Disabled people all over the world feel like they’ve been abandoned to die,” she goes on. “Some of them for decades now.
“Everybody’s got a fight to fight. People's lives are at stake. Even people who basically have what they need — who would consider themselves normal and stable — see others through slitted eyes, wary of someone who might take advantage of them, or who might ask more of them than they can give.”
She stops to breathe. She looks exhausted.
I offer up a reflection. “Everybody’s got to protect what they’ve got.”
“Yes,” she says. “It’s falling down around our ears.” Then she rambles forward quickly as if she’s trying to get it out before she loses her capacity to speak coherently: “Sick people are left with other sick people to support them. It is only other sick people who know what being this sick feels like. And the people who aren’t sick don’t realize that they will be… any day now.”
As we continue to talk, continue to navigate these long, awkward, pregnant pauses, the comical nature of the world we’re talking about becomes more obvious. This world of strange, complex, chronic diseases; this list of conditions with intersections in neurology, endocrinology, immunology, gastroenterology, metabolomics, metagenomics, the little wondrous lives of microbes and mitochondria, dozens of other fields I cannot remember to name.
Maybe I’m slipping; maybe I’ll have a disease like these one day, too.
Maybe I already do.
“The health care system is made for people who can navigate it,” she says. “If you’re too sick to navigate it, what should you do? How do you get help?”
That system is dancing around a series of subjects it doesn’t seem to want to talk about. It seems to feel threatened by those conversations: The toxins in our foods. The microbial implications of the overuse of antibiotics. The expectation that any person inhabiting a supremely overstressed, under-resourced environment could possibly still manage to be balanced and healthy. And the damage money does — when a few people have it and the rest don’t.
“I don’t know what it’s like in other places,” she is saying to me now. “But in America, if you mention natural or alternative medicine in the system, doctors start behaving like assholes. There are millions — millions! — of patients who don’t get good results from anything but the alternative care, or they are badly hurt by the mainstream care, but they can’t get the alternative care, because they can’t afford it.”
“And how many more people are there that never get the chance to be patients at all?” I say.
She opens her eyes and gazes at me.
I’ve got her attention because I have understood what she’s trying to tell me, I think.
The system itself is sick.
Can a sick system help us get better?
Are we going to have to think of something else?