Thursday, January 29, 2009

Cold Winters

I cried this morning...and still cry thinking about him; about his last thoughts, his last hours. He was 93, but now he's gone. He had been a veteran of WW II; fought for the freedom of his countrymen. Ninety-three was the same age my Mom was when she died just 3 months ago, so I liken him to her in some respects. They probably had about the same amount of money, which was next to nothing. They were both independent characters--you could tell--but that may be where the similarities ended. Mom died peacefully in her sleep, in a bed, in a warm room. Mr. Schur was found dead on his bedroom floor, wearing a winter jacket over four layers of clothing. He froze to death days after the electric company out in Michigan, installed a power-limiting device due to unpaid bills more than $1,000.

The tiny little article on the front page of my newspaper ended by saying his death "has led to outrage, soul-searching and resolve never to let something like this happen again." The tragedy is that it happened even once! And how many other times has it happened that do not reach the news? And, whatever the size of his community, were there not a thousand people who would not be willing to give just ONE DOLLAR if it meant this man would not die is such a degrading, horribly inhumane way?

I wonder who it was that was sent to his house to install that device? Did that person just do the job assigned to him or her, or did the person take the time to knock on Mr. Schur's door to find out more about the situation?

Where I used to work, very soon after starting in their employ, one of the doctors I worked for, who had a strong reputation for reaming out those who worked for her, gave me a hard time for exhibiting compassion when a patient called. You can't spend time on the phone with them, I was told harshly. No other lines were ringing at the time, nor was anyone standing awaiting my attention, so I was confused as to WHY an extra few minutes of compassionate conversation was being chastised.

There were many times that I chose to fill out forms, compose letters, make phone calls to electric companies or other utilities, on behalf of patients who had to literally choose between paying their bill or purchasing necessary medicine to, in some cases, remain ALIVE! Even as I write this, my breathing is restrained just at the THOUGHT of them having to make such a decision! It IS, as this little news article points out: an OUTRAGE! The outrage is that someone was "just doing [my] job" and apparently felt no responsibility to take the next step. SOME thing! ANY thing! Go to their boss to get an extension; call a local church for assistance; see if a neighbor could help in any way. SOME thing!

My utility companies have programs that offer the option to pay more money in addition to what I owe, to help others who have trouble paying their bill. I also know that for that one doctor that seemed heartless several years ago, I had the good fortune to observe countless others at the same facility who were filled with compassion and dedication to their patients. Aside from physicians and electric company employees (who are just doing their job, nothing more, nothing less), it does make me, even hundreds of miles away from this poor, departed soul, search my own heart as to ask the same question that was posed by an expert of law, to Jesus (Luke 10:29): "who is my neighbor?"

There is NO JOY in reading about Mr. Schur, bundled in layers of clothing, dying on his bedroom floor, in the cold winter of Bay City, Michigan. It is an atrocity that now leaves me not only in tears, but without words.

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