Recently, I had an opportunity to learn about the fragility of our country’s current health care system and its social safety net. At the same time, I renewed my appreciation for my community and my Friends meeting.
I had spent a wonderful week caring for my friend Tia’s dog Freckles and for her house in Bremerton, which is near my own home in Bellingham. I was delighted to meet some of Tia’s friends and neighbors during the week, people who also provide support to her and Freckles.
It was Sunday, and I chose to attend Bellingham Quaker Meeting via Zoom. As I shut my eyes and settled into the silence, I felt at home and comforted by the presence of the Spirit and familiar Friends. Then Freckles let me know that she needed me, so I opened my eyes and stepped away from the computer for a short while. When I returned to the computer and watched myself sitting down in that tiny little video display, I wondered if it was true that it looked like my mouth was drooping on the right. At the rise of Meeting, I asked if others saw this irregularity. A few responded “yes,” so I called my son, who is a nurse, and he advised me to call paramedics. They arrived and transported me to a hospital in a nearby town. The hospital in Bremerton had been closed for a year.
All the rooms in the ER were completely full, so the paramedics put me in a chair in the hall. The doctor who saw me there was attentive and ordered tests. Suddenly, the halls became chaotic. A crowd of stretchers and paramedics rushed in. An elderly woman waiting in the hall began to complain of chest pains. Finally, a paramedic administered an EKG to her, right there in the hallway. No doctors or technicians seemed to be available.
After quite a long wait, I received results from the tests they had done on me. No major stroke was found and, because I was not in danger of immediate death, they could release me. Fortunately, I had managed to break through the terrible cell phone coverage in the hallway and told a friend where I was. She had arrived to wait with me, and she took me home. It was obvious to me that my situation was not unique.
If I had been a poor person, or with no family or friends to help, I would have been stranded several miles from home. The buses don’t run on Sunday in Kitsap County.
When I was a child living in poverty, I discovered creative ways to get my needs met. As an adult, those skills have served me well in helping my family and others. I have been employed in the fields of education and social service almost exclusively. Now I see those public institutions and many others fraying and crumbling.
To get the diagnostic tests that I need now has become exceedingly difficult. Insurance restrictions and staffing shortages seem to be limiting what many health care providers are willing to do. How long will that paramedic be willing to do EKGs, when he has no one to turn to if the results show an actual heart attack? Providers are leaving the medical field because of exhaustion, but also because of impossible ethical challenges.
For thousands of years, common people have been exploited and pitted against one another by those seeking wealth, power, and their own advantage. This situation is no longer viable. Our large corporate and pseudo-civic organizations are failing. The continuation of humankind and many other species on our planet requires a profound change in the way humans structure our interactions with all of the rest of life. Change is not only needed but inevitable. Will our role in this change be intentional or will we merely allow ourselves to be swept up and carried away to whatever awaits us?
Most of all, we need a reliable and loving community.
Surrounded by an unraveling society and a crumbling infrastructure, the best resources we have to fall back on are one another, especially within our local communities. To think we can look to national solutions for our practical everyday problems is unrealistic. In the short run, our best solutions will be neighbor to neighbor, friend to friend.
Perhaps some of the rules that have held us in check for so long need to be examined. For example, if you have electrical issues in your home, you might consider asking for help from an unlicensed electrician. Although such work would not be warranted and might not meet building codes, it might be necessary. While this could sound like a regression in public safety, it is actually a solution to some of the unnecessary complexity that burdens us and contributes to our current crisis. Many rules have legitimate utility or were put in place to protect the licensed professionals and craftspeople whose livings depend on these regulations. But some rules, frankly, are illogical and even harmful, and they exist solely to protect the privilege of the wealthy and corporations.
Modern Quakers are concerned with more than our own comfortable communities. We care deeply for all people and for our precious planet. To promote the kind of person-to-person changes the world needs, Friends will need to reach out and plant seeds of community in places where community seems nonexistent, especially in places where resources are scarce, which are often in rural areas. And we need to work in places where resistance to change and misinformation are prevalent.
This is a significant undertaking – promoting community while facing attitudes of competition and individualism, while facing stereotypes, which we often hold ourselves. We know the myth of small rural communities, bristling with heavily armed men. However, even though rural communities are generally conservative, they also suffer the most from unfair distribution of services and amenities, compared with the suburbs. Some rural communities are making efforts to organize their own food banks and other essential services.
What Bellingham Friends have found in helping rural communities during natural disasters is that the people there are generous, gracious, and eager to work cooperatively with others. Most of them, like most of us, are Euro-American settlers, victims of the same oppressive forces. We need them, and we would gain from their acquaintance.
If we are to survive as a species, we cannot afford to shelter ourselves on a little island of comfort and joy. We must do what we can to inspire others to come together in community, however that may develop. ~~~
Mary Hansen is an attachment trauma therapist and a member of the Western Friend Board of Directors. They are a member of Bellingham Friends Meeting (NPYM).