He was featured in Sunday's New York Times recently. His name is Patrick and he is disabled from a heart condition, a liver disease, and seizures. He sleeps on the subway trains, waiting for an answer from Social Security disability determinations. As for me, I wait for the same answer. Lately, I sleep in the Y.
It's not that I minded working. I'm bored in fact, which is why I started writing this blog when I went on a short term leave of absence from the job. After a decade of heavy physical labor on the night shift and the graveyard shift, in hot environments with no air conditioning, my body gave out. Enough: no more could I live and work the way I had been. I have a college degree in communications (print journalism) but the HR gods have never given me a chance to show what I can do. So, as picketing farmworkers used to say: Basta! (Enough)
When you work forty hours a week, you have certain reasonable expectations. One is that your job won't kill you, and another is that you'll be able to keep a roof over your head, and I did, just barely. But at what price? Sometimes, after paying my rent or the electric bill or the car insurance (There ain't no subways in Florida, kids) I literally lived on rice for the next two weeks. Rice and ketchup, rice and soy sauce, rice and brocolli grown on my porch, rice and peppers grown on my porch, rice and nothing.
You'd think I'd hate rice--right? Wrong. I love rice. It kept me alive for years. Rice is God's food.
So back to Patrick, a man who sleeps on the F train while he awaits a decision on his Social Security disability application. The New York Times story describes the scar he bears from open heart surgery. Like I do, he also has a liver condition. Two organs you can't live without: a heart and a liver. You'd think it'd be a no brainer, wouldn't you? The man has worked, now let him have his well deserved rest. Let him have his SSD so he can move inside out of the cold. I think about him, on this cold day. He was discharged after the heart surgery, in February of 2006. Where was he discharged to--the street?
Tuesday at 4 AM. After two days and nights of this pain in my back, in both legs from pinched nerves, I dragged myself to the nearest emergency room. There's nothing they could do for me at that moment, except offer me drugs. The irony of this: we spend millions (billions?) fighting a drug war against marijuana...and everywhere the mainstream culture encourages drug consumption. Now it's Prozac for dogs.
The pain this morning, on a 1 to 10 scale, is 11. I'm offered Percocet, Vicodin, a shot...I choose prescription strength Motrin, and walk away with a prescription for more of the same.
Two days later, I'm back in the emergency room. Diarrhea kept me up from 2 AM on. I haven't experienced anything this bad in any recent memory, and I was scared. The hospital kept me around for the day, pumped in some fluids, drew out some blood, and let me know it was an intestinal virus. They did what they could, and they did it well, and they even made me laugh. Now it's back to the street, to the battleground that is my life, in what feels like a long running war against the poor and working poor in my country.