The Privilege of Being Sick
Over the past three weeks, I've been sick in an "off and on" kind of way. The first week, I thought it was just a simple cold and I should get over it in a few days by drugging myself with Advil and Robitussin. Just as I felt like I was getting better, my body made a turn around and it seemed like I was getting the flu. Still, I resisted going to the doctor and held out with my off-the-counter medicine. Again, I felt like I was getting better, but the next day it got worse all over again. I decided that it was finally time to just go see my doctor.
On Friday, I picked up the phone, called my doctor's office, and asked them to give me an appointment that day. They offered to squeeze me in at 2 p.m. and I agreed. I waited for my sister to come home, took the car, and drove 7 minutes to the doctor's office. The weather was getting hotter, so I turned on the A/C in the car. After 10 minutes of looking for a parking space, I finally found one. I entered the doctor's office, put my name on the sign up sheet, flashed my insurance card at the receptionist, and waited for my name to be called. I waited for about 25 minutes sitting in a comfortable chair in a waiting area that couldn't possibly be more comfortable. The temperature was just right. Magazines were available for my reading pleasure. Enough chairs for all patients. Toys for the kids seeing the pediatrician next door.
When my name was called, I finally had my chance to be seen and within 10 minutes the doctor could see that I had a sinus and throat infection. She wrote my prescription, and I went out to pay the receptionist. My parents' insurance covers me, so I just paid $10. I headed to the pharmacy and again flashed my insurance card, got my medicine, paid, and came home.
All the while, during these past few days, I can't help but feel guilty about the fact that I'm one of the most privileged sick people on earth. I can see a doctor whenever I want. My family can afford health insurance and I can afford my medicine. My medicine is always available at the pharmacy. If it isn't available, I'll just drive 1/4 mile further and find another pharmacy that will definitely have it. What more could I possibly want other than to feel better in a few days?
I can't help but think of all the human beings around the world who are suffering with nothing close to what I have at my disposal. The Palestinians in Gaza who are running out of medicine at the hospitals and pharmacies. They wait in long lines for hours in the heat, no comfortable chairs, no A/C, probably no car either as they walked to the hospital on foot or crammed into a bus or taxi. The most "inconvenient" part of my visit to the doctor was having to find a parking space! In Gaza, the patient with cancer is anxiously waiting for her chemotheraphy, but the doctor is afraid to tell her that they have no more doses. The young child with a stomach ache is crying helplessly in his mother's arms as the mother looks to the nurse for help. Nobody can offer her anything. They don't have anything. He's probably just hungry. His mother has been eating bread and tea for days, how is she possibly supposed to have anything to offer this child?
While the Palestinians in Gaza might have a hospital to go to seeking a few pills for relief, the mothers and children in Darfur have no hospital. They have no pharmacy. They have no home. All they have is the tent that can barely block the unbearable summer heat. The few doctors present at each refugee camp barely have enough time to see a dozen or so patients. And what do they have to offer them? Temporary pain relief, if that's possible. What about emotional pain? What about the pain of losing a family member, a body part, a home, a normal life?
I'm really not saying this to show that I feel with the rest of the world and I understand the pain of those who do not have what I have. But, I just cannot help feeling guilty for complaining about my runny nose or scratchy throat or a sleepless night. I don't have bombs or bullets landing outside my house as many Iraqis, Palestinians, Somalis, Ethiopians, and Chechens do.
While millions are starving in the horn of Africa, begging for a drop of water, walking miles to reach the nearest water pump, I reach in the back of my car to find a box of water bottles. The bottle in the seat next to me is a day old, not good enough, so I open a new one. In the grocery store, as I wait for my prescription to be filled, I feast my eyes on vegetables, fruits, poultry, candy, snacks, cakes, whatever I can think of is here; and all this is a credit card swipe away.
How in God's name am I not supposed to feel guilty? How can I not have the urge to pack all the food and clothing in my house and ship it to Darfur? How can I, after an hour of writing this, go back to my normal life? Have a snack, get dressed, go shopping, eat dinner, sip a coffee. All is normal again.
The guilt has left me temporarily, if only to return when I come back in a few hours and check the BBC homepage to remind myself of all the suffering in the world.