Saturday, October 11, 2014

The time Ebola came to town - and made me remember when AIDS visited my own family back when

So my 8th grader came home today and said his teacher told the class that Ebola is really an airborne disease... and that they just don't want us to know about it.  An us against them theory being taught at an early age.  And I'm trying at this very moment to breathe in and out before I cause a mom scene and a public school stir.  Because there's already enough stirring going on around here already.

And in the last few days my kids have come home from school convinced that more people have the virus - and that we're all next.  And their school bus skipped a drop off spot and rolled along to the next when the driver saw men in hazmat suits emptying school trash cans.  And I can already imagine important movie idea people flying right into the center of our deadly disease storm hoping to be the first to make a cable channel movie out of the fear. 

And now that the first official Ebola related death happened here .... it's just feeding the fire of fear.  And it's not over because there are too many people affected in this.  And all are in a holding pattern for weeks waiting to see which way things are going to turn out.   

And I understand fear and confusion.  And I understand a need to know more but not really sure what information to trust.  Obviously not the 8th grade science teacher.  But most of all I understand being on the other side of the fear and judgement. 

Because the chaos and confusion reminds me all too much of the days of AIDS.  When it was killing by the thousands and during a time before people really understood how and how not to contract the disease.  And I was afraid at first, too, till I spent 10 years alongside my sister and quickly learned that I had nothing to fear other than the loss of someone I love.  

And her case was unique, as the AIDS virus was, in the 1980's, primarily a gay man's disease.  And first she was in denial and waited so long for treatment that it was just too late.  And then we found that she  - just by being a she - was such a small part of the problem that there wasn't a whole lot of medical research and care devoted to her particular situation.  And as we found out fairly quickly, medications that were tried and tested on men didn't necessarily work the same on women.  And the disease that showed itself in certain forms in men, didn't always show up the same way for her.  

Karen.  That was her name.  

Because Karen, at barely the age of 20, married young and into a relationship that proved to be less than honest, and less than she had set her heart on.  And so finding out that she was now alone and sick and in an all new place in her life, she came home.  And to Parkland Hospital in Dallas to receive experimental care for full blown AIDS.  Those were the scary words of the day.  And I can remember more than I would like of nights in the county hospital emergency room, and of the hours standing in line for her at the hospital pharmacy, and the eyes of others that looked at her, us, as now somehow different.  And I can't and don't blame them.... because I was doing the same.  

And I remember a particular church that told her she was welcome there, but they didn't want her in their kitchen.  And I think those words more than any in the entire span of her sick years, hurt more than any. And though they were words spoken out of ignorance, they were as painful as ones intended to tear and destroy.  Because that's exactly what it did.  And it gave me reason to question what I had believed as truth for so long.  A belief that the church is a place where all are welcome.  

But lines got crossed, and people listened to fear instead of reason, and words that cut like knives came out of otherwise, thoughtful and loving people. Because there aren't a whole lot of things bigger than fear and hate.

And y'all, I've done the same.  Spoken out of turn and out of ignorance and anger and fear and whatever else the moment's motivation may have been.  I've done the same.  That's worth repeating. 

And I would like to think that life has taught me to stop and listen before I speak.  And to think about how something may or may not be received before I just carelessly put it out there.  And to listen with my heart and mind and with reason and expectation and hope.  And not to listen with fear and misunderstanding.  But I can't make any promises. 

And I remember the excitement she had every time she would get a new experimental treatment... think seaweed treatment, even, at one point.  Because Parkland was and still is a teaching (and learning) hospital.  And these were the days before the miracle, life extending drugs available to HIV and AIDS patients now.  But along with the excitement came soon thereafter the disappointment when whatever she tried didn't work.  And thinking back on all of that now, she and so many at that particular time were pioneers for those to come later on.  (Since the epidemic began, an estimated 21.8 million people have died of AIDS worldwide.  17.5 million adults, 4.3 million children under 15. Source: UNAIDS)

And in her last days I put a poster above her hospital bed, full of pictures of Karen before her illness, so the doctors and nurses could see the person that was there, not just the illness that was there.  And now?  I remember back on those years with the biggest bunch of thanksgiving and love for the extra time I had with her and the valuable lesson in counting my moments.  

And I don't know anymore about Ebola than my son's 8th grade science teacher.  But may I suggest that before we turn on our TVs and give the bad news any more of our valuable time, that maybe we need to invest in knowledge and preparing ourselves for the best case scenario  - while at the same time trying to understand the dangers of the worst. 

post script.... and in 1995 upon the death of my sister, I received a phone call from a local pastor who offered words of support and hope.  A pastor that at the time was not mine, and had only heard of our story through a friend.  It was Dr. George Mason, pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, and the pastor of our church home now.  Dr. Mason being the one who has provided such loving support for Louise Troh and the rest of the family touched by the Dallas Ebola incident. And I can claim absolutely no part in our church's ministry to this family in the last days,... but I am over the top thankful to be a part of a church full of loving people who have.   

Would you like to comment?

  1. Thank you for sharing your inspiring story, our family too went through much the same with Joe's brother who like your beloved sister also lost his life to this disease. We pray for all medical/lay people who are fighting all types of diseases as we all go on with our lives without so much as a thought of their wonderful work.


Love your comments. Leave Your comments.