It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year since the passing of our friend, Mary, aka @homelessdallas1, on Twitter. You can read my original column from August 2020 here on Invisible People. I thought it would be fitting to remember her in my column this month.
I know her friends would agree; Mary should never be forgotten. Her story is like so many others unfolding as we speak.
Some people embrace the idea that as long as we are alive, there is hope that life will get better, hope that our health will be good, and hope that we will soon find ourselves in better financial standing.
In the modern world, messages of hope and happy endings surround us. However, for too many people, poverty and destitution leave little room for hope.
If you are a realist, you cannot embrace the concept. To hope is to be let down over and over again. Being a realist, not a pessimist, is a survival tool. Of course, we can “hope for the best and brace for the worst.”
But that is also being a realist. There is little hope of life ever getting better or back to normal for most in our situation.
Mary’s life would have been very different had she been wealthy. The health care provided by an expensive, robust health plan in America is quite different from what a Medicaid recipient will receive. There are a great many things Medicaid and even Medicare do not cover.
While some may try to make the case that Medicaid patients get equal care, I know people who strongly disagree, including several doctors. The reality is, if you have the money to pay for a top-of-the-line medical plan or can pay out of pocket, you can get a very different experience.
Take dentists, for example. Outside of New York City and other large metropolises, dentists who accept Medicaid are few and far between. So, even if you find the service, you may not be able to access it. Or, if you don’t like the doctor or dentist that accepts your insurance, you may be stuck with them anyway.
With the advent of “concierge medicine” or “VIP medicine,” those who can afford it get prioritized. The debate goes on about the ethics of this system, but money always wins, ethics be damned.
Mary had cancer while homeless, often getting chemotherapy and then going back to the street that night or a shelter if it were possible. I can’t imagine her suffering.
I had a coworker who would come to work after chemo and be so sick she could barely do anything. She was in and out of the bathroom puking, but she could not risk not coming to work for fear of losing her job. I imagine that it must happen to other people, too, and my heart goes out to all of them.
Of course, Mary’s health issues didn’t end with cancer. She had a long list of severe health issues as well as some mental health issues.
In the last few months of her life, she told me she was staying at her friend’s apartment while her friend was in lockdown elsewhere. After she died, I was fortunate enough to have a conversation with her generous friend, who gave me some information about Mary’s life and situation. I chose not to reveal everything because I respect Mary’s privacy. I’m sure she would have if she wanted to share specific facts with the public or with certain people. It was not my place to share it all. However, I did divulge that the apartment was not her friend’s place; it was Mary’s! That’s right. Mary’s sister and a friend worked together and got her into a modest little apartment. Unfortunately, Mary didn’t seem to understand that it was her place and not someone else’s.
You see, people don’t understand what being chronically ill for many years can do to a person. They understand even less the difference between starting homeless in good health versus starting homeless in poor health. Once you become homeless, your health is highly likely to deteriorate regardless of how healthy you were at the beginning. Chronic stress and sleep deprivation are enough to destroy anyone’s health. That is what happens to nearly all homeless people.
I’m not sure what circumstances made it impossible to get Mary into an apartment sooner. However, she certainly would have waited longer for public housing to become available. At least she spent most of the lockdown indoors, and she was able to die in her own bed.
The autopsy revealed that she died of severe heart disease, which is not surprising. Chronic stress alone leads to inflammation, which leads to heart disease. Then when you add chemo, cancer, living on the street, and other factors, it’s easy to foresee this outcome.
It also points to a tragedy that happens to too many people. By the time they get housed, it’s too late. Their health is beyond the point of return. There was no way to get back on their feet after years of chronic stress. As a result, they cannot work.
Some people develop serious conditions like cancer or heart disease while homeless, but society doesn’t care. People like myself are worthless. Out contributions to society prior to falling on hard times do not matter. The only thing that matters in this greed-driven world is what you do to help line the pockets of the wealthy. If you can’t work and pay taxes to line their pockets, you are labeled a liability and worthless. They’re not going to invest in giving you decent health care or anything more than a disgusting slum apartment where you can “live”. They probably delight every time one of us dies in such a place – one less useless burden to have to help.
So today, please remember Mary. Please remember all the good souls who fell on hard times. Remember those of us who cannot afford housing and have or will soon die as a result.