Keeping things alive

Since my last column, I’ve been reminded of the importance of keeping things alive.

My housemate is a Latino who was granted amnesty under the Reagan administration. He came to the U.S. as a teenager to do agricultural work in Arizona. He worked hard all his life, either in agriculture or constructing oil and gas pipelines. Now, at the age of 64, he is dependent upon Social Security. He is not a rich man, but he is a good and honest man, and has always been a hard worker. Without the benefits of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, he would be dead today.

Ruben’s father was a curandero. For my gringo friends, that means his father was well versed in herbal cures. Ruben had not seen a doctor in 58 years, apart from the time OSHA sent him to a doctor after an accident on a pipeline. When he is sick, he brews teas. Unfortunately, he had never been diagnosed with diabetes, and there isn’t a tea cure for that. Out-of-control diabetes is dangerous. About two weeks ago, Ruben discovered just how dangerous. A sore on a foot progressed to gas gangrene, which is often fatal.

Given his distrust of modern medicine, and the macho nature of many Latino men, getting him to see a doctor for the sore on his foot took some maneuvering, including a medical intervention from a nurse friend. Within 48 hours of hitting the emergency room at Community Hospital, he had a below-knee amputation. The care he received at Community was awesome. He saw physical therapists, occupational therapists, behavioral therapists, surgeons, nutritionists. Now he is receiving home health care. All is being paid for by the Medicaid insurance he was forced to get because of Obamacare.

You may be asking what that story has to do with the political nature of this column. Everything. Our health is the most personal aspect of our lives, whether it be the reproductive health care women need or the ongoing care that a diabetic needs. Ruben is one of the 22 million people who would have no health care if it weren’t for Obamacare.  I am one of the elderly who would have no health care if it weren’t for Medicare — and one who depleted a medical savings account and all personal retirement savings while fighting breast cancer without insurance. I was too young for Medicare and too poor to afford private insurance premiums.

The Trump presidency has instilled real fear among people like me who depend on Social Security and Medicaid and Medicare just to stay alive. We know that the current Congress passed a bill to repeal Obamacare, but it was vetoed by President Obama. We have no confidence that President-elect Trump will consider the needs of the elderly, sick or poor. We know that the GOP has long wanted to “privatize” both Social Security and Medicare. The small-government philosophy has no compassion. If there isn’t a profit in the process it is deemed undesirable. It seems ghoulish to think that someone is making a profit on the suffering of others. They are vampires sucking the health out of a communal safety net.

We can take this analogy even further. Environmentalists are working to keep things alive. Survival of all species, including humans, requires clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and clean soil to produce abundant crops to eat. Climate denial is dangerous to all living things, yet America has just elected a president who wants to undo all the progress we’ve made. His people want to gut the Environmental Protection Agency. They want to undo the regulations that make our air clean enough to safely breathe. They will make it more difficult to keep things alive.

We’ve sold our soul to the profits of an industry that is still facing the grim reaper.  Nobody is talking about peak oil these days, but there is a finite amount of oil on this planet. Eventually technology will be incapable of wringing the last drop out of rock. Instead of planning for a future without fossil fuels, we are stuck celebrating the potential of another boom. Humans are very short-sighted. Keeping things alive requires vision and planning. We are killing other species and our own offspring.

I’ve been disappointed with election results many times during my lifetime. I’ve never been as afraid as I am today. I thought electing Reagan, a B-actor, was a joke — but I wasn’t afraid. I’m afraid that good, honest men like Ruben will face discrimination because of speaking English with an accent. I’m afraid that blacks will be the targets of hate and discrimination. I’m afraid that my LGBTQ friends will see their civil rights diminished. I fear shrinking safety nets for the elderly, sick, and poor.

Claudette Konola is still an environmental and civil rights activist. Comments are welcome at


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