Aside from day to day getting around Cairo, when we needed a lift to or from the airport, or to do touristy things, there were two brothers we would call. They were reliable and kind, and easy to get on with. The only time one or the other of them were ever late was when one of their mother-in-law’s had just been taken to the hospital.
He came, apologizing for being late, and explained that his mother-in-law had, what sounded like, a stroke. He was clearly upset and frustrated as he explained the hospital wouldn’t admit her, because in order to do so he’d have to pay 10,000LE (at the time, about $1,250, the equivalent of what he probably made in 4 or 5 months, even with his decent job of owning his own taxi service) up front. They wouldn’t even let her in the hospital unless the family paid that amount. A sum that was completely unavailable to them, even with decent incomes and extended family chipping in.
A few minutes later, he received the phone call. She died. She died, sitting in a car, outside of the hospital that could have saved her life, because she was too poor (though, really, not that poor—they were pretty a pretty standard Egyptian family) to be admitted.
This story has caused shock, and some indignation, with almost every Westerner I’ve shared it with. It is appalling. But then, too, there are those who shrug. Resigned that this is how the world works, and hospitals need to stay profitable to remain open.
Sure. It is how the world works. But it is not a reality we should be resigned to. People die of preventable diseases and lack of access to available medical care every day. And not just in Africa. People in the US have to make difficult, horrible choices, and many of us are only one or two major health scares away from having our lives and financial situations crippled.
And we can help. We helped out our refugee colleagues all the time with medical treatment and expenses during our time in Egypt, because some of them couldn’t afford Egyptian care, and because the medical services for refugees were extremely limited. In the US, there are GoFundMe pages to help with family medical expenses. Churches step up and provide meals for families with health crises.
All the time I see people stepping up and emulating the Good Samaritan, and we are all better for it.
But I also like what Martin Luther King, Jr. said about the Good Samaritan. He said,
I think the Good Samaritan is a great individual. I of course, like and respect the Good Samaritan….but I don’t want to be a Good Samaritan…I am tired of picking up people along the Jericho Road. I am tired of seeing people battered and bruised and bloody, injured and jumped on, along the Jericho Roads of life. This road is dangerous. I don’t want to pick up anyone else, along this Jericho Road; I want to fix… the Jericho Road. I want to pave the Jericho Road, add street lights to the Jericho Road; make the Jericho Road safe (for passage) by everybody…
The Good Samaritan is good, but you’ve still gotta’ fix the road to Jericho.
For those who can’t afford medical care in the US, or end up with astronomical unexpected medical expenses, they can turn to family, friends, or community for help. But some people can’t. Many people can’t. Some people don’t have a Good Samaritan, and the Jericho road may soon get too full of the broken, beaten, and bloodied that no number of Good Samaritans can help them all.
Can we work on the road? Can we make it safer? Can we work on the things, in this case access to medical care that people can afford and count on, that are resulting in people bloodied and beaten? Wouldn’t it be great if people stopped getting robbed and beaten on the Jericho road?
Shouldn’t we try to make healthcare accessible to those to whom it is inaccessible? Shouldn’t we care about companies making medicines affordable? In one of the most developed nations in the world, can we all agree that people who don’t get the available care and drugs they need because they can’t access it, is not ok to be resigned to how the world works?
Can we stop pretending that people sitting in a car outside dying, because they can’t afford to enter, is a reality only in less developed nations? When 60% of bankruptcies in America are the result of medical bills, can we agree that is a road that needs fixing?
I read on a blog recently,
“Praying for God to move, and remaining stationary isn’t admirable—it’s cowardice. It’s looking around at the frightened, hurting, wounded people in our midst and shooting up a quick 911 call to the Almighty and continuing on with our day, instead of rolling up our sleeves and getting our hands dirty by stopping other people’s bleeding.”
We can and should keep helping and praying for people one by one, but we also need to fight for the things that could help bring wellness and safety to many.
Wherever you stand on the issue, I hope we can all agree that healthier people make up a healthier nation, and no one should die, or even remain unwell, when they could be well. Whatever you think the solution is, we are still called to care for the least of these. You can be a Good Samaritan or you can work on the road to Jericho, but we must do something.
Bearing His Burden. Acrylic on Canvas. 2009.