The Medically Vulnerable People In Our Society Are Not Disposable

None Of Your ‘Needs’ Override The Safety Of Our ‘High-Risk’ Citizens

April 30, 2020 Updated July 2, 2020

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Scary Mommy and Dana Neely/Getty

It’s the word “just” or “but” that does it. “Well, it’s just people with underlying conditions like heart disease and diabetes who need to worry about coronavirus.” My friend and fellow Scary Mommy writer Rachel says she’s tired of hearing people say things like this. Rachel has type 1 diabetes and is therefore considered high-risk. I totally understand her frustration. Can you imagine being the human being behind the “just”? Can you imagine what it would feel like to be offered up as a sacrifice without your consent?

Another friend of mine, Dana, is in a similar position. She has an autoimmune disorder that forces her to spend every day of her life managing migraines and inflammation and joint pain. Dana’s husband Byron has been battling brain cancer for over a decade. Dana and Byron have two daughters, one in middle school and one in high school. I asked Dana how she feels about the implication that she is an acceptable sacrifice. “People can’t see past their own experience at all,” she said. “They don’t care if our kids are orphaned. They don’t think about what would happen if everyone with a pre-existing condition died.”

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Listen, I get the eagerness to open up the economy. As a musician and freelancer—a career that is pretty touch-and-go even without a global pandemic—I’m afraid for my financial future too. I feel deeply for families whose entire livelihood depends on a single small business that is now considered “non-essential.” The family that owns the flower shop down the street. The little secondhand furniture store where I’ve purchased several pieces. Massage therapists, beauty salon owners, house cleaners. I get it. Me too.

And I feel the urgency of needing to be around people again. My partner lives 1400 miles away and I have no idea when I’ll get to hug them again. I want someone to tell me it’s okay to fly again. I miss them.

But I’d rather suffer financially than see my friends or family get sick with coronavirus. I’d rather get behind on my mortgage or get my food from a food bank or wipe my butt with old socks. I’d rather wait a little bit longer to see my partner again even though the ache from missing them feels like a gaping hole in my chest. No, this is not how I want to live. But this disease is not how I want my friends to die.

Sadly though, as my friend Dana pointed out, too many people cannot see past their own circumstances and their own livelihoods. In my local COVID-19 Facebook community support group, a member had the nerve to comment, “It’s all you weak immune system people that need to be worried. [We’re] the type of people that play in the storm not wait for it to pass over.” This dude was defending his right to gather with hundreds at a local watering hole to go mudding.

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I mean, fuck anybody with a compromised immune system, right? Oh, and also, fuck their families who would have to live without them. I mean, as long as you’re healthy, Billy-Bob. No matter that you could be an asymptomatic carrier to a medically vulnerable person. No matter that your need to play in the mud could literally kill someone else. No matter that you likely purport your hypocritical ‘pro-life’ (anti-women, ahem) ideals. Idiot.

It doesn’t help that ol’ Billy-Bob’s attitude is endorsed by political leaders under the guise of being concerned about constituents’ mental and physical health. Scott Ellis, the clerk of courts for where I live in Florida (lol of course), said on his Facebook page last week, “Poverty also causes death and devastation. All businesses are essential to someone.”

Some days it feels like every comment section I venture into is riddled with people saying the medically fragile should “just stay home.” Or worse, it is implied that they are expendable. Dana pointed out that when it was being debated about whether the elderly would be glad to die to save the economy, there was no mention of what opening the economy would mean for other high risk groups. “Not only do they place no value on elders,” she said, “but we young disabled are even less important. We must have no life worth living at all.”

I’ve seen mentions of “darwinism” and “survival of the fittest.” As if members of our society are expendable the way weak members of a herd of animals are left at the periphery for predators to pick off first. People, there is a name for this: It’s called eugenics.

Scott A McMillan, a piece of shit attorney from California, tweeted (and then dirty deleted), “The fundamental problem is whether we are going to tank the entire economy to save 2.5 percent of the population which is (1) generally expensive to maintain, and (2) not productive.”

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What the actual fuck is wrong with this absolute rotting trash heap of a human being?

The compromise offered by some is to allow the vast majority of the population to return to normal while those at risk remain in isolation. Simple, right? Well, no, actually, it’s not. I think when many people imagine a high-risk household, they picture an elderly couple living alone together, one of whom has, say, type 2 diabetes or perhaps a heart condition. It’s easy to imagine this sweet elderly couple simply foregoing outings for the foreseeable future and having some generous soul from their community delivering their groceries to their doorstep. How quaint!

But that’s not reality. Most households with high-risk individuals contain a mix of low- and high-risk people. My sister’s family of six has two high-risk people, one who is in her seventies and another with an autoimmune disorder. My friend Dana’s household is half high-risk and half low-risk. Of Rachel’s family of six, she is the lone high-risk member. So, most high-risk households can’t just “stay home while everyone else returns to normal” unless they also isolate everyone else in their household as well.

I don’t have an answer for how to avoid economic collapse, for how to save the small businesses that so many families have worked so hard to build, for how to shore up the livelihoods of artists and freelancers like myself, even though I think these things are very much worth saving. I suspect that the solution will be a combination of social solidarity and widespread community support along with a massive injection of capital provided by the government to assist the people who are suffering financially.

What I know for sure, though, is that whatever solutions we come up with, they need to have the protection of our medically vulnerable citizens in mind. We are not herd animals dumping off our weak for the benefit of the strong. We are better than that, or we should at least endeavor to be. Our brothers and sisters are not disposable.