Kristina, and the quandary of giving

It’s my last night of vacation in Chicago, and I can’t sleep. I spent five lovely days here visiting two close friends, enjoying the beautiful weather, and seeing bits and pieces of the city. It’s been five days of bonding, relaxing, and unwinding, and altogether, it’s been very pleasant.

The last three days, though, the contentment has been mingled with distress. One of my friends is in DePaul University’s PhD program, and another member of his program is caught in a bind that is nothing short of heartbreaking. Kristina is a young woman rendered disabled from a lifelong struggle with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and, as a result, chronic pain. She can’t work in the U.S. due to her immigration status, and on top of everything, her fiancé was recently diagnosed with two aggressive forms of cancer. As of this fall, DePaul is no longer offering student health insurance because “premiums have skyrocketed as a result of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act” and Kristina will have no health care or income to cover her medical costs, which are mainly for pain management medication (and given the stress of her situation, most likely for antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications as well).

This is upsetting to me for a number of reasons. For one, by terminating health care coverage, a university is not taking care of their students. It’s difficult enough for students to have to deal with red tape in securing financial aid, registering, repaying debt, etc. Many schools are gaining notoriety for responding poorly to student victims of sexual violence and offering them little support or justice. Ceasing to offer student health care is just another example of schools showing more concern for money than for their students’ physical and mental well-being. For another thing, I’ve struggled with getting medication—in my case, solely antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication—without insurance and frankly, it’s a bitch. Even with insurance, I’ve had to go through hours of phone calls with the provider, my pharmacy, and psychiatrist in order to get full coverage of all my medication. I can’t imagine what Kristina will have to go through to make this work without them.

Perhaps the most upsetting thing to me, though, is realizing how little support Kristina is receiving from other people. Forget the school—the entity—the lack of individual support is astonishing. What if this was you? Your family member, your friend? Wouldn’t you look to others for support? So many of us proclaim our support of gender, racial, and LGBTQ equality, of equality in general. Equality for the disabled is also a thing, and even though having open dialogues about equality is incredibly important, so is taking action to do what we can to help those who are negatively impacted.

And yet, this raises a difficult question: what action can we take? I’ve been working in various nonprofit fundraising offices for about four years, and now I’m about to start a graduate degree program myself. I’m extremely busy, I live paycheck to paycheck, and I’m pretty broke. I hate feeling like I need to stop working for nonprofits in order to give more time and money to nonprofits and other charity causes. Most people I know are in similarly tight situations in terms of finances and time, and the reality is, we don’t have money or time for everything. Plenty of us can give $5 to a cause and buy one less beer next time we go out, but we can’t give money to everyone for everything. How do you choose?

I don’t have an answer for that. Some of Kristina’s fellow graduate students have started an online campaign to raise funds for her, and I’m happy to see a pretty solid chunk of change has been secured so far. I got to spend some time with her this week; she’s lovely and her courage is admirable. Asking “why her?” or thinking “she doesn’t deserve this” serves no purpose, in my mind. Even if there were answers that could suffice, these aren’t the right questions. What can we do going forward? How can we help each other? What can we give of ourselves and how? In the same way it doesn’t matter at the end of the day if we say we love someone unless we treat them with love, it doesn’t matter if we say we’re allies of marginalized groups if we aren’t taking action to educate others, raise awareness, and find solutions to help these people. I’m not sure what to do next, but I’m going to keep trying to figure it out.

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