Culture At Large

Last week Gordon fell out of a tree

Paul Vander Klay

While the U.S. was arguing over health care last week Gordon fell out of a tree.

Gordon lives in Chorley Park behind the neighborhood where I live, not far from where he grew up. He stays here winters and migrates up to Oregon for the summer. He survives by trimming trees and working odd jobs.

Gordon is schizophrenic. He's affable most of the time, trying hard to stay on good terms with those of us who live by the park. Sometimes people complain and the police try to kick him out but he usually manages find a way to stay. Some evenings you can hear him screaming and yelling at the voices in his head.

Two of my neighbors tried to talk him into going to the emergency room but he refused. He insisted he wanted to at least spend the night (in the park) and he'd see how he felt the next day. When the next day came he finally relented. He had broken his hip on both sides.

When my neighbors brought him to ER they could tell that he didn't get the kind of treatment that either of them would have. ER staff can size people up pretty quickly and just about anyone looking at Gordon can see he's a handful. They eventually took him in and he had a hospital bed for a few days. I can't blame the hospital for not wanting to take him. They know that he'll require expensive treatment and there will be no hope getting paid.

I watched this happen, watching my neighbors and knowing a bit of how this will turn out. I've gone on this trip before trying to get a schizophrenic needed medical treatment.

At first the hospital visit was OK. The hospital staff was great to him and he loved it. Eventually someone would have to come and tell Gordon what the bill would be and Gordon knew he couldn't pay it. Gordon takes pride in paying his own way and by not being able to pay forced him to admit something painful about himself. He could easily qualify for disability but he isn't disabled in his opinion. He works for his own food and pays his own way. He doesn't ask for handouts.

Saturday my neighbors were a distressed. The hospital wasn't going to keep him anymore and no skilled nursing facility would take him for rehab and recuperation. They wanted to send him to a shelter but Gordon won't hear of it.

Sunday AM as I drove to church I saw Gordon hobbling to the Gas Station/Convenience Store where he uses the bathroom after his night in the park. He was there with his new walker. Memories welled up in me of Larry. Larry was an alcoholic who I used to let sleep on the church property. I could not longer let Larry do it when we started a child care center. The last time I saw Larry he had been hit by a car and was sleeping behind the bushes at the church across the street, with his walker.

I invited Gordon to sit in our sanctuary with the other mentally disabled folks from the community who come to get warm and enjoy the coffee before the Sunday events begin. He'd be more comfortable here than on the curb. He graciously declined. He was working on getting a train ticket to Oregon.

I'm glad something passed Congress. I hope it does some good.  At the same time I don't know if this bill will help Gordon or would have helped Larry. I don't really know what legislation would help. Treatment was available for Larry but he didn't want it. Gordon could probably find more sanity through medication, but he doesn't want it. We want solutions mediated at arms length by professionals and programs but in many cases the most helpful application of available treatment for these men and others like them come through men and women who get involved individually and just try to treat them like a person of value.

The people I know that live and work with the Larrys and Gordons of the world are politically diverse. Most of us have ideas of what we'd like to see the government do or not do and we can't always agree. What we do agree on is that helping is hard because brokenness is stubborn. I pray for the age of decay and the coming of shalom.

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