Empathy Is Easier, After It Happens to You

Reggie Smith
Reggie Smith

When I was first diagnosed with AIDS in 1988, I did not know what to do. I was blessed to be listening to WLIB in New York, and heard a wonderful doctor named Barbara Justice talk about the possible treatments she had for HIV, and the potential for low-dose alpha interferon to be a successful treatment. With a strange combination of faith and desperation, I sought out Dr. Justice and she became my primary care physician. We developed a doctor-patient relationship that was based on her desire to cure or heal me, and my willingness to participate in my own survival.

Our mutual trust became so profound, that I ended up in Kenya looking for a cure for myself, and everyone else dying from the disease by being one of the first to test the alpha interferon protocol created by Dr. Davy Koech in 1989. I did not have a primary care physician before I met her, so I am a eternally grateful for the foundation she set as to how my relationship with my medical team would be for the rest of my life. Like most young people back then, I did not think anything would happen to me that an emergency room or clinic couldn't handle, but boy was I wrong about that.

I was concerned about leaving my hometown of New York to live in Atlanta, because I did not know if I would find another doctor like Dr. Justice, but I did. Dr. Justice guided me to Dr. William Richardson as my next primary care physician once I came to Atlanta, Georgia. We don't have the time and space for me to express my gratitude to him, and all the wonderful medical professionals that have played a part in my wellness to this day. I would, however, like to thank some of the superstars who have been on my team since 1988. Dr. Justice, Dr. Richardson, my present angel and primary care physician Dr. Joyce Drayton, Dr. Mark Armstrong (complimentary), Dr. Kimberly Carter (hypertension), Dr. Sadine (thyroid), Dr. Okolo (liver), Dr. Parikh (corneal specialist), Dr. Kyle Jones (opthamologist), Dr. David Gasdsen (chiropractic), Dr. Brian Pearlman (liver specialist), my buddy and co-advocate Dr. Luther Virgil, Jr., their entire staffs, and so many others that have played such a big part in helping me to live well. They are all the tops in their fields, and I am blessed to know and be treated by them.

I am grateful to have had a union job with the IBEW that afforded me good health care, so that I would be able to afford the care that I have received. I am blessed to be able to receive Medicare so that I can continue to get great treatment. Even as an electrician making decent money, I could never have afforded the expensive life-saving treatments and medications that have been necessary for me to be alive. It is such a relief to have been able to provide medical care insurance for my children and wife. I know, though, that it is by the grace of God that I am able to share my experiences with you.

Here is some wisdom that many politicians and others seem to not want to admit: Something will happen to every human body. We, as humans, do not like to suffer, and we can't just die to avoid it. Currently, my eyes need critical treatment so I can see, my liver will need hepatitis C treatments to avoid cirrhosis or cancer, we are treating the HIV virus and high blood pressure. Thank God there are now treatments available, and useful natural therapies to support them, but what good would it do if I could not access them because I could not afford them? Heck, my sister had a double lung transplant last year and she is better than new! None of that would be the case without medical insurance.

In America, greedy politicians and people who lack empathy use the power we gave them to starve and deny the less fortunate. We can do better than this as a society, but for now I'd say sign up for the so-called "Obamacare" and make the states that are rejecting Medicaid money for the poor change their policy.

I was 28 years old when I went to drug and alcohol rehab, and emerged after 31 days to begin my new life. When I took the job as an electrician, I was more concerned with how much money I could make then I was with the security that my medical coverage would provide for my family and me. As I found out soon thereafter, and realize still today, you never know when disease or accident will afflict you or your family. When we are young, we feel especially invulnerable.

I can tell you from experience that life goes much better for you if you have a close relationship with your medical professional team. You won't have a team unless you can afford it. The only way to afford it is to have medical insurance. If you can't afford medical coverage, the care you get will be minimal and may not keep you well. Yes, it is imperative that we participate in our own survival or lest we will be complicit in our own demise, but it makes sense to have a team.

As I face my latest health challenge, and we all have something to deal with physically, I wonder why anyone would want to deny another human being the option of being able to afford health care. Why does it cost so much anyway? I know that God is in charge and that through faith and effort I will be all right, but I want the same for you. That is how I know it is indeed time to RISE.

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Read Reggie's blog, RISE4WAR -- Focusing on Wellness, Awareness and Recovery.