Daniel Malito compares rebuilding after Sandy to living with chronic illness.
Despite the fact that I have had no power, heat, or means of accessing the Internet this week, I wanted to put together a small piece for those of you in the New York/New Jersey Tri-State area that I know are suffering from the effects of Superstorm Sandy. I have fortunately been returned to full power myself mere hours ago, and it is certainly a welcome change. Even so, surviving for five days without power has made me do things I thought I’d never have to, and made me figure out ways to survive that I thought had gone extinct with the Dodo. I actually bought an axe and had my brother chop firewood simply to keep warm! Thinking about it though, this storm and the way people have reacted parallels with the way we deal with chronic illness.In the week leading up to the storm, the newscasts warned us of a potential catastrophic storm surge. Since most of us lived through Hurricane Irene, which caused mild flooding at worst, many of the residents here did not take the warning seriously this time. What a mistake that turned out to be. Just like with my illness, I underestimated the seriousness of the situation, and pushed ahead anyway. The result was the same whether talking about my disease or the weather – I paid a terrible price for not listening to the warnings. Be it a trip to the hospital for a dislocated hip or the search for a generator when stores had none at all, I suffered the consequences.To be honest, though, what really moved me the most was the plight of the families who lived in Breezy Point and other hard hit communities. They not only had to deal with severe flooding, but on top of that there was a raging fire that swept through the town and destroyed over 100 homes. The images of the tragedy are stunning, and the devastation is complete and total. Many of the people there have nowhere to live, and won’t be able to return to their homes for months. If you talk to any of the residents there, though, one thing becomes clear. In the face of one of the most horrible disasters to ever befall the town, almost every single person who was interviewed vowed to rebuild, whatever it took. No matter how long it might take, they said, they would be back. Sound familiar?I won’t dare compare losing a home with all of its memories and possessions to suffering from chronic illness, but there can certainly be some comparisons drawn. First, suffering a fire and a flood at once reminds me that many of us who are ill must bear the burden of more than one condition at a time. Whether it be R.A. and Osteoporosis or Lupus and Diabetes, it never seems to be one problem at a time. Just like in Breezy Point, these “disasters” can destroy a person, both physically and mentally. Even being cut to the core and down and out for months, we always come back. It is a testament to the indomitable spirit of human beings that whether the tragedy is personal or widespread, we persevere. And yes, most likely, it won’t be the last time the residents of that waterfront berg called Breezy Point will taste tragedy. Indeed for many of us as well, our latest episode probably won’t be our last. That doesn’t seem to matter, though, as so many of us know so well. There will always be another bridge to cross and another river to forge. I think someone from Breezy said it best when he was asked if he would return to rebuild his home. He said “Of course. I live here.” The same can be said for those of us who are trapped inside a body suffering from chronic illness – it’s where we live. No matter what destruction befalls us, we rebuild, even if it takes years.So while it might be harder to find that undaunted human spirit during the current tragedy, rest assured, it is alive and well in Queens and other hard hit areas. Those of you who suffer from chronic illness and are safe in your warm houses with power flowing, spare a few minutes to read about the plight of people who are just as strong as you are. We have asked people to give for so many years, let’s do our best now to help people who share that same unflinching, unconquerable passion.For those of you who want to help the residents of Breezy Point, the information is below. Thank you very much!