As a longtime professional contract negotiator,
and now-adult daughter of a profoundly impoverished, stigmatized single mom
and newfound public health student,
I’ve been thinking a lot about
the word “deaths.”
A few times daily, I check the L.A. Times for its updates on measurable local COVID-19 impacts. I then check The Guardian for its broader US coverage.
Each time I close these pages, the word “deaths” lingers with me. I’m disturbed by how passive and neutral is the phrasing compared to the reality, which is that
each and every one of those death unit-values represents a human life lost:
all the hugs those life-lost can never give,
the conversations they will never have,
the wounds they will never bandage,
the patients they will never heal,
the hands they will never hold
(all the things that could have been,
had each and every one
of their lives
As someone who’s spent her professional career reflecting at lengths on which word, precisely, captures what’s needed in a given situation,
I find myself compelled to mentally redline—that’s to say, delete and replace with more accurate phrasing—every single reference to “deaths.”
In place of “deaths,” I choose the words “lives extinguished.”
deaths didn’t occur lives weren’t extinguished because that’s just the way the world is;
these lives were extinguished because politicians and other powerful people took actions that, day after day, year after year, decade after decade, reflected their perception that some lives matter more than other lives.
The lives of those who can afford food and gasoline and trips to the hospital? Well, those are the lives politicians globally will be punished, in ways they can actually feel, for not saving …
Those other lives lost? If their live-rs didn’t donate to politicians,
were their lives ever really lived?
I read one of Paul Farmer, MD’s, books before I understood that public health is my calling.
I’m reading another one now, understanding his words much, much more deeply than I did before
(and that’s as someone whose poor single mom of four died needlessly, simply having met disposability criteria for most politicians).
In Infections and Inequalities, Farmer writes about the CDC’s dismissal of need to treat multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDRTB) in poor, rural locations globally:
When we contacted these organizations, however, we quickly learned that the Peruvian position had in fact come from them: it was not “cost-effective” to treat MDRTB in developing countries, went the argument. The number of resistant cases in Peru was too small to warrant individualized treatment regimens, said the experts; all energies must be directed to treating the far larger number of drug-susceptible cases.
Even those rural lives whose tuberculosis it was not deemed “cost-effective” to treat came into contact with others,
who came in contact with others, who then
came in contact with still others,
including “others” in the U.S.
But when only some lives are deemed (politically) worth saving right now, worth expending resources on right now,
it feels so, so very distant that the lives of some U.S. citizens will someday be lost to these failures to act sooner.
Of course, even those lives will typically belong to those who lived with the least:
So, again, to which political powers does it really matter?
Today (and yesterday, and all the many days before),
COVID-19 politically powerful people worldwide passively contributed to the deaths of participated in extinguishing thousands of lives globally because they did not consider those “others’” lives worth the costs of saving.
More by the page, I find I no longer generally believe in neutral “deaths,” when medics and public health experts have been–for decades–sounding the alarms about the devastating life-toll of inequality.
I believe that lives
and bandaged wounds,
and healed patients,
and held hands) are being
not passively lost, and why?
Because some lives,
granted louder voices and longer reaches
due to very particular global political histories and structures,
are not interested in any cost-benefit analyses where moral costs count—
in analyses where the greatest cost of all is any life
Today, I don’t mourn “deaths.”
I mourn each and every life extinguished by failure to act timely;
I mourn each and every beautiful
that life that was extinguished with