Last week a friend of mine, Eric, passed away at the ripe old age of 45, two weeks shy of his 46th birthday. I say ripe because he was in what should have been some of the best years of his life. While we were not close friends, and he certainly had his own burdens to bear, nevertheless, I considered him a friend. But what has continued to gnaw at me since I heard of his passing is a common thread that he and I shared.
Eric lived in AZ. He had been unemployed for some years and was living with his parents while looking for work. Just over a year ago, his father passed away, and that was difficult for him to bear. After his father's passing he began to focus on eating better (healthier) and keeping up a regular exercise routine. During that time he'd lost about 50 lbs. and had commented that he was excited about being able to fit into size 36 jeans for the first time since college.
Back in the 90s, Eric had fallen in love with an abandoned art-deco theater in the Tucson area (the first in Tucson) and worked tirelessly to get the city to buy up the property and renovate it to its former glory. He didn't have any luck. Meanwhile, the property was purchased by a private entity and was subsequently renovated. We attended the grand re-opening of the theater in the fall of 2002 and he was on the verge of tears as we wandered into the auditorium with the massive art-deco style chandelier as the ceiling's centerpiece. Much was still to be done to finish the renovation, but Eric explored the place like a kid a Christmas. He showed me the seats where he and his friend would sit when they broke into the place during college. He told me more about the projection room than the tour guide could have ever explained.
Late last year, Eric began complaining of abdominal pains. Because he was unemployed, he did not have the privilege of seeing a regular doctor. Instead, he had to attend a free clinic funded by Arizona's public health funds. He went several times, trying to get someone to help. The doctors told him that he was anemic. The doctors told him he was being a hypochondriac. He was turned away again and again. He continued to experience the persistent abdominal pain.
Last week, Eric had dinner with his mother and appeared to be fine. He went to bed. The next morning his mother heard him cry out in pain and he fell on the floor. Rushing to see what was wrong his mother found him on the floor, doubled up in pain, having defecated on himself. She tried to clean him up and realized that he had become non-responsive. She dialed 911. The paramedics arrived and worked on him as best they could. But he was gone.
An autopsy later revealed that Eric had an ulcer which had eroded through his stomach. In effect, his stomach ruptured into the peritoneal cavity.
Back in 2002, I began to experience abdominal pain and regular persistent heartburn. Having health insurance, I spoke to my doctor about it. He started me on Prilosec. When things got worse, he had me go in for tests to see if I had something worse, which I did--a hiatal hernia and classic gastric reflux. A few years later, my doctor had me undergo an upper GI endoscopy which revealed a small ulcer. Through treatment, my ulcer healed and a second endoscopy last year showed that it had healed completely.
For all of his faults and foibles (and there were several), Eric was a good person. I saw it when I got to spend time with him. But even if he was a misanthropic ass, he did not deserve to go the way he did.
The same tests and treatment available to me would probably have saved Eric's life. But today, Eric is dead simply because he had the misfortune of being poor. And I'm still alive to tell this story.