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In the Aftermath of Hurricane Maria, as a Puerto Rican With Multiple Sclerosis

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Upon the aftermath of Hurricane María, I scroll down my Facebook newsfeed frantically with the hope that I will see my family members. I have yet to see them. I scroll down desperately to see how my fellow friends of the Puerto Rican multiple sclerosis community are doing. I have yet to hear from many. Those who have logged on do so to comment about how lack of water and overwhelming heat are exacerbating their symptoms, about how they are afraid of getting a relapse when they have no way of getting to their neurologist because their streets are flooded and obstructed by fallen trees.

I scroll down with the hopes of seeing something that resembles my island, “La Isla Estrella.” But I see nothing. Many of our landscapes are destroyed. Our Yunque National Forest is destroyed. Our state university is in ruins, and the lifeless bodies of our beloved cotorras (parrots) lie on its pavements. They used to greet every student with their songs. I wonder how long it will take to hear them once more.

I scroll down and see our people dancing bomba y plena, sharing their food, their arroz con gandules. After five days of scrolling, however, Boricuas’ (Puerto Ricans’) semblances change. I begin to see the look of despair taking over. That look of “we’ve been abandoned.” And while I know that they have not, do they? Do they know that the diáspora is looking out for them? That New York, Florida, Chicago have run to their aid? With the power out and very few telephones working in Puerto Rico, chances are that many do not know.

While solidarity has been substantial, as I keep scrolling down I am also reminded of the apathy and indifference of one too many people. I see how our president (one we Puerto Ricans did not get to vote for) treats us like second class citizens. I see images of people crying in absolute agony. I see how many in the rural areas have lost their cattle, their horses, their fields. I see the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital, in the verge of tears because she is afraid that first responders will not be able to get to the elderly and the disabled in time. I scroll down a few hours later and hear the mayor, who is now crying, reporting that two patients on life support have died because hospitals have not received the aid that they need to run properly. I scroll down and read about how a woman who could not walk without assistance drowned in her flood-ravaged house. I scroll down and read how doctors are working more than 24 hours straight and pushing themselves to the brink of physical exhaustion. I scroll down and read that our president is going to visit the island next Tuesday. Puerto Rico can wait.

It has been five days since the hurricane and I still have not heard from family. But today, the 26th of September at 10:30 p.m., I got a call. It’s Adalinda, a friend and a multiple sclerosis patient. She immediately says “I’m OK.” I can hear the coquíes, our national animal, singing in the background. I am glad to hear both of their voices…

If you want the help Puerto Rico and its MS patients, donate battery operated fans and disposable ice packs. The latter is needed to preserve their life saving medication. Adalinda is struggling to find ice, and has already lost one week’s worth of medication. I am sure that many other patients are in the same situation. Please donate. Save lives.

Photo courtesy of Roosevelt Skerrit via Flickr

Originally published: September 27, 2017
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