Guest Blog Post: Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired

by | Mar 3, 2015

“I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.” – Fannie Lou Hamer, Civil Rights and Voting Rights Leader

On Monday, Feb. 2, I was admitted into UAB’s Spain-Wallace hospital for a lung infection due to an exacerbation related to my cystic fibrosis. Last Monday, Feb. 23, I got the PICC IV out.

I didn’t get the IV pulled because I was healthy, but because the medicines had done all they could do. Meaning this morning I started my day by coughing up blood. This is not uncommon when I am sick, although it was more blood than I can ever remember coughing up.

So, what is my point? Before I get to that, the past few weeks I spoke to my doctors about potentially moving from Birmingham due to how the air pollution may be affecting my health. The two doctors — the two I respect the most for that matter — both said two things:

  1. Making an educated guess, they believe the air pollution in Birmingham is probably exacerbating my lung issues by about 20 percent. For reference that is more of a negative than the most promising drug studies claim to help.
  2. That when all things are considered, moving would probably be a wash at best.

When discussing environmental regulations, one of the biggest arguments I hear is this, “Well, they should just move.” Of course, for many people who live in poverty, moving away from environmental pollution is not even an option.

From an economic point of view, I am fortunate enough to have those resources. Yet, when all things are considered, the doctors agree moving will not help me from a health perspective. Despite air pollution contributing to about 20 percent of my health problems, we have to consider other factors having to do with health care and support. It turns out that the area that is best for my health care is the worst for my health, due to environmental pollution. So “just moving” is not a solution for me, either.

It’s time for people to wake up! Apathy and political inaction literally hurts people. The number of people who die every year due to air pollution is on par with the number of people who die in traffic fatalities. That doesn’t include the much bigger number of people who suffer but are not dying. I have a hard time being close friends with people who don’t support my political organizing. This is because someone’s lack of solidarity is not just hurting anonymous people — it is hurting me.

At this point though, I don’t organize for me. It is too late for me. My scars are too deep. Scars that don’t heal. Scars that are both mental and physical (in my lungs). But it’s not too late for others. I refuse to stand idly by and let this system hurt others like I have been. We need action. We need to organize.

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” —Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.


About the Author

rob burton
Robert Burton is a resident of Birmingham’s Highland Park Neighborhood; a patient of the Cystic Fibrosis Center at the Kirklin Clinic of UAB Hospital; and executive director of Magic City Agriculture Project, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to build a local green democratic economy and food system as a method of sustainable community development and building economic, racial, and environmental justice.


About The GASP Team
Gasp is a nonprofit health advocacy organization based in Birmingham, Ala. Our mission is to reduce air pollution, to educate the public on the health risks associated with dirty air, and to encourage community leaders to serve as role models for clean air and clean energy production.
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