On a recent episode of the podcast Public Intellectual, Jessa Crispin interviewed the artist and writer Johanna Hedva about some of the differences between health care in Germany and health care in the US. Hedva is a Los Angeles native who moved to Berlin after marrying a German. Hedva already had longstanding health issues when they moved countries and left their support network, including their family, behind.
That’s a big loss, but one thing Hedva gained was affordable health care. In Berlin, Hedva got immediate access to a team of professionals that included a social worker. The team started by seeing Hedva monthly, “just to get to know them,” because Hedva had multiple health concerns.
One of the first things the German providers wanted to know about was Hedva’s “care network.” Who was in their support system? Friends, family, and others?
This was not a box that Hedva’s doctor ticked just once. The care network was a central project that the team revisited monthly, with every appointment. Together, they mapped and brainstormed about how to build out a circle of care, using a whiteboard and also a paper copy kept on file.
So that got me thinking about what my care network might look like. I haven’t moved countries, but I did move pretty recently, and mentally reviewing my own circles revealed gaps. The kind that internet friends, of whom we all have many, can’t fill.
If we imagine our social network, it’s probably a much bigger circle than the core group of people we can turn to—and that can turn to us—in a real crisis. Or even a mini-crisis. Those are the key people in our circle.
We all need to know some of our neighbors. We all need people we can leave a house key with, who can pick up a prescription for us, and who can sit with us while we wait for news. These are the people who need us, too.
As we talked about last month, the time to nurture your network is before your hour of need. If your care network could use a little work, you can do as Johanna did and begin a diagram. If it includes some blank spaces, you’ll have a picture of what needs to be built, and where the supports need to be shored up.
Make it a living document, and review it every so often. Ask, how strong is my network? How strong are the individuals in it? And: What have I done for them lately? What could I do to support them?
If you belong to a close-knit family or a thriving religious community, where reciprocity is naturally present, these questions may sound a bit transactional.
But if your family is remote, or you’ve just undergone a move or changed jobs, or your friends are scattered, or the folks in your network are all affected by a shared crisis, well, you might need to jump-start the reciprocity, and pour some love in there. When you do, everyone wins.