The loss of Bernie Mac is a sad thing and I, like so many others, recognize that there is less laughter in the world without him. I will miss his very down to Earth sense of humor.
I know his passing has also hit many people in this community deeply because of his other disease, sarcoidosis. I myself heard the news while at work and was momentarily stunned as I tried to process the information. I could not help but try to apply it to my own circumstances, which I am certain is a normal response; after all, in some way Bernie was a member of a special club that we are all carrying membership cards for.
There is something that bothers me about the news stories and the articles surrounding the tragedy of Bernie Mac’s death. I think my concerns, though, are different than most of the issues that have arisen. My first concern is that the Mr. Mac’s family are being hounded by so many agents in search of a new twist on this story and that so many opinions about his life, his disease and his death are being publicly raised by people who have no actual first-hand knowledge of any of these things. From personal experiences I know that losing someone is a grueling occurrence and the added attention of the media or, worse, gossip from wanna-be journalists and experts can only add to the burden that the family must be dealing with. This family has enough to cope with and needs time to be together to sort through this most unexpected of events without the obnoxious intrusion of various microphones, cameras and interview-hounds.
I know that many want more information as they try to come to grips with the unexpected passing of Mr. Mac; but how much more so is the family struggling to come to that same feeling of being able to understand and move forward. The members of this community can be most supportive by not helping to spread the speculation and not feeding the machine that provides it. In due time much more information around the occurrences leading to Bernie Mac’s death will arise, but there is certainly no reason why the general public should be on a first-to-know list regarding these details. The most supportive and respectful thing that any of us fellow sarcoidosis sufferers can really do is to share the fond memories we have of Bernie and his work while we patiently allow his family the privacy they deserve.
The second thing that is bothering me about the events since Bernie Mac’s passing is that there seems to be a sense on this board that he should somehow be redefined by his diagnosis. Bernie Mac was a talented human being who obviously had a compassionate heart and a lot of humor to share with the world; he was a husband and a father and so many other things that to simply try to define him as a celebrity with sarcoidosis is to do him a disservice. Let us not give the disease so much emotional power that it becomes how we define people. Mr. Mac said on several occasions that he was in remission and there would be no reason for him to hide behind that word. Perhaps there is some actual evidence, somewhere, that he had a recent flare or was on some medication but it still should not be of concern to us – he should not be on trial for his claims of remission. There is no reason to think that the hospital, physicians or coroner would break so many felony statutes as to forge a cause of death.
It is discomforting to think that there are those who want to say that the role of sarcoidosis in celebrity deaths is being covered up. To try to suggest that sarcoidosis is a stigmatized disease is to do a disservice to so many people, both those with sarcoidosis and those who have fought so hard to overcome the stigmas of their diseases whether it is HIV, mental illness or cervical cancer. We should rejoice in the fact that we can tell people we have sarcoidosis and they don’t start donning hazmat suits or shielding their children from us. Let us please not try to recast sarcoidosis sufferers as lepers of the 21st century.
There is something else everyone here should know. The most commonly diagnosed illness among patients admitted to the hospital is pneumonia. There are apparently many misconceptions about pneumonia and how lethal it really is. Pneumonia can be caused by a variety of bacteria, each with their own idiosyncrasies. People with chronic lung disease such as active sarcoidosis, asthma, emphysema or COPD are at higher risk of contracting the disease as are people with diabetes, immune disorders, undergoing recent surgery, smokers and anyone who drinks alcohol regularly. The disease can be lethal to any age group from newborn to ninety-nine (or more). Although it may seem rare for someone in their early 50s to die from pneumonia, it is not as uncommon as we all might like to think. Before the advent of antibiotics the mortality rate from pneumonia was unbelievably high and to this day patients who forego treatment are unlikely to get better. The complications that can arise from pneumonia are not exactly a short list, but it does include heart problems, pneumothorax, respiratory failure and septic shock. Any of these conditions increase the likelihood of death significantly and they do happen; I see at least one of these a week on average.
Pneumonia is not an uncommon disease, sarcoidosis is. Just because someone has sarcoidosis does not mean it is the root cause of all other ills in their life, though. I have known patients with terminal cancer to die from pneumonia. The leading cause of death in pregnancy is still car accidents. The single diagnosis of sarcoidosis does not set the stage for everything else. It may be one of many factors that could play a role in susceptibility or in making something more difficult to treat, but I think it is much more likely that the common thing was simply a common thing. Let us please not give this disease such power over us that we blame it for the other ills in our life. Such a mindset will never lead to overcoming the disease.
Ok, I’ve said my piece. Sorry it was so long…