Dealing with health and medical concerns are probably, for Catholic hermits, dealt with much as any person in our times deals with health issues. However there are some unique considerations for a hermit. But first, let us consider how hermits of yore handled their medical and health problems.
In general, hermits of all centuries past either lived in total solitude or near or with others such as those in lara's (grouping of hermitage cells in closer geographic configuration to one another). Some in what we can loosely term as hermit orders or those hermits who had followers choosing to live nearby or in adjoining cells or dwellings, lived in a type of community. Those who lived in more isolated locales often did not have anyone nearby to check on them often nor to tend them if ill or injured.
We can pretty much get the idea of what life would be like for hermits of varying living situations. Those in greater solitude would have to turn to God to see them through--either through the illness or injury or through to heaven! If someone would happen along and discover them ailing, then the hermit would be taken to receive help or be tended, or word would go out to others such as a family member or other contact out in the world. A family member or other contact, or church member then might come and tend to the hermit or take in the hermit until healed.
When the hermit lived out from a monastery, for example, when the injured or ill hermit was discovered by one or other who checked on the hermit on occasion or when the hermit did not return to what was often a given time period to see the superior at the monastery, the hermit would then be called out of solitude so that he or she could be cared for.
St. Seraphim the Sarov was discovered badly beaten in his hermitage and was brought back to the monastery to be tended and spend the rest of his life (much to his displeasure!). When Godric of Finchale became ill, the nearby monastery assigned a priest to go tend him until he improved. Eventually, the monks took him in although he was not a religious but was a traditional, privately professed, consecrated hermit.
St. Paul of Thebes and St. Mary of Egypt were found dead in their cave cells. St. Rosalia of Palermo was not discovered until four centuries had passed. She appeared to a man in his dream and told where to find her relics in a cave; the purpose included a message that if the townspeople processed with her relics a terrible plague would end. (And it did.)
It seems obvious (at least to me and hopefully to you, dear reader) the way of medical treatment in previous centuries. Herbs, blood-letting, prayer, crude surgeries--these treatments summed up their options. We can assume those who lived in solitude without much contact with outer world resorted to some desperate measures and then gave the results to God alone.
Recently, this nothing consecrated Catholic hermit has had some health issues more than the usual intractable spinal pain that radiates to various parts of the body. There has been no capability to have health insurance for years due to loss of career and insurance and then being deemed uninsurable. Since Medicare privilege was not far off, the past two years a fine was paid rather than sign for a government insurance program that was extremely costly with very high deductible. Far less costly t pay the fine and pay one's own costs.
Hermits today do need to have their own source of financial sustenance. We do not have the luxury of that blissful simplicity of what seems an envious stricter separation from the world. We have to pay our taxes, pay our medical costs, pay for our bills required of anyone living in our times. There is no place on earth we could just go and set up our hermitage such as in a cave--someone owns the land, even if government; laws and regulations constrain such freedom.
For me, my hermit life style has been formed all the more, year by year, by His Real Presence. He provides the circumstances and situations of present moments. As mentioned in previous post, an unexpected thumb wound did not respond to hermitage-remedies. Computer technology helped secure diagnosis through a distant friend's daughter, an ER nurse. I quickly became quite ill and had incorrect advice from an urgent care physician assistant; but the internet contact with the friend relaying to her daughter the symptoms, brought the warning to get to a hospital emergency room immediately.
Thankfully, I was yet able to drive there despite disorientation setting in. It is quite a distance into civilization. Immediate care was provided as the doctor knew what to do with IV, x-ray, blood tests, lancing the wound. He did not think the splinter would come out and hospitalization would be necessary; but I thought to ask my angel, Beth, to assist the doctor. Victory! More antibiotics, dressings, splint, instructions to return immediately if any signs of worsening; return for recheck in 48 hours.
Then there was the matter of hospital personnel coming into the ER bay, asking for contact information. I had none. Surely you know someone in the area? Well, I know the first names of the new neighbors, but they maintain strong boundaries; and the wife was going to be gone, and I'd not asked their permission. We finally settled on someone hundreds of miles away. It only provided the detail the employee needed to fill in the blank.
A few weeks ago this hermit had to go into a clinic to get medication refill scripts. While there, I mentioned how very fatigued--and also the nausea that now occurs fairly regularly. Was it from the consistent increase in pain that has persisted now since before Christmas? Or was there something else going on with the body? The doctor ordered blood tests.
Now, prior to receiving Medicare just prior to appointment, I would not have done the blood test due to costs. But it seemed best to try to discern what is causing the fatigue and nausea...in case it was not radiating pain. (I actually hoped it was something other so that either my time was drawing to a close on this earth and with this pained body, or I could do something such as some dietary change or take some medication--and, much better!)
The results came. All is normal. It is the pain on the increase as I age. What to do about that? Meds were slightly increased, and the nausea is something this hermit now prays to embrace and adapt into the daily routine. Thus far, the body has not been well enough to consistently be up daily. Some days, yes, and I am trying to increase physical stamina.
Diet is the usual way I maintain health: consume that which is simple, fresh, healthy. Take whatever supplements are known to help, even if slightly, a body with constant pain. Each morning the first food is a drink of dark greens, flax, coconut oil, fruit, cucumbers and water. (I call it Green Glory.) Drinking plenty of water is critical. This past winter when in way too much pain, the body was on the mattress for extended periods of time; not enough water led to some dehydration. So made myself drink more and keep better track, plus added some coconut water to the regimen.
It is rather amazing how living in such circumstances, that I've not needed more costly medical treatments--and then this sepsis poisoning came along. Thanks be to God it all is working out, and for whatever reason, the Lord has me slowed down for now, unable to do much manual labor. He handled the situation with timing perfection and the distant friend just happened to be visiting her daughter over the weekend. I had just enough ability to drive self to hospital; by evening untreated, septic shock would have set in. And, marvelous that after all this time, this happened soon after Medicare came to save the financial strain!
(Prior, for two shoulder surgeries, I had to use the now long-gone inheritance from my late parents. Even so, if I'd not had Medicare, one can negotiate payments. In fact, the hospital the other day gave me financial aid papers to fill out and mail in. When the money is low, God provides.)
For other contemporary Catholic hermits (or hermits of any variety), their health and medical considerations depend upon where they live, what insurance they may have, their finances, their contacts, and the degree to which they have evolved in solitude and simplicity.
As to seeking medical treatment, I recognize that I have to tend and fix whatever can be tended and fixed. Broken bone, blood poisoning (sepsis), pain issues, eye glasses, dental work (no more infections wanted!)--probably would forego hearing aids...! I must keep functioning, doing the praying, the writing, the spiritual consulting, the listening and loving and encouraging of family, friends, strangers--and keep at the manual labor as long as the body is able. We have that responsibility to keep our bodies operational as long as God desires and wills.
In my situation of such severe pain, since my family is reared and into adulthood, when and if I do contract a terminal illness, there will be no treatment other than whatever medication available to handle pain until death. I have no idea where I would be--probably remain here the next year. (Am running out of money to sustain self and need more energy to finish the hermitage renovation.) There is no money for long term health care. A family member has offered that I could live with them, but that may not be best for them, depending upon stage of their lives. A couple of long-time friends have offered a bedroom in their homes. Of course, some accident such as falling off the pole barn roof might be a quick conclusion.
Yes, I have considered that while here, it could be a week or more before anyone would realize something had occurred. One family member sends messages or calls within a week, and a childhood friend living a thousand miles away or more sends messages via her phone to my laptop. After a few days she would be concerned, as would no doubt the daughter.
A young woman who has recently made contact had a dream that I died and was in here without anyone knowing. She emailed her dream and thoughts, which of course were upsetting to her. But for me, I had recognized that real possibility a couple years ago when there was not the contact with family member or childhood friend--not often. So I am used to that scenario, and it would be quite acceptable to me in this phase of my hermit vocation. Solus Deus!
Yes, I felt quite secure the other day, as I felt His Real Presence was calmly guiding the aspects of the unexpected medical emergency. I sensed my angel helping drive the truck and assisting the doctor with the little miracle of that piece of wood coming out unexpectedly, from the thumb joint. Victory is the Lord's!
Part of the serenity of such health and medical matters is found in a recent grace--following the death of my will now four weeks ago this morning.
Last rites--or more accurately viaticum (Holy Communion prior to death)? Some hermits in great solitude would unlikely receive them from a priest unless in a final illness that is known to others, or if the hermit is being tended by someone who would summon a priest near the end. Having lived in more heightened solitude now, and grasping how the Lord is very present, making His abode in me more manifest (at least I sense and appreciate it more now), having viaticum and last rites is not really a concern.
I know His Real Presence will provide in all things--especially in the passage of my soul from this body. What a glorious experience and moment that will be!
God bless His Real Presence in us! Little children, let us love God above all things (including the things that cause worry) and love one another as God loves us!