When the “periphery” is just a few feet away
Building a relationship with a hospital roommate turns life around
by Mary Young
Recently I was hospitalized, supposedly for three days. I was hoping for a private room, but none was available. When I got settled in, I saw that my roommate was lying in bed in the fetal position with the covers over her head and her lights turned off.
When I introduced myself, she did not answer. I thought to myself, “This is going to be an interesting three days.”
My unnamed roommate’s TV was on. I thought she would turn it off as night fell, but I realized she was not even watching it, and it was on for the whole night.
Early the next morning as staff began the task of taking our vitals, giving meds, I noticed they called her Miss Lake. When they left, I called out to Miss Lake and again told her my name was Mary — with no response. About 10 minutes later I hear from across the closed curtains, “Georgia.”
I thought to myself: Okay this is the beginning of a conversation, but nothing happened. When breakfast trays were delivered to us, I asked Georgia what she got and once again no response for about 10 minutes. Then I heard: “pancakes.”
Great, I thought, this is the beginning of a real dialogue, so I asked what was on the pancakes and she immediately began telling me. I was thinking that this was the opportunity that God put before me to love my neighbor unconditionally.
Georgia and I began a simple conversation that soon developed into a deep sharing on her part. She was homeless, HIV positive, a drug addict and had shingles in both eyes. She was also schizophrenic-bipolar. She lived in my same city and had a family that could not deal with her. Worst of all, she had been in the hospital for three months and was well aware that no one wanted her, and that a bed in a suitable shelter was not available.
One evening after my visitors left she told me, “No one comes to visit me.” So I offered to share my visitors with her and made it a point to introduce her to everyone who came to visit me. She had been a difficult patient for the nurses and other staff who dealt with her.
One day the Eucharistic minister who came to bring the Eucharist to me entered the room and called my name. Georgia answered on my behalf indicating that it was my room. I entered behind the minister, said that I was Miss Young, and she gave me Eucharist. Then she asked me what I wanted to pray for, and I said I would like to pray that a home could be found for my roommate. The minister was a bit taken aback, but Georgia was delighted.
She asked Georgia if she wanted to receive the Eucharist. “Yes,” replied Georgia — I was surprised since I knew she was not Catholic and the Eucharistic minister did not even inquire, but then I thought that if Jesus were here in person (and he was in the Eucharist) he would go out to Georgia. Georgia very devoutly recited the Lord’s Prayer.
My stay was extended to eight days. Georgia shared about her family — four children and six grandchildren. She showed me the file that her social worker left with her. It contained her family’s contact information. However, no one came to visit her, and this was very painful.
Little by little, we talked about mutual love that Jesus asked us to have for one another and about loving everyone, which she was quite open to. So we tried to love everyone who came into the room.
The nurses and food staff could not believe the change in Georgia; one of the food staff servers said to me, “You must be an angel — Georgia is so different since you have been her roommate.” Other roommates had asked to change their room — I knew differently since love conquers all.
When I was released, I promised to come back to visit. I had the impression she did not believe me, but a few days later I showed up with some candies that I knew she liked. When she saw me she hugged me so tightly I thought I would fall over, and she is a tiny woman.
I asked if she needed anything and she asked for some jeans, a shirt and underwear. I shared this need at home, and we put together these items. I purchased the underwear. This was the tangible sign for Georgia that she was loved.
In the meantime she shared the phone number of her son with me. I called him and discovered he had power of attorney over her affairs and had been out of town. I told him what I was doing on her behalf, and he was grateful.
I was dismayed that our city could not help this woman and that she was not in the right place to receive the services she needed. She signed a note allowing me to inquire with Social Services on her behalf about her situation. As an elected public servant, I visited the office of Social Services and gave them my city business card, a copy of Georgia’s note and asked to speak with her social worker.
They were not happy that I was “putting my nose in her affairs” and said they would get back to me. The next time I visited Georgia, her curtain was pulled and I heard a deep voice saying, “Ma’am, you need to come out.” I thought it was for the roommate so I did not move, and then four burly security guards with hands on their guns opened the curtain and escorted me out of the room and out of the building! They said the family did not want her to have visitors.
I was shocked and wondered what to do. I knew Georgia would suffer since I was the only one consistently showing up to visit. After a couple of days, I decided to call her son. He already knew about the incident and told me that he was not the one to place such an order and that his mother was quite upset.
The next time I went to visit, she was gone. I was able to track her down and continue to keep in touch. She told me her “happy days” (the drug-induced ones) were over and that she is now going regularly to therapy and taking her meds.
Georgia is becoming a new person, and love is helping her to discover herself as whole again. I discovered that sometimes, the periphery is only a few feet away.
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