It amazes me what people can get used to. I had the privilege of having my dad visit me this past weekend. After he left on Tuesday morning, I went to visit a few families I had been meaning to see. I started with an elderly woman we call Laura. We deliver food to her and her family each evening. She suffers from various ailments such as stomach upset and joint pain, all of which are made worse by her depression. A year and a half ago her husband was walking in the street when he passed group of drunken men fighting. They got too close and knocked him down, breaking his leg. He crawled back to his house and has essentially been in bed since. In addition to all of this, they have a very low functioning special needs son who is now in his late 30’s.
They live in a cane and tin house with dirt floors. There are always a lot of animals inside. The state of their home is definitely one of the worst. Due to allergies, and the numerous animals, it is often difficult for me to breath while I am there. On this particular morning, I was invited in, and brought into their one room house. Laura’s husband was awake and I sat next to his bed to talk to him. Laura and their son were still asleep nearby in the tiny room. I was talking to him about his health and just visiting in general. Laura was asleep with two cats on her curled up on her face. I would imagine they helped to keep her warm. She stirred in her sleep and the cats hopped off her and settled on the bed. It should be noted that when I say bed, I mean wooden slab with blankets.
The cats now off her face, Laura woke up and began to roll over. As she rolled over, she pulled a twelve-inch dead rat out from underneath her. At this moment, I was sitting about eight inches away from her and the rat. I wanted to scream and leave more than anything. I don’t know if the cats brought the rat there, if it died in her bed, or any combination of those. All I know is she proceeded to give the rat to the cats and they started to play with it.
I was so incredibly glad that I was in the house alone. The following day we had a group of volunteers coming to work with us. I could only imagine what would have happened if they had been with me. I could not even imagine what my father would have done if he had been there. I tried my best not to look to upset, and continued to talk to Laura’s husband. The both of them acted as thought nothing had happened. I waited awhile before I excused myself and thanked them for the visit saying I had other tasks to get to.
The truth is, I ran from the house all the way home. Rats are a normal part of life here and I have gotten used to them. However, I cannot imagine the frequency in which you have to handle rats to get to that level of comfort. While I was slightly horrified by the situation, I could not help but feel extremely sad for Laura and her family. They did not think twice about the rat in the bed. To me this speaks volumes. While I may not be able to rid all the beds of Guatemala from rats, I will continue to try and do what I can for each of the precious people who are brought into my life. I believe if we are able to do something to lessen the suffering of someone else, we are required to do so. Even if that requires us to be uncomfortable.
Fast forward a few days and the group I mentioned from Pennsylvania is visiting. They have all been here with us before, and reminded me of a woman we had visited previously. I had honestly forgotten to visit her and was glad they wanted to see her. When you have 20+ people waiting to talk to you about their problems every night, it is unfortunately easy to let a couple accidentally slip through the cracks. The woman we were going to visit had been in bed for 13 years. At the age of 25 she had a series of strokes that left the left side of her body totally crippled. She is unable to move her hand from her chest and her legs are twisted behind her. She has lost all ability to speak and communicate. She lays in her bed crying and yelling. She now requires diapers and is totally reliant on her care giver. Her sister is supposed to be taking care of her, but unfortunately is not attentive.
Once when we went to visit the woman we asked if they bathed her and they said yes, but the last time was two months ago. She has bed sores and has only gotten more crippled from being left in bed for 13 years. It is heart wrenching, I know. Unfortunately, the worst is only yet to come. This woman’s mind is 100% intact. She is a prisoner in her own body. We walked into her bedroom and she began to cry with excitement that someone was there to visit. I knelt by her bedside and she held my hand. The only way she can communicate is by touching hands. I explained to her that we brought her some chocolate ensure so she would have something else to drink besides coffee. She began to repeatedly tap my hand with excitement. I talked with her for a while and she tapped my hand in different ways to respond. At one point, I told her I knew she could understand me even though she couldn’t respond, and that was ok. I would be there anyways.
She began to cry and tap my hand a thousand times. I think this was the first time in her life that anyone had admitted this to her. The group I was with had the idea that we could come back and pamper the woman a little and I absolutely loved it. We are going to return the following week to wash her hair, brush it for the first time in months or years, wash her hands and face, cut her nails, and paint them. She uses her hand to communicate so we want to take care of them for her. It is so incredibly humbling to spend time with her once again and see her vulnerable state. If you ask people in the US what their worst fear is, they often respond being trapped in their own bodies. They answer knowing that the possibility of it actually happening is slim to nothing. That is the reality of this woman.
What a beautiful privilege it is to serve. That is what it truly is- a privilege. Not everyone will have the opportunity to meet these amazing people. Not everyone will have the chance to feel what is like to have your heart broken, and somehow filled simultaneously. Not everyone will be present for those incredible moments when suffering and hope collide. We are blessed.