I am reading a book called God's Hotel by Victoria Sweet. Its about one of the last almshouses left in America, the Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco. It is a place that serves the indigent and people with no other resources.....the drug addicts, the homeless, the mentally ill, the severely disabled, and the elderly.
I'm going to tell you a story from the book about a woman named Terry Becker. Terry was a heroin addict, prostitute, alcoholic, homeless woman who was brought in initially to an emergency room because she had suddenly been stricken with a total paralysis of her limbs. It was found that she had transverse myelitis, an inflammation of her spinal cord. She was sent to Laguna Honda for rehabilitation.
The gist of the story is that they would get her back into "functional" shape but her boyfriend would show up around the first of the month to have her sign her check over to him. He would say he was just taking her out for a few hours, but days would go by and she would end up abandoned on the streets of San Francisco in her wheelchair, still a quadriplegic from her transverse myelitis, unable to help herself. This went on numerous times. She would be brought back, nurtured back to relative health, but the boyfriend would show up on the first every month and she would let him take her.
He beat her mercilessly, broke her leg, gave her drugs and alcohol, and left her sitting in the wheelchair so long she developed a gaping pressure sore that was filled with infection. She was again brought back to Laguna Honda where plastic surgeons grafted skin from her legs and meticulously stitched and covered her wound. She could only lay on her stomach on a gurney while it healed. Again, the boyfriend came and took her out and again she was brought back in the worst shape ever. The back wound had opened and was now half way up her back and down to the tail bone, gaping and to the bone and filled with infection. The surgeons were appalled and refused to help her again, saying she would need to wait it out and see if it could heal the old fashioned way. Dr. Sweet had never seen a wound so deep, so gaping, and so all encompassing of an area.
By this time Dr. Sweet and Terry had formed a sort of friendship. Terry again could only lay on her stomach on a gurney and wait for her body to heal itself. If it could.
The part of this story that spoke to me is still to come....Dr. Sweet had done her masters thesis on Saint Hildegard of Bingen. "The doctor of the church." (You can google more on her....very interesting actually) Hildegard had a concept called "viritidas"....which means greenness. New life, vigor, youthfulness. She used it to mean the power of a plant to put forth leaves and flowers and fruits AND she also used it to refer to the power of human beings to heal and grow and give birth.
Dr. Sweet began thinking about how Hildegard would treat Terry's gaping pressure sore. It occurred to her that she would have removed obstructions to Terry's viritidas, to her bodies power to heal itself. What was in the way of this woman's body healing? So many things....wrinkled bed clothes, a hard mattress, dirty clothes, the use of nicotine, poor nutrition, dirt, unnecessary medications, fear, depression, hopelessness...all were obstructions to Terry's body healing itself.
Dr. Sweet understood that she had to see Terry in her mind as she could be, as she was meant to be, whole and healthy and vibrant...and work her way backwards. She decided that in addition to removing obstacles, she needed to fortify Terrys natural viritidas with earth, water, air and fire.....good nutrition, tasty food, liquids and vitamins. Deep sleep, fresh air and sunlight. And time. As much time as Terry needed.
So they began their journey. Within a few weeks Dr. Sweet began to see deep inside the wound, what appeared to be new pink skin growing. But then it was the first of the month again.....
This time Terry wheeled herself facedown to meet her boyfriend in the smoking room. They talked for a long time. This time Terry had sent him away telling him to never come back again. Terry then quit smoking, she was eating healthier and without the effects of the nicotine, her body and her blood vessels could absord the nutrition more thoroughly.
Little by little the sore began to heal. Her spine was being covered with new fresh pink flesh. And this is what spoke to me.....It took a very long time. Two and a half years of just being, of just focusing on being healthy and letting her body replenish itself with no outside stresses. Two and a half years and her body healed from deep inside itself where it was barely visible. Little changes here and there that were taking her on her way. If one hadn't known to wait and to let it happen and be patient, they could have assumed nothing was working and given up on her and sent her away. But Dr. Sweet was a patient woman who despite the numerous early setbacks didn't give up on Terry. Each time Terry presented herself to the hospital to get well, Dr. Sweet took her at face value and they started again.
By the end of the two and a half years, Terry's wound had healed, she had gained weight, her hair grew back in thick and dark, she started to wear a little makeup, her teeth had been fixed and she had been given a pair of eye glasses. A social worker had found her brother who wanted her to come and live with him. Thanks to the hospital's "patient gift fund" they were able to buy Terry a plane ticket and send her out to her brother who was waiting at the other end to pick her up.
Dr. Sweet never heard from Terry again, but did read her obituary 11 years later. In the picture she still wore the glasses the hospital had given to her and there was mention of life with her children and grand children.
Of course I think of my girl. My girl who is not physically broken in those ways, but her soul is broken from years of self abuse. I think of the demands upon getting out of rehab, to immediately "get a job" and live in "real life" from her counselor.....and I think, isn't this the problem? She hasn't been able to do real life in many years. Aren't you demanding that she rid herself of her symptoms, but you aren't looking at what lies beneath? Can't we give her time without it being considered enabling? Can't it be a time of rebirth for her, of fresh new pink flesh being generated from within while she reads books, and waters her gardens? Can't there be mistakes and temper flare ups and missteps without it being the end? Because we are all, including her, including me, including the dad, just people. Imperfect people who need to be tended and nurtured in a multitude of ways and most of all, be given time to heal.
May we all remove the obstructions and fill our lives with what we need for our own viritidas. Our own new growth and rebirth.