As we pulled around the side of one shopping center he pointed out a particular parking space and told me about a young man, 19 or 20 years old, they found there shortly after hurricane Charlie. He told me another deputy had found the young man there, in his car, with one end of a garden hose connected to his tail pipe and the other end stuck in his car window. The man was attempting to commit suicide. Fortunately, he was found in time and his life was saved.
As he continued the account, he said that there were many people who attempted suicide shortly after the storms. It broke my heart when I thought about the many people in our area who have resorted to such tactics because of a few physical setbacks.
The Lord arranged it, however, for me to take that ride the day after I read about a woman by the name of Mabel. Let me introduce you to her through the words of Tom Schmidt, the man who told her story.
“The state-run convalescent hospital is not a pleasant place. It is large, understaffed, and overfilled with senile and helpless and lonely people who are waiting to die. On the brightest of days it seems dark inside, and it smells of sickness and stale urine. I went there once or twice a week for 4 years, but I never wanted to go there, and I always left with a sense of relief. It is not the kind of place one gets used to.
On this particular day I was walking in a hallway that I had not visited before, looking in vain for a few who were alive enough to receive a flower and a few words of encouragement. This hallway seemed to contain some of the worst cases, strapped onto carts or into wheelchairs and looking completely helpless.
As I neared the end of the hallway, I saw an old woman strapped up in a wheelchair. Her face was an absolute horror. The empty stare and white pupils of her eyes told me that she was blind. The large hearing aid over one ear told me that she was almost deaf. One side of her face was being eaten by cancer. There was a discolored and running sore covering part of one cheek, and it had pushed her nose to one side, dropped one eye, and distorted her jaw so that what should have been the corner of her mouth was the bottom of her mouth. As a consequence, she drooled constantly. I was told later that when new nurses arrived, the supervisors would send them to feed this woman, thinking that if they could stand this sight they could stand anything in the building. I also learned that this woman was 89 years old and that she had been here, bedridden, blind, nearly deaf, and alone, for 25 years. This was Mabel.
I don’t know why I spoke to her-she looked less likely to respond than most of the people I saw in that hallway. But I put a flower in her hand and said, ‘Here is a flower for you. Happy Mother’s Day.’ She held the flower up to her face and tried to smell it, and then she spoke. And much to my surprise, her words, although somewhat garbled because of her deformity, were obviously produced by a clear mind. She said, ‘Thank you. It’s lovely. But can I give it to someone else? I can’t see it, you know, I’m blind.’
I said, ‘Of course,’ and I pushed her in her chair back down the hallway to a place where I thought I could find some alert patients. I found one, and I stopped the chair. Mabel held out the flower and said, ‘Here, this is from Jesus.’
That was when it began to dawn on me that this was not an ordinary human being. Later, I wheeled her back to her room and learned more about her history. She had grown up on a small farm that she managed with only her mother until her mother died. Then she ran the farm alone until 1950 when her blindness and sickness sent her to the convalescent hospital. For 25 years she got weaker and sicker, with constant headaches, backaches, and stomachaches, and then the cancer came too. Her 3 roommates were all human vegetables who screamed occasionally but never talked. They often soiled their bedclothes, and because the hospital was understaffed, especially on Sundays when I usually visited, the stench was often overpowering.
Mabel and I became friends over the next few weeks, and I went to see her once or twice a week for the next 3 years. Her first words to me were usually an offer of hard candy from a tissue box near her bed. Some days I would read to her from the Bible, and often when I would pause she would continue reciting the passage from memory, word-for-word. On other days I would take a book of hymns and sing with her, and she would know all the words of the old songs. For Mabel, these were not merely exercises in memory. She would often stop in mid-hymn and make a brief comment about lyrics she considered particularly relevant to her own situation. II never heard her speak of loneliness or pain except in the stress she placed on certain lines in certain hymns. …
During one hectic week of final exams I was frustrated because my mind seemed to be pulled in 10 directions at once with all the things that I had to think about. The question occurred ...
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