Yesterday something horrible happened.
It all started when Eliot finally came to Fenway to tell me news about what had happened to my friend, Vanessa. She and I had been meeting almost daily for a while, making Ensure milkshakes with the ice cream I’d bring, and playing games. praying and swapping DVDs. She hadn’t been there or called me in weeks and he explained that she had died.
Not only had Vanessa passed away–it was a slow and horribly painful death. It was worsened by the lack of care she received. On many occasions, Eliot would visit Vanessa only to see that she had been left with nothing on above the waist, humiliated as the curtains were opened wide. She was often neglected and freezing, sometimes with her own waste on her because no one would clean up.
My heart broke to hear that my dear friend suffered so much, but I didn’t and don’t know what to do next. Eliot explained that if I love her, I will now help him get justice and tell her story–but I do not have time. So the sadness was a lot greater. I always say yes to too much, so this time I drew the line–and it was horrible.
I was walking with Kelsey and Rachael to the car after church and Chipotle when we saw an old, old man sitting on some steps and trying to slowly stand up.
We watched him shake and shake and then sit back down at least three times. Then Kelsey and I went over to him to help him.
This man had to be at least 245 pounds and smelled worse than anything I’ve ever smelled in this country. In all honesty, I don’t remember smelling anything that bad on a PERSON anyplace in the world so far. This was by far the most horrible “on a person” smell I’d ever experienced.
At first I thought he was drunk, but then I spoke to him. He was extremely lucid and clearly told me to take him home, to 1055 Beacon St. Kelsey and I tried to help him up but he couldn’t stand. Dead weight. We went to get the car.
Kelsey had stayed behind waiting for us to get the car. She and a passerby were helping to (literally) drag this man to the curb. We opened the car doors, I brought the man a water and we stopped to talk. His name was Bernie and he said “Could one of you ladies just lift me up?”. Kelsey had been working hard and I took a turn. I lifted him using my bad shoulder and then quickly dropped him again. The passerby and I did this at least 15 times, stopping after every step. Once we arrived at the car, we tried to get him inside. The smell was making us ill and by now Bernie’s pants had been completely pulled off — around his ankles. We didn’t know what to do. He asked for his Yakima.
I called 911. We continued the effort of getting Bernie inside the car. I thought he might get sick any second cause of his horrible cough.
A man who spoke only Spanish asked me to follow him back down the street. Kelsey came and when the police called back and I returned, she entered Bernie’s “home”.
She reports that many strong-looking men (able to drag a 250 lb. man) were sitting around. She explained that Bernie was sick and couldn’t walk. They responded with nothing but words: “Oh the RABBI! Are you a good Samaritan?” and Kelsey returned to us.
I thought Bernie was homeless. I’ve never seen such a poorly cared for person. Rachael and I had met him before, at Dunkin Donuts–offering him a few dollars and lots of smiles on early morning weekdays—but this time, something was really wrong. When his roommate showed up to say “BERNIE! Where are you taking him? He’s a great guy!” we believed him and explained that he was sick. “Did you break something Bernie!?” I asked if he lives in a place where people are supposed to take care of him. “Yes,” he explained, “But there is only one staff member”. Either he is taught to say that or it’s true. Either option makes me sick inside.
A kind young EMT explained to Kelsey and I that there are LOTS of these so called group homes, where people “care” for the disabled by putting them in rooms and leaving them there to be alone. My heart just melted and I wondered who else is being forgotten. I want to do something about what happened but don’t know where to start.
“That’s why we are taking him to the hospital…We don’t wanna take him back there cause we know about those places”. On the one hand, I am glad the good-looking EMT spent time explaining this to Kelsey and I. On the other, I wonder why people who know just let things stay the way they are.
What do i do now? Write an article? Write a letter? Walk in there myself? Go visit the people inside?
:(. My heart’s broken. God help the people who are hidden and who are being completely neglected. Especially if they’re already in deep physical pain. Bring them close to you and help us to be a light into EVERY dark part of Boston, not just be lights in lit areas that don’t want our lights.