The telling of, and listening to, stories is an important part of the mission of Christ House. It is often through the stories we hear from patients that we start to learn about their history. Likewise, stories that we tell allow our friends, benefactors, and volunteers to get a more comprehensive feel for the needs of homeless persons in Washington, DC, and how the services we provide help fill some of those needs.
“Failure to Thrive”
Patrick is a patient who exemplifies the complex medical and social issues that we work with on a daily basis. Patrick’s entire family was evicted from their rental home when his brother was arrested for selling illicit drugs. Patrick’s own history with seizures, drugs, alcohol, mental illness, and pancreatitis caused him to distrust everyone around him. He chose to live in shelters rather than go to a new home with his family. The result was that Patrick had no outside social support of any kind.
From March to November 2010, he was admitted to the hospital and then returned to Christ House four times. Throughout that period, Patrick’s pancreatitis caused him to lose weight and become emaciated. Our physicians and the specialists we work with suspected cancer, but were not able to perform a biopsy because of his severely fragile state. His formal diagnosis was listed as “failure to thrive.”
As Patrick’s medical team enlisted the support of hospice, our case managers worked to secure disability income for him, completed a Vulnerability Survey with the DC Mayor’s Housing Initiative, and connected Patrick to ongoing mental health care. A decision was reluctantly made to surgically look for cancer or other reasons for his weight loss. To our great surprise, Patrick’s surgery went extremely well and he was released from hospice care as he began to improve. No cancer was found, and Patrick gained a sense of trust for our staff. He was accepted into the Mayor’s housing program, signed a lease while still in the hospital, and moved into his apartment after discharge from surgery.
Let it Snow
Randall grew up in the Southwest hearing the song Let It Snow on the radio every year around Christmas. He says that as a child, he always wondered what snow was like. Today, Randall tells us that in a sense, snow saved his life.
When Randall came to work in the District, he lived with his brother’s family as it was coming unraveled. He began drinking to deaden the arguments. One night in January 2010, Randall found that he was locked out of the house. He spent the night on the streets in a record-breaking snowstorm and later lost all of his toes to frostbite. The hospital referred Randall to Christ House where he received medical care for his amputations. After several months in a wheelchair, Randall began physical therapy and asked to be accepted into our Kairos Program that provides permanent supportive housing for formerly homeless patients who are too ill to hold full time employment.
Today, Randall is a respected member of the Kairos community. He escorts patients on their medical appointments, volunteers in the dining room, and fully participates in the spiritual life of our community. Echoing the sounds of Scripture, Randall proclaims, “I was in a wheelchair when I came, but now I can walk. I can’t believe it!”
Bed Bugs and Kerosene
One day in March 2009, Harold bought a second-hand mattress. He and his wife learned the first night that it had bedbugs. While his family was gone, Harold decided to use kerosene to kill the bugs. He passed out from the fumes and woke up surrounded by fire. He suffered burns over 40 percent of his body including his head and face. Harold spent over a year in a local burn center where he underwent numerous surgeries, skin grafts, and the amputation of a finger. He was also treated for injuries to the inside of his lungs.
By the time Harold was discharged from the burn center in April 2010, he and his wife were homeless. They slept in the offices of a friend’s business while his wife treated his wounds and managed all of his medications. When she needed respite and time to look for work, a case manager referred Harold to Christ House. He arrived in October 2010 and was able to receive 24-hour nursing care, food, rest, case management services, and transportation to multiple specialists. Harold’s wife visited several times a week which helped him fight against severe depression and suicidal thoughts that sometimes affected him. After five months, Harold was moved to a local nursing home where he continued his recuperation.
Two Broken Legs
On a cold night last winter, Barry fell from a bridge while intoxicated and broke his left leg and right ankle. He insisted that his fall was an accident and not an attempt at suicide. Barry had surgery on both legs at a local hospital, but suffered several episodes of paranoid delusion and left the hospital against medical advice. He didn’t feel safe there. He was found on the street by a homeless outreach worker and referred to Christ House.
Barry was wheelchair bound with a cast on one leg and an external fixator on the other. An external fixator is an elaborate set of hardware that is used to set bone fractures when a cast does not allow proper alignment of the fracture. Since the fixator’s frame penetrates the skin, infection is always a possibility. During his stay at Christ House, we were able to provide pin care on the fixator every day. Barry was able to rest and keep both legs elevated as prescribed by his surgeon. We began psychiatric care and addictions treatment. Finally, after five months of intensive care for all of his physical and psychological needs, Barry was reunited with his family and left Christ House to stay with them.