Monday, March 22, 2010

The Journal of James Hartline: My Battle To Save Sister

I call her Sister. She always giggles and smiles her toothless grin approvingly when I call her Sister. I've known Sister for many, many years. Sister and I have always seemed to have a common bond. I consider Sister to be family and I am proud to walk and talk with her anytime.

When I first got really sick from AIDS about ten years ago, I used to see Sister volunteering at Auntie Helen's. Auntie Helen's is a San Diego-based thrift store that uses its profits to provide a free laundry service for AIDS patients.

One day, Sister was gone from the thrift store and she did not return. Over the years, I have run into Sister dozens of times on the streets of San Diego.

Somehow Sister was never quite the same when she stopped working at the thrift store. Sister has spent many years roaming the streets, growing old, her health declining due to her constant use of street drugs and smoking cigarettes. She also suffers great mental health problems. I've taken her to the store to get hand sanitizer to clean her hands which are always covered with caked on black dirt. Sister also loves perfumed lotion, so I get her something pretty smelling which she dabs happily on her well worn face and behind her ears.

Every time I see Sister, I stop and sit with her on the sidewalks of Hillcrest. Sister loves it when I take her into a restaurant and treat her to dinner and conversation. Sister is always happy that someone has shown an interest in her "stories."

Things changed today dramatically. Sister is not doing well. Despite the fact that it is well over 70 degrees, hot and sunny, Sister is wearing a good portion of her entire wardrobe.

Today, I ran into Sister. She was sitting alone at a bus stop, moaning to herself. I knew something was wrong with Sister because I never see her sitting in North Park. She was outside of her normal territory. "What's wrong Sister?" I asked.

"Oh, ya' know. Just the way it is," she muttered. I noticed a bloody tissue in her hand.

"Sister! What happened to you?" I inquired.

She began wiping blood from her neck.

I believe Sister is about 60 years old, but she looks like an 80 year-old man. I'm always worried about Sister being on the streets, so vulnerable, so beaten down. Yet, she will not listen to common sense and leave the hard life that the streets of San Diego have brought her way. All I can do is pray, talk with her and give her some food and toiletries.

"May I take a look at your neck?" I asked Sister.

"Sure," she replies. Sister trusts me.

I pulled down the collar of her coat and I could see that her neck and upper back were covered in bleeding wounds.

"Oh Sister! You need to go to the doctor," I told her. I was absolutely shocked at the extent of her bleeding neck and back.

Sister would not seek help. She just sat there in her torn and filthy clothes. I told Sister I was going to go get a doctor for her. She said that was okay. So I quickly walked across the street and called for the paramedics. I then walked back to the sidewalk bus stop and sat with Sister. Waiting. Worrying. Comforting my friend in her need. Everyone else just walked around Sister to avoid her. They hoped she would just go away.

As I waited for the ambulance, Sister allowed me to take pictures of her wounds. I was not sure if someone had burned her with cigarettes or hurt her in some other way. I know that an elderly woman cannot fight against most of the evil that runs rampant on the streets of San Diego. I just couldn't believe how terrible her wounds looked. I waited in a panic for help to arrive. Sister needed help and I could not leave her to die on the streets. Not my Sister.

As we waited, Sister became engulfed in her paranoia and got up from the bench and began to walk away.

I pleaded with Sister to wait. She would not. Her voices were calling for her to flee. Sister is controlled by her drive for more drugs, more cigarettes, the prison of the concrete streets holds sway over her mind. Sister rambled away and I waited for the paramedics. I watched as Sister faded up the street.

The paramedics arrived and went after Sister.

Sister wouldn't cooperate. She did not want to go to the hospital. And because she appeared aware and coherent to the paramedics, they said there was nothing they could do. They just left Sister on the street.

The police officers arrived on the scene and spent a good deal of time talking to Sister and looking at her bleeding wounds.

The officers said that they could not take Sister to the hospital against her will. One of the officers said she thought Sister had scabies. The officer admitted she was not qualified to make a medical diagnosis and could not explain how she came to that conclusion. The officer said she would try to talk with Sister the next time she runs into her.

I told the officer that I didn't think Sister was going to survive much longer on the streets. They left Sister and I could do no more for her that day. The demons in Sister won the round, but I am still going to continue to fight for Sister's soul.

As I have done so many times, I keep praying for Sister. Lord, help Sister. She's in trouble. And Lord, I know what's that like.

Jesus said, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead.

"And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

"But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him.

"On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.'

"Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers' hands?" And he said, "The one who showed mercy toward him." Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do the same." Luke 10:30-37


June said...

This is so sad. I will keep you and Sister in my prayers.

June said...

This is so sad. I will keep you both in my prayers.

ZnSD said...

If you care so much about her, why don't you offer to get her some medical help by bringing a doctor to her? You say she is your "family" - yet you throw up your hands and "pray" that the situation will somehow get better. She is typical of most mentally ill street people - she will refuse to go with paramedics or police as she fears being locked up in someplace where she can't take the drugs she uses to self-medicate for her mental illness and drug addiction. How dare you exploit her to make yourself look pious. You are truly the lowest of the low.