My cohort Leah has blogged about a woman called Cristina, an HIV+ client in the Home Based Care program at the church here. Leah was with the social worker, Mama Bette, on a routine visit to Cristina’s house where they found Cristina essentially starving to death. She was living with her parents and brother, but they were either refusing or just failing to take care of her.
It was really difficult for Leah to witness, though, I think, good in a way. This is a tragically common scenario for people living with advanced HIV in East Africa. We knew a woman in Kenya whose son had built a room onto the side of their house for his mother to, basically, die in. They refused to care for her, and were just waiting for her to die. It puts a hard knot in my stomach to think of what goes on in the minds of these families.
The result of Leah and Mama Bette’s visit to Cristina’s home was that Cristina was admitted to the hospital. About two or so weeks ago I mentioned that we visited her there. You can see from the photo how frail she was, but she was much improved from when they first found her. To be admitted in this kind of situation, the patient needs a family member to stay also to provide food, water, clothing, clean linens, and to advocate with the doctors and nurses. Cristina’s mother, having been severely reprimanded by Mama Bette, was there at the hospital. This was my first hospital visit to a client, but even I could tell that the mother was still not taking very good care of Cristina. We had brought clothes for her, which was good because the mother had only a few fabric wraps (khangas), and Cristina appeared to be cold lying on the plastic hospital mattress. Her skin was so dry it was cracking in spots, and until Mama Bette arrived, the mother had made no effort to change the wrapped diaper.
Poor Cristina suffered through nakedness and having herself cleaned by other people with as much dignity as can be mustered in those situations. Her eyes, huge in her head, were still pleading, and it was clear that she was extremely hungry. The staff of the HBC program had brought prepared food every day, although they suspected that the mother was eating it. Eventually, over the course of about a week, Cristina became strong enough to be sent home. We rejoiced, and hoped for the best.
Last Tuesday evening her mother came to the church with another woman. The woman told Mama Askofu (Esther Muhagachi) that Cristina was very, very ill, as bad as she had been before the hospital. The mother sat in dumb, resentful silence, as this woman, a caregiver to someone with HIV herself, volunteered to take Cristina in her own home. I listened to this conversation, parts of which were translated for Leah and I, and the anger I felt after hearing about that first home visit revived in my heart as I watched the mother, inertia and apathy etched on every feature. As Mama Askofu berated Cristina’s mother, vehemently enough that the Swahili speakers found reasons to turn away into other conversations, I reveled in the mother’s discomfort, indulging my pettiest self.
There was talk of doing a home visit immediately, but Cristina’s house was too far to walk so late in the day, and the church’s two vehicles were both in use. There was another HBC client, a woman called Grace, in the hospital, and the hospital’s limited visiting hours were fast passing. Leah was leaving in the morning for a little trip with the Muhagachis, and needed to go home to pack. I told them to fetch me if they went to Cristina’s, but the trip never happened.
The next morning word reached us that Cristina died during the night. She is neither the first, nor the last client who has been lost in the program. Hers is not the first death of a client that I have suffered through, but the battle of “right” emotions never becomes simple. In my spirit there is holy rebellion, rebellion that dates back to the Garden of Eden where sin and death entered the world for the first time. Death was never God’s intention, it was a necessary and merciful adaptation to save us from having to live eternally in a corrupt world where disease and neglect exist, but it was not part of God’s original plan, so the part of my spirit that is living for the renewal of God’s original design hates her death in the same way that I hated her illness and poverty.
Also in the mix is that anger toward her family. A desire for some kind of justice or retribution, abated by the pragmatism that there are no realistic legal consequences for this family who essentially starved their daughter to death, but unabated by any kind of mercy. There is honestly a part of me that wants them to suffer, not to the extreme of Cristina’s suffering, but enough to jolt them out of their indifference. Obviously it is impossible to impart compassion through those means, but an ugly part of me would really like to try it.
Finally, part of me is relieved for Cristina’s sake. From what I understand she loved Jesus, so release from her frail, sick body is release into a perfect peace and rest that would have always been impossible in this broken and ugly world.
So, rest in the arms of the Lover of your soul, Cristina. Rest in peace.