Jeff and Kelly don’t have much beyond having each other, but that’s a big deal. For years they’ve been homeless, living on the street, and when they’ve been on the street, they haven’t been able to be together. Jeff would sleep near the city center and wake up at 3:30 every morning to get up and out before the police come to move him out. Kelly, for the longest time, slept in a Catholic women’s shelter called Isaiah House, which is where we met her.
Fortunately, for over a year now, they’ve been off the street in a tiny one bedroom apartment. You have no idea what clean sheets, a roof, and a meal cooked at home means to them. It’s touch and go; they barely can live off of a social security check and the kindness of others. Though Jeff has worked hard to get a degree in counseling and wants to work with kids on the street, his diagnosis as schizophrenic has prevented him from getting a job. Kelly has worked as a cook, but her chronic depression makes her unable to hold down a job. They are good people in bad situations.
Then we got a call yesterday that Kelly was going into emergency surgery.
They’re tough, these two. They put up with a lot on the streets; it would take a lot to get either one of them into a hospital, but when Kelly couldn’t make it down the stairs, and her stomach looked like a full term pregnancy, they realized something was wrong. What was wrong was that her intestines had ruptured and her bowel movements had been leaking into her body for days. She thought she was just constipated, when all along her body was filling up with excrement. When Jeff called us from the hospital, the term he used was septic. Kelly was septic.
When we got there, she had been in surgery for three hours and it was going to be another two hours before we heard anything. Jeff was fearing for her life, and he had good reason. He was nervous and hadn’t eaten all day and refused anything we offered. Every few minutes, he would walk out of the waiting room and into the hallway hoping to see the doctor coming out. Finally he came with word that Kelly was in ICU in guarded condition. They had removed 25 pounds of waste material from her body. She was lucky to be alive.
We have always known Kelly to wear a bandana around her head. Seeing her in ICU without a bandana revealed little but a few sprays of thin hair. The first thing Jeff did was to rush to cover her secret. The doctors attempted to intervene, but Jeff would have nothing to do with that. He knew what was important in his wife’s personal life, even when sleeping.
This is a new beginning for Kelly, one of many second chances for all sorts of reasons. May she have the willingness to overcome the darkness of her constant depression and accept the challenge offered — a challenge to live, first, and then to live for her husband who loves her beyond the sun, the moon and the stars. Their lives represent what we are all about: connecting while under the hardest of circumstances.
As long as Kelly is alive, so is Jeff. I can promise you that he will never leave her side. Jeff is a big guy — a 6’5” black man. He is as sweet as a teddy bear, but his appearance makes you want to make sure you are on his good side. I am confident that Jeff will remain by her side until he can take her home. That — or if she should die, he will die along with her. His heart is ready to break open and spill into a thousand pieces.