by Peter Gathje
Odell fell down this morning on the brick walkway that goes into the backyard along the side of the house. He was having a seizure. Thankfully, another guest, a friend of his, caught him as he fell, preventing him from hitting his head on the bricks. A second guest immediately called 911 to request an ambulance. An ambulance did eventually show up, and I can report that Odell is doing fine now.
This is the third time I have seen a guest have a seizure at Manna House. Somehow over the years, I have gained quite a bit of experience with people having seizures. When I taught at St. John’s Preparatory School many years ago, a student of mine, a freshman in high school died in the night from a seizure. In addition to teaching there, I was also a dormitory prefect, and each night this student would come to my room to get his medication before going off to sleep. But medication doesn’t always prevent seizures. About five years or so ago, Donald Bradshaw, who had been a regular guest at Manna House, had a seizure while walking near Methodist Hospital. He died.
When I taught at Kalamazoo College, in the midst of teaching a class on Thomas Aquinas, a student had a seizure. She eventually had to leave school as the seizures became more and more severe.
Last winter, at Manna House, we had just finished singing “Happy Birthday” to a guest when he came up quickly from the couch in the house and then lunged forward and fell onto the floor. He banged his head hard as he fell. A few days later when we talked, he shared that a previous head injury had left him susceptible to seizures. Then we joked that maybe it was my bad singing that had caused the seizure this time.
But seizures themselves are definitely not a joking matter. They are scary in how dangerous they can be, and they are disturbing in how unpredictable they are. It was just a few weeks ago that I came across an article about the number of persons experiencing homelessness who have had serious head injuries. No doubt, a number of those also struggle with seizures.
Odell’s seizure today, and those in the past at Manna House, remind me that so many of our guests carry heavy burdens of physical and/or psychological wounds, and they do so with courage and grace. So I get frustrated and even angry when I hear people make harsh judgments about people on the streets. To me it seems that such judgments reflect a failure in empathy, the ability to enter compassionately into the realities and challenges of another person’s life. There is a saying, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” And St. Paul tells us, “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). For Paul the law of Christ is love, an abiding concern for the good of others. We could all use more of love, more of empathy and compassion.
I saw such love today as Odell’s friend caught him as he fell, making sure Odell did not hit his head. I also saw such love as Moses, with his arm raised heavenward, walked toward Odell lying on the ground, and prayed for him as we waited for the ambulance. I learned a lot from my teachers from the streets again today.
Follow Peter on Twitter @petegath