Finally, after tromping around the largely-refugee complex in sweltering summer heat, we had found it: the residence of Siloam patient “Subba,” our first home-visit of the day.
Dr. Kristin Martel had briefed Caleb and me with some basic information about the patient, a 40 year-old Nepalese female with serious, debilitating depression that was beginning to manifest in bodily (specifically joint) pain. As we approached that unremarkable apartment building, though, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was woefully unprepared for this – my first home-visit. I was excited to observe an aspect of medicine largely lost to the American healthcare system, but what would it be like, I wondered, to enter the home of someone suffering from severe depression? How could I hope to do or say anything even remotely helpful?
When Subba didn’t answer Kristin’s persistent knocking, I began silently hoping that she wasn’t home so we could skip this whole affair. We waited for a few minutes, and eventually, a Nepalese man named “Poorba” came down the outdoor stairway. Kristin asked Poorba if he knew Subba, and he quickly went back upstairs and returned with Subba’s mother-in-law. She opened the apartment door for us, retrieved Subba from a back room, and invited us to sit with them indoors. Poorba accompanied us as an interpreter.
At first, our interactions with Subba didn’t seem to suggest that anything too out-of-the-ordinary was happening in her life. She didn’t smile and didn’t make eye contact with us, but then again, we had just barged into her house.
After a few minutes, Kristin asked about the medications she was taking. Subba continued staring at the floor, softly rubbing her elbows and knees. She told us that they hadn’t done anything for her pain, which was getting to be so severe that she couldn’t even leave the house anymore. We tried a few other avenues of conversation and eventually came to the topic of her husband.
“How is your husband doing?” Kristin had asked. “Does he work a lot?” My heart fell as I saw tears begin streaming down her face. Kristin moved next to her, put a hand on her back, and gently prompted further. Subba told us that he – her only source of income and support – was in the hospital, undergoing some sort of heart surgery. She felt alone, isolated and unsupported, in her pain.
The sorrowed stillness stretched for what seemed to be an eternity. The silence was broken by Caleb, who lightly inquired about a doll he saw propped up on a nearby table. Her face lifted slightly as she answered, “It’s mine.” She took us back to her bedroom and showed us a few other dolls and stuffed animals, of which she seemed proud. Any happiness they might have elicited sadly fled, though, when we asked about the great view her window afforded her of a children’s playground. The view only deepened her pain, for it reminded her of her longing to be outside.
It seemed that our time at her home would soon be wrapping up, so we prepared to finish with a brief prayer. Before we circled up for the final prayer, though, Kristin inquired about a piece of paper taped to the wall next to Subba’s bed. One of the pictures on the sheet of paper triggered memories of an Eastern Religions class I had taken in college, so I wasn’t surprised to hear the mother-in-law tell us that it was a Hindu prayer. And in that moment, God made His presence known by sealing me with a question I knew I had to ask: “Do those gods answer your prayers?” She said no, they don’t; she prays, but she still feels alone. And there it was, as simple as that – a door to hope. God’s Spirit moved, and we told her why we hope and pray in the name of Jesus.
Afterward, we asked if we could pray for her in Jesus’ name, and she invited us to do so. God demonstrated His wisdom and faithfulness when Poorba – this random guy we bumped into while waiting at Subba’s door – told us that he was actually a pastor and would be happy to translate our prayer. We prayed over her, for the alleviation of her pain, for the health of her husband, and against the spiritual darkness that might seek dominion over her house. Her mother-in-law led us into a second room, and we prayed again for the household.
Leaving her apartment was one of the most saddening yet hopeful experiences I’ve ever had. My heart went out to this poor woman who longed for love, support, and alleviation from her emotional and physical pain. Yet as we left, I knew that God was present and that He would finish the work we had seen Him begin. I may never know the end of her story – whether or not she experiences physical healing and spiritual liberation – but of this I am certain: He heard our prayers that day, and He will continue to relentlessly pursue the heart of His beloved child.
James is a participant in Siloam’s Community Health Immersion.