They were roommates at Barbara McInnis House, BHCHP’s 104-bed respite care facility for homeless adults with complex conditions like cancer, heart disease, pneumonia and diabetes. If Barbara McInnis House did not exist, these two men, who were both too sick for shelters or the streets, would require prolonged and costly hospitalization in the acute care rooms of Boston’s hospitals.
Fernando, 72, was only recently homeless. Too sick to work after untreatable cancer metastasized and started to spread, it was a worrisome and lonely time. He needed a place to live out the remaining days of his life in dignity, with company and care.
Mark, 37, came to Barbara McInnis House to recuperate after kidney stone surgery. Within a few days of his arrival, his nurse practitioner noticed the growth on his ear and sent him for a biopsy. Three years prior, Mark was a computer technician in one of Boston’s marquee law firms. Now, he was in recovery and a bit shaky. His addiction had left him without a roof or an income.
The growth on Mark’s ear was not only malignant; it had invaded two lymph nodes. Mark’s doctor told him that this could be a terminal illness.
Fernando’s medical problems took on a whole new meaning for Mark. They spent hours and days together before and after Mark’s surgery. The older man, still coming to terms with his limited time, offered encouragement and wisdom to the sometimes terrified younger man. Mark, finding hope in his new friendship, soon came to realize that his friendship and recovery were giving hope and meaning to Fernando’s remaining days.
Mark’s surgery was successful and his diagnosis was optimistic. He moved from Barbara McInnis House into a residential recovery program. “I know how I want my life to be, now,” said Mark. His caregivers shared his hope for his recovery this time.
Fernando died not long after Mark began his new life. He sometimes rallied, especially when his friend visited. If Fernando was too weak, Mark talked to him quietly and stroked his hand to let him know that he was there.
These two unlikely companions, each with their own struggle with homelessness, helped one another find dignity in their journey and hope in each day. Their friendship truly was medicine that mattered.