Sister Hellen – Nurse for the HIV/AIDS victims:
Following two days in Santa Cruz, Nicki and Pamela loaded their water and their luggage into Sister Agnes’ car for the 3 hour trip to the Franciscan retreat center in Kingston. And then we waited – in the heat, and with great anticipation.
It was time to leave all work behind, but not so easily. Sister Hellen had risen early, fixed our breakfast, and gone to work. She was nursing in the village; a very early shift, and now she was late in meeting us for the departure. Sister Agnes had been impatient with Hellen’s tardiness, but now, with Nicki and Sr. Agnes in front, and with Sr. Hellen sitting back with Pamela, the adventure of this day begins.
Everyone was quiet and relaxed for the drive; everyone except Hellen. Adrenalin was still pumping through her veins. Hellen was chattering. Chattering is charming, but it does take great energy to interpret the African-English, which is spiced up with Jamaican. Pamela settled in to listen. For miles and miles, Hellen pointed out the meeting places where she accepts patients, provides counseling, and distributes medicine. She pointed to run-down shacks and called out the names of the patients she visits at home, when they are too sick to come to meet her for counseling or to receive medicine. When Hellen has food supplies available, she also distributes the food as she travels among the HIV and AIDS patients that she serves in four counties in interior of Jamaica. We drive more than an hour, yet Hellen is still showing us houses and meeting places, and explaining that, “Teens with HIV / AIDS have a different counseling group and time from the adult group. They have different concerns”, and “Sometimes the whole family has AIDS. It is very sad”. We are still driving, for miles and miles, and are still in the area where Sr. Hellen does her work.
But there is more to HIV/AIDS nursing than what is taught in nurses’ training. In her home, Africa, Sr. Hellen was a very young nurse. Her service to HIV/AIDS patients addressed their medical needs, and distributed medicine but there was another aspect to consider. Goats’ milk and rabbits’ meat provide very good nutrition for one who has a depleted immune system. Part of Sr. Hellen’s ministry was to distribute livestock and teach people how to raise the goats and rabbits, and how to prepare foods that best nourished their immune system. She also taught HIV/AIDS victims to farm, plant and harvest appropriate foods. There are no animals or seeds to share in her Jamaican ministry, and Sr Hellen misses that part of her former job. Now she gives food, when available. “That is all I can do…”
But actually, she does more… much more. Hellen admits that, “the backseat of my car is my office and my clinic. The trunk of my car is the pharmacy. I use a locked storage container behind the church in which to keep bags of rice to give.” She finishes her story by saying, “It’s not much that I do, but I nurse my patients as best that I am able.”
We arrive, safely, at the Franciscan Retreat Center. We are warmly greeted, shown to quiet, comfortable rooms, and invited to dinner. Nicki calls us together at dusk, to talk about the upcoming retreat, and to explain to the sisters that they will need to be still and learn to slow down. Hellen attends the meeting, but she is sound asleep. Our sisters are exhausted.
Blessings to you. Do know, it’s OK to pray for us; -) Nicki Verploegen & Pamela VanWechel