I’ve been volunteering at Laguna Honda Hospital for about two years. What I’ve seen is a living story of the human condition, a story of patience and belief. This mid-nineteenth century nursing facility is not just a home and last refuge for some one thousand residents, most of whom cannot survive on their own. It is a world in many ways different from ours.
Run by the San Francisco Department of Public Health, Laguna Honda is free to its penniless residents. The concept of money does not apply here. A candy bar, a soda and a pack of cigarettes are the only luxuries most can imagine. From diaper changes to meals and medications, time flows lethargically inside the communal wards that accommodate twenty to thirty patients separated by light-blue curtains. Their privacy seems of less importance than their common fate.
If you have a complaint it will be heard, but because the hospital is underfunded and understaffed it can take weeks before somebody comes to repair your out-of-service TV, the only companion at your bedside… though there seems to be someone else there too.
“God is here,” says Steve, a bedridden resident for many years, as he leafs through the Bible looking for his favorite verse. “He’s always with me,” smiles Orin, who has spent last thirteen years inside these walls. “He’s got beautiful blond hair,” whispers Mary as I push her wheelchair back to the ward after the chaplain’s sermon.
Every Sunday some 150 patients gathered for mass in the long white nave of Moran Hall to sing hymns or hum or moan along, to shake their neighbor’s hand or wait for the nun to poor a little bit of water – the blood of Christ – through their lips. It is a statement of faith, patience and hope, hope against all hope.
In December 2010 Laguna Honda opened a new facility offering its patients private rooms, modern standards of care and a conference room for religious services.