What I Learned from Assisting an Armenian Immigrant: What Binds is Greater than what Pulls Us Apart

The vast majority of people in Southern California, indeed across the United States, likely have not heard of Clostridium Difficile. In fact, my wife and I who own a biohazard remediation company serving the needs of home and business owners throughout Southern California had not heard of Clostridium Difficile until quite recently. We are now called on with increasing regularity to assist people in sanitizing a house or apartment that has been contaminated by Clostridium Difficile bacteria.

One such case occurred recently when we were contacted by a young woman and her husband who sought assistance in decontaminating her elderly and ill father’s apartment. The young woman, who I’ll call Debbie for the purposes of this article and to protect her family’s privacy, explained that her father was hospitalized as a result of a Clostridium Difficile, or C. diff, infection. As I will explain in a moment, infection by the Clostridium Difficile bacterium can cause serious health problems, particularly among older people (as was the case with Debbie’s father).

With father’s release from the hospital coming soon, the Clostridium Difficile bacteria in his apartment needed to be eliminated or he certainly ran the risk another illness-causing infection. Our time with Debbie and her husband, getting things ready for her father’s return to his apartment, explains why I’ve come to love my work.

Yes, I face some challenging situations when it comes to assisting people with dealing with difficult cleanup and remediation issues at their homes or business. My team and I oftentimes find ourselves in homes of people after traumatic deaths, including homicides and suicides.

Nonetheless, I also have the gratifying opportunity to learn a good deal about our clients and oftentimes have the chance to assist them in accessing other important resources as well. There are times when I think our biggest benefit to our clients is not in the work we do as biohazard remediators but I our time spent listening and supporting people who really are our neighbors.

I would also add that time and again I find the love many, many of our clients demonstrate for their loved ones in times of need is awe-inspiring. Such was the case with Debbie, her husband, and her father.

As I made mention, Debbie and her husband are young adults, truly at the beginning of their adult lives. In this day and age, the last thing most young adults like Debbie and her husband focus on and fret about is their parents. Such is not the case with Debbie and her husband. Rather, while working her way through college, Debbie devotes a good amount of her time to caring for elderly and ill father.

I learned that Debbie had immigrated to the United States from Armenia, having been raised in that country by her aunt. Her aunt remained in Armenia and Debbie misses her deeply. With the responsibilities of paying for her education and assisting her father, she lacks discretional funds sufficient to permit her the ability to return to Armenia to see her aunt, even for a short stay. Despite this limitation, Debbie’s optimism was obvious and she made it clear that she knew the day would come when she would be able to visit Armenia to see her loved ones in that county once again.

Debbie and her husband assumed responsibility, financial and otherwise, for making sure her father’s apartment was in a safe condition upon his return from the hospital. In some ways, Clostridium Difficile is a strange bacterium. The reality is that Clostridium Difficile is found almost everywhere. C. diff can be found in the air, water, and soil across the United States, and elsewhere around the world. It is also found in human feces and in the stool of other animals as well. The disease can be spread through contact with a wide range of items, including bedding and surfaces of all types.

A considerable number of people have Clostridium Difficile in their intestines right now and have absolutely no symptoms. Unfortunately, there are situations in which a person is treated with antibiotics, particularly an elderly person, who ends up becoming very ill because of a Clostridium Difficile infection. Such was the case with Debbie’s dad.

Nearly 500,000 Americans are afflicted with illness because of the combination of taking antibiotics and carrying or coming into contact with the Clostridium Difficile bacterium during any given year. Thus far, over 30,000 people in the United States have died within 30 days of demonstrating symptoms associated with the Clostridium Difficile bacterium. Debbie’s dad was fortunate that he was correctly diagnosed and received prompt treatment. As mentioned, he was coming home – but his home needed to be Clostridium Difficile-free and ready for his return.

Debbie wanted to be on hand when we sanitized her father’s apartment. I met her at what is a modest and tidy 500 square-foot apartment in a senior living facility. As I tended to the sanitization of the apartment, Debbie went about replacing bedding and towels that potentially were contaminated by D. diff with replacements she purchased for her father. More than once she asked what I thought of her purchases. “I want to make sure my father likes what I picked out,” she said.

“I don’t take the time I’ve got with my father for granted,” Debbie went on to explain. “He’s not been well for some time and I want to make sure that the time I have left with him is as happy as possible. My father, he’s proud to call the United States his adopted him. And so am I,” she said. “I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had since coming to this country. I am able to get a good education. I’m able to spend time with my dad, to help care for him.”

When I finished sanitizing Debbie’s father’s apartment, we visited a bit longer over cups of coffee. “I think because of the struggles my people have had in my homeland, I’ve not only come to appreciate the opportunities I’ve got in America, but I also understand how important it is to reach out to others and help when I can.”

At that juncture, Debbie reached for a note pad kept next to her father’s phone. As she scribbled something on the pad, she explained that this is something she keeps taped to the door of her refrigerator at her home. When she finished writing, she showed me the inscription, written in Armenian:

Ինչ որ ցանես, այն կհնձես

I explained I had no idea what I was looking at. She laughed.

“No, no. I see that. What this means in English is ‘whatever you sow, that’s what you’ll reap.”

It was then my turn to smile and explain we have a very similar saying in the United States as well. In beat, while visiting with a client raised in a far-off country, I was reminded of how much we have in common with people from across the world, including the shared desire to protect our family and those we love.

“Can I keep this?” I asked Debbie if I could take the piece of paper she’d written upon.

“Of course, but only if you place it on your refrigerator.”

I smiled and took the small piece of paper home. It now hangs on our refrigerator door.