Judy Mitchell worked hard for more than 20 years as a licensed practical nurse, loving every minute of her job caring for others.

Then one night when she was 42, she went to bed and went to sleep as usual, but when she woke up the next morning, her world was changed forever.

“I got up and it was like someone had stuck two knives in my eyes. It was the most excruciating pain. You can’t imagine it.”

Mitchell was diagnosed with uveitis, an inflammation of the middle layer of the eye, which can be caused by autoimmune disorders.

It was 1990, and two years later, Mitchell, who now is 63, was blind.

“I lost one eye. They had to remove it in 1995. This eye I have now, I’ve had 16 surgeries on it. I have a little bit of light perception in it, but I’m basically blind.”

She didn’t tell me this to make me feel sorry for her. It was all part of her explanation for why she is homeless and at wit’s end about how to find a home.

I met Mitchell and her companion, Chris Carrier, 39, this week at Fireside Inn in Waterville, where they have been staying the last two weeks since leaving a small house they were renting.

She and Carrier, who is mentally challenged and whom she regards as a son, got very sick after moving into the house in August, but they didn’t know why.

“I was coughing, I had a sore throat, swollen glands, headaches and was just tired all the time,” Mitchell said. “I felt like I couldn’t breathe.”

What they didn’t know, because Mitchell cannot see, is that the house had black mold. After it was discovered by a friend, her doctor told her she should leave the house immediately, which they did.

They went to the Fireside Inn, where they used their last bit of money for a room. Hotel officials have been sympathetic and given them the room at a discount, according to Mitchell, but as of late in the week, they were out of money with no place to go.

“I have friends who would let me sleep on their couch, but they can’t take Chris, and I won’t leave him,” she says.

Mitchell, who also has had two radical mastectomies, took Carrier in nine years ago and taught him how to do household chores. Together, they are a team.

“He’s the eyes and I do the thinking. He helps me and I help him. He had encephalitis of the brain. He has grand mal seizures. I call him my caretaker because I’m blind. He gets my dog out and cooks a little bit and I clean the house. He does laundry. I’ve taught him, and he goes to the grocery store.”

Mitchell sits on a bed in the motel room, her long, silky blond hair framing dark glasses, which she removes to show me her one eye that sees nothing but a tiny bit of light.

Carrier, dark-haired and gentle, sits on the other bed, one hand on Bridget, a 9-year-old boxer, who is Mitchell’s seeing-eye dog.

The trio will stick together, no matter what, Mitchell says.

Mitchell has gone to agencies that help people in trouble, but she has been told that she and Carrier don’t fit the criteria because they earn too much money.

She gets $678 a month in Social Security and Carrier gets $674.

Mitchell holds back tears as she considers their plight.

“I don’t know where we’re going or what we’re doing tomorrow. I’ve never asked anybody to help me with anything. I pay my bills. I do the best that I can to make sure he’s taken care of because he depends on me.”

She and Carrier have never been in this position before, and they are out of ideas.

“I’m 63 years old and I never in a million years thought I’d be homeless at 63, because I’ve always worked,” she says. “I’ve always taken care of myself. I don’t like people who take advantage of the system because it hurts people who really need it.”

I can’t help but think that she and Carrier fit the criteria of people who really need it, as I leave them, sitting in that tidy hotel room, the television turned down low.

But rules are rules, I guess. Even for two lovely people, one of whom is blind, and the other, very gentle and kind.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 24 years. Her column appears here Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]

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