Blessed by a Leper

The following is not a feel-good story with an online life of its own, but an actual, recent event given to me firsthand by the health care-giver friend of mine in the account. I hope it blesses and teaches you as it did me.

My patient was 87 years old and dying of metastatic prostate cancer. He lived alone in [City, USA] in subsidized housing for the elderly and frail. He said he had 2 daughters but I never saw them. He was so incapable of doing much of anything for himself other than making it from one room to the other. He told me his daughter’s came “when they could” to do his laundry and clean his apartment and help him bathe. However, each time I visited him, I found a filthy apartment with bloody tissues all around (he had severe weeping psoriasis of the arms and legs). I almost always found him sitting in his recliner in the living room with old food someone had brought to him at some point. The TV was usually on and he was typically asleep leaving me wondering every time I came in if he was alive when I arrived. I always sneaked around to find an empty refrigerator and was able several times to slip some food in that would be easy for him to eat. My social worker had him on the list for several community agencies/help but as always, those waits are months long. He was a veteran and no one had ever helped him access vet services. So, we were in the process of trying to help.

So, last Tuesday I stopped in to see him – you have to drop in on him because he rarely answers the phone. His apartment was filthy, his floor covered in scales of dry skin that had fallen from his legs and arms. The apartment smelled awful – worse than usual. I checked the kitchen and it was not from food although he had an old box of chicken from a little mom n’ pop restaurant down the street – occasionally one gentleman whom he got to know at a gas station years ago, would bring him food and had brought this by over the weekend. He was in his chair as always and was awake that day so I didn’t have to wake him. He’d tried to comb his hair. His shirt, although sleeves stained with blood, was tucked in his jeans and he had on socks and shoes. I visited with him a minute or two then set to examining him. When I got to his legs and pulled up his jeans, I found the source of the aroma. He’d had on the same socks and shoes for, he told me, at least a few weeks. He was very apologetic and related that he’d been unable to wash his legs and feet because he couldn’t reach them. I gloved up and took his shoes off and his socks were soaked and crusty at the top. His legs had been weeping since who knows when (at least the last time I saw him) and his socks had acted as a wick. I nearly had to chisel them away from the tops of his ankles and finally got them off. I won’t give you too much detail but will say that his feet were wet and filthy. I was able to find an old bed pan in his bedroom closet from a previous hospital stay and soaked his feet, one at a time, in warm soapy water and washed and washed and washed until I was able to get them clean. I wrapped his legs (he’d been seen at the wound center before so I repeated dressings and wraps from the prescribed regimen there) and went out to the Jeep to find a new pair of socks. I brought them in and put them on, asking him to leave his shoes off at least for the day, and set them out to dry. I went off to the bathroom to dump the water again and came back through sweeping the floors to clear them of the dry scales because I was afraid he’d slip on them in his socks. As I rounded the corner, he was reaching for his wallet, which appeared to have maybe $10 in it. I asked what he was doing, insisting that he owed me nothing, and he said “if you go over to that building across the street, they have a soda machine. I’d like to buy you and me a Coke.” I went on and on about how generous he was and asked if we could keep the money in a bowl on the table so that when I came by later one day when it was really hot, I could run across the street and get us a drink (I wish now I’d just gone and gotten the drinks and called my next patient to say I’d be late). He put the money in a bowl and thanked me two or three times. I told him I’d come by when I got back from [City, USA] (today) and look at his legs and feet again for him.

As I drove away, I remember thinking that this was probably the best thing that was going to happen to me all day. I’d been able to touch a leper and thought of what a privilege it was to wash his feet, remembering that Jesus had loved in a similar way. I was overcome with gratitude and sorrow as I am now. I found out at 5am this morning of his death. He died alone in the night on Wednesday and was found by his apartment maintenance manager, slumped over in that same recliner.

I sit here this morning praising God for the opportunity to have known this man who, for all I know, earned his loneliness somewhere along the way in his life, but was none the less alone and in need of human contact and love. I praise Him for giving me the opportunity to express His love in a tangible way. And I am reminded of how precious the opportunities are to get on our knees and literally or figuratively, was the feet of the leper.

May I never be moving so fast or be so busy that I miss such an opportunity. Grateful to my God, my Savior giving me such a precious moment in this life.