I walked out the kitchen door for a moment of fresh air and was surprised by the sight of a man on the ground sitting against the wall. He appeared to be in pain, and I looked down at his shoeless feet. Red and swollen, his feet looked as though they had received a severe beating. His toes were wrapped with paper napkins to keep the toes separated.
I walked over to the man and asked him if he needed help. He looked up at me and thanked me graciously for caring. My heart twinged, that feeling like a string tugging the muscle.
Looking at his worn and ragged shoes, I asked if he needed a pair. He said yes, but he had already made his request to my staff, and there were no size 13. I told him I could fix that and asked our volunteer driver Dan if he would go to the second-hand store to pick up a pair. Dan asked me to call ahead to ensure they had size 13 shoes.
As Dan drove away, Norman, as I’ll call him, said, “I can’t believe you are doing this for me. I’ve been at another charity for two weeks, and they didn’t help me.”
Norman’s words jogged my memory of a recent event. As I’d concluded giving a tour of our facilities to a man and his wife, the gentleman said, ” Don’t you think there are already enough charities helping the homeless?” His question made me smile, as I’ve heard it so many times. I’d answered him, “No single charity is the be all and end all.” I thought how beautiful it would have been for the man and his wife to have heard Norman’s story. They would have understood how much the homeless depend on Street Help.
I offered Norman a chair to sit on, but he refused to say the medical clinic told him to keep his feet elevated, and to put ice packs on them. I’d thought I’d heard all the stupid advice given to the homeless! If this advice came from medical professionals, then that was icing on the cake. Where is a homeless man supposed to get free ice packs?
I looked at his feet and legs and asked if he had diabetes? He said no, but he did have a fungal infection. Ice packs and elevation for a fungal infection? Now that was the decoration on the iced cake! I’ve never heard of that medical advice for Athlete’s Foot.
I’d felt saddened as a woman with several children walked past us. The looks on their faces made me feel protective toward Norman. I could not honestly discern the meaning of the looks, but I said nothing and hoped they witnessed the real plight of a fellow human.
Melissa and I went into the centre to look for foot powder, antifungal cream, gauze, and medical tape. We found medicated body powder, triple antibiotic cream, gauze and medical tape which I brought out to him. Melissa fetched two tubs, one with soapy water and the other rinse water. She volunteered to wash his feet for him, but he refused. Her offer made my thoughts go to my vision of the lady in the Bible who washed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair.
I see a lot of that, a homeless person sharing the little food they have, or taking their shirt off their back for another. The humility and compassion exhibited are genuinely inspiring.
Others joined our circle, and Norman became more comfortable with us. He told us, a lawnmower accident caused him to lose his big toe and mangled his foot. Norman said the doctors had done a poor job, and he’s suffered all his life.
Norman smiled and said, “I’ve never been here before, but a lot of people have been telling me how great this place is.” He went on to explain circumstances had changed for him, and he’d slowly made his way to Street Help. I thought, looking at his feet, how excruciating the pain must have been.
Dan returned from shopping with the Street Help debit card at the Value Village in South Windsor. He handed a pair of shoes to Norman saying, “This is all they had.” Norman accepted the shoes and exclaimed, “They are perfect! Look at the soles; they are almost brand new!” It is incredible what a difference $16 can make.
After drying his feet, Norman massaged the antibiotic cream over both of his feet. Tim and Melissa searched and found ankle socks, in the extra large size he needed. Norman said most socks hurt his legs. After putting on a pair, he tucked away the rest of the treasured package in his backpack.
Norman picked up his worn shoes without soles and told us how he’d cut up a piece of foam he’d found to make inserts. He said, “That’s all that’s been keeping the stones away from my feet.”
I watched with curiosity as he started to pull out the foam. He stopped and looked inside the new shoe, then said, “I don’t need these, there are arch supports in the new ones!”
Norman liberally shook the medicated body powder into both of his new shoes. I told him the perfect solution also included having a second pair to put on every 24 hours.
Slipping on the first shoe, Norman exclaimed, “They fit perfect! I would jump up and down with joy, but I know how much that would hurt me!”
Melissa reached for the old shoes and, he stopped her. I understood why Norman resisted the idea of throwing them out. When you are homeless, everything you can keep in your possession is a treasure.
Melissa asked him, “You don’t plan to wear these again, do you?” Norman smiled at her and answered her, “No I won’t. But please pick them up by the laces.”
Norman then went into the centre to have a meal. I told him if he came on Tuesday, I would buy the proper antifungal cream for him. I hope he does return to Street Help.
I thank God for the opportunities I have to bear witness to his loving kindness. I also thank God for Dan, Tim and Melissa’s help to give comfort and help to minimize the suffering of another.
©Zora Zebic 2018
Update 1: A generous Friend on Facebook will be delivering us more size 13 shoes! I’ll have an extra pair for Norman!
Update 2: Norman returned to Street Help today! We gave him the anti-fungal cream and medicated foot powder. He enjoyed a meal with us, and I gave him a printed copy of my story. I told him about our Facebook Friend and he is happy to know he will have a second pair of size 13’s!
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