I smelled it first. A decaying, infected, atrocious smell that keep wafting toward my side of the train. I was talking to my friend about his adjustment to his new job, and suddenly I simply couldn’t concentrate anymore. The potency of the smell made my head spin.
I looked over to see a man with a foot four to five times the size of a normal foot, swollen, filled with puss, black and blue and covered in dirt. He started inching across the train, stepping one foot and then slowly dragging the large one behind it, leaving a trail of puss on the ground of the train.
No one noticed.
Suddenly, he began to cry out, “my foot! My foot, my aching foot!”
A few people looked up.
“Please, I need help. I need help! Can’t you see my foot? I need help!”
A few more people looked up.
I became enraged, cycling through in my head the many articles I had read throughout college of just how messed up our health care system is. I began trying to diagnose what precisely could be wrong with him. What hospitals were nearby? Who even could help? He clearly didn’t have insurance. He probably had diabetes, and combined with poor hygiene, a poor diet and no health care, his foot had given out on him — decreased circulation combined with a nasty infection.
My friend got off at the next stop, and a tear left my eye. I couldn’t stop thinking about how I would see pictures just like his foot all over my Global Health textbooks.
This isn’t supposed to happen in our country, I thought. This is a disease of the poorest of the poor countries. People who don’t understand that they should wash their feet, their hands, and wear shoes… that’s who gets this disease. Diabetes is relatively treatable. It’s relatively preventable. What the Hell?
Poverty is everywhere. The cold, stark, intense realities of poverty can be found anywhere. If we only lift our head up and pay attention.
Now it is true that many people did notice him. Maybe it wasn’t a truly missed moment in that regard. But I challenge you to think bigger. Our whole train could have looked at each other, not just him, and sighed a collective sigh. We could have pooled our money together, propose some diagnoses and encourage him to go somewhere, report the situation to…. someone. We could have rallied around him and told him that we heard him, that we hoped he would be okay, that poverty and poor health care suck and that we will do what we can to end his— and many others’— suffering in this country and around the world.
We could have done something. But instead I just cried in the corner, and observed everyone stare at their feet and pretend to be busy with something that couldn’t possibly matter more than this aching human standing in front of us.