Before I got on the Lexington Avenue bus after lunch yesterday, that ancient longing took hold of me. I hadn’t connected with anyone in any significant way for a couple of days. I felt the lack. That drive for connection has roots deep in my psyche.
A man on the bus seated opposite me made eye contact. In that moment, his face looked easy and open; his expression, kind. I sensed that he wanted to talk. But I couldn’t think what to say to him. He was dressed nicely, neatly, and showed no evidence of hardship.
The bus began to slow for a stop, which turned out to be both his and mine. As the man began to rise from his seat, he moved very slowly and with great difficulty, his face contorted as if he felt pain. Then he looked at me and managed a challenged smile. No doubt he was embarrassed, but also worried. I returned his smile. His steps from the bus to the pavement were a trial.
Suddenly, when we reached the pavement, we connected. I walked with him, at his pace. He began his story. “A few days ago, everything was fine. Now I can hardly walk. I went to the hospital. I’m taking these drugs but nothing has changed.” He showed me some papers from the hospital, which bore no good news. We stood right up against a building as people hurried by on the sidewalk. Manhattan moves. Here, like nowhere else on Earth, time waits for no man.
“I’ll show you my leg,” he said. He bent down to pull the right leg of his trousers up so I could see the trouble. By this point I was prepared for anything. This must have looked interesting to others passing by, one man showing his leg to another. The skin was red but otherwise appeared normal. In that moment I wished I were a doctor, or that my friend David Jones, a Green Beret medic, had been there with me.
I have seen David in action, on a sidewalk, counseling and comforting a woman who’d fallen. I was deeply impressed with his sense of service, his heart, and the value of his very practical training. Many more people should have that training. Every man or woman who enters the military could receive that training and, once they’re civilians again, be of additional service to the people of this country. We have the time and the money. But do we have the will to provide for our own people as we should, and as do many other less wealthy nations?
The man was worried. “My boss is expecting me to come to work tomorrow. How am I going to work like this?” A sudden inability to move can, in this day and time, cost you your job and ruin your well-being. That’s why the US healthcare/health insurance fiasco needs a complete overhaul. The stakes are far too high for the vast majority of people in the nation. If you know the issue, you know the story of US healthcare: high cost, poor outcomes.
I listened to his story. I tried to come up with something helpful. I suggested he ask his boss for advice, to enlist his aid. I suggested he see another doctor. And at some point I told him he looked healthy, and that since this problem had arisen suddenly, it could also leave quickly.
As we clasped hands, his gratitude and his smile were stunning. And I was grateful to have been there to hold his hand for a little while. Everyone needs that from time to time. There is absolutely no shame in it.