When I was a teenager I almost lost both of my feet.
No. I don’t mean I stumbled, or lost my footing. I mean I was at risk of my feet being potentially cut off. Gone. Bye bye.
I wasn’t particularly religious, but I enjoyed spending time with my church youth group. They were a fun group (with a couple of guys who were easy on the eye), and it was an excuse to hang out with people my age without parents or homework. The group I belonged to regularly participated in a summer day camp program for underprivileged children in the Appalachian mountains. We would travel to the main site where we would join other groups from various denominations and creeds, and get sorted into smaller mixed teams. During the day, our small groups would go to nearby sister facilities to act as councilors and chauffeurs for the kids. At night we would rejoin the large group and sleep in large wooded cabins.
I started to pack my bag. I had a problem. The terrain required closed toed shoes and I didn’t have anything suitable. My boots were designed for winter. I’d bake. My summer footwear was typically either sandals or nothing at all. I had to go last-minute shopping. I was in a rush, but I still wanted to look somewhat cool. I got a pair of low-cut Chuck Taylor knock-offs. The back of the shoe was stiff and rubbed the top of my heel, but I knew the shoe just needed to be broken in properly. No big deal. I threw a handful of socks into my bag along with the rest of my clothes. I was ready to go.
Even with the socks, my new shoes rubbed my heels to the point of blisters within the first hours of our departure. I knew that nothing much could be done about it, so I didn’t complain.
We arrived at the site. It rained. It rained some more. There was no real point in trying to stay dry, everything and everyone was soon waterlogged. As we didn’t have dryers at the cabin, all you could do was change into what dry clothes remained while your wet things hung to air-dry from any available surface. I had worn all of my socks by the end of the second day and had started a system of drying them, turning them inside out, and using them again. Desperate times.
I started to notice that my shoes were getting tighter. I figured they were shrinking due to the wet conditions. My feet started hurting all the time. I would smile and laugh with the kids during the day, but secretly hope they wouldn’t ask for a game of tag. A couple of days later, as I pulled off my shoes and wet socks, I saw that my feet were the size of an elephants, swollen, discolored, and oh how they reeked! The blisters had popped and in their place were weeping sores. Painful yes, but ewwwwwww!!! I quickly pulled on another recycled pair of air-dried socks. I definitely did not want anyone to see my feet like this. I didn’t want to be labeled as gross. Mom would know what to do when I got home.
At this point I was complaining to a few close friends about how much my feet hurt and begun to waddle, but camp would be ending soon. I was telling, but I was definitely not showing. Once I got home, I would burn those shoes and all would be better. I told myself, think of the children. What’s a few more days of discomfort. We were the highlight of their summer. Keep it in perspective. The rain finally tapered off.
It was finally the last night of camp. All the children had celebrated and gone back home. Only the various groups remained. We had one last group bonfire. At the end, the camp’s organizer asked us to get into small groups and reflect upon the last several days. A man from another church standing nearby turned to me a put me on the spot. He asked me to start us off with a prayer. I completely panicked. Sure, I knew the ritual ones, how to ask for blessings for food and family and whatnot, but I just didn’t do freestyle prayer, at least not out loud, and especially not with strangers! I said a few other words, but then blurted out that I just wanted my feet to stop hurting. Mortified, I apologized for my lack of skill. The man smiled and said that was enough. It was the next person’s turn.
I hobbled back to my cabin. Still coping from my embarrassment, I yanked off my shoes and socks and showed my feet to one of the other adults in the room as if to justify why I was complaining during the time that should have been spent on positive reflection. “See! See!” Her face dropped. “We need to get you to hospital… Now.”
The doctor informed me that had I waited much longer to seek treatment, the gangrene would have taken my feet. My prayer would have been answered, although not quite as I would have liked. My feet would only hurt as phantoms. It’s a reminder to be careful what you wish for. As it was, the infection was still treatable and while I still have small scars on both heels, I can still walk just fine on my own two feet.
Whether you want to believe it was the prayer that put those people in front of me or prefer lucky coincidence, my finally speaking up was what made the key difference in the final outcome. From that experience, I learned the value of packing proper footwear (sorry – comfort now trumps fashion for me), but more importantly that I needed to stop letting my worries about what people might think about me from keeping me from asking for or accepting help.