Drifting silently among the business crowds, students, and tourists within Chicago’s Loop are a group in the midst of a battle. The sullen gazes, missing limbs, jaundice skin and soiled clothing is the outward appearances of conflict. Gandhi noted that poverty is the worst form of violence; and the bitter cold, street crime and lack of food convert homeless to refugees. There is no doubt that there is a distorted line between victim and a self-imposed fall from society. Irregardless of politics, life choices or ill-fated history, a 44yo man with severe frostbite on two fingers of his right hand and needed help.
He was wary to have it looked at as the threads of his thin gloves were sticking to his bloodied skin and he was in severe pain. Knowing his reluctance, I first offered a haircut and beard shave which he quickly accepted. His hair was matted to the point that it had to be cut in short strokes before the clippers would even it out. Refreshed, he was now ready to have his hand tended to. We first slowly cut away the glove that was fused with his open wounds and gently pulled the cloth away from his sores. Subsequently, we cleaned and scrubbed the dead tissue, applied antibiotic cream and gave him thick winter gloves. Over these 15 to 20 minutes, he quietly cried from the pain; that pain likely both physical and emotional.
George Washington Carver noted that where there is no vision, there is no hope. Subsequently, this man thought his hand dead and now as alive; and his actions will be drastically different as a result. And as I’ve seen all too many times, the trajectory of a homeless person losing their limbs is often directly to a street grave. Anecdotally, this puts meaning into the acronym for H.O.P.E. (“Hold On, Pain Ends”). Moreover, if you keep hope alive, it will keep you alive.