Men with unshaven faces slouched against the dingy brick walls of aging rooming houses and shops. I noted their vacant stares as I sidestepped broken glass and pigeons. The suffering never ends, I thought, as I shifted my backpack filled with medical supplies from one shoulder to the other. Reality had taught me that, as a health-care worker, I could only do so much, no matter how great my desire to help others.
Reaching the old converted hotel building where a patient named Hank lived, I entered the dark lobby. I took the elevator to the 10th floor, stepped into the dank corridor, and headed for the door marked ROOF. I climbed up a yellowed stairwell to the 11th floor, where cramped, single rooms had been created along the perimeter of the building.
I knocked and heard Hank shuffle across the floor. He opened the door, mumbled “Hello,” and ushered me in. Hank was hunched with age, his eyes watery blue, his hair straggly. Drab brick walls enclosed a small, sparsely furnished room. In the corner stood a sink with exposed pipes and a toilet with green linoleum curling at its base. Three plastic bags of old clothes lay amid pieces of wadded-up paper, and off to the side lay a few bags of medical supplies left by other visiting nurses. Only a bent metal chair, a three-legged table, and a tattered mattress furnished the room. Occasionally a cockroach scuttled to the nearest corner.
I settled into my routine checkup. Had he taken his insulin and his arthritis medication? Had he had anything to eat today? After checking his vital signs and blood sugar, I turned my attention to his feet. Carefully I donned gloves, stretching them over my fingers and letting them go with a snap. Hank sat down in the chair. With rough, dirty hands, he rolled up the legs of his pants.
I unwound the tape and gauze, exposing green, draining wounds with crusted edges. These ulcers needed to be washed before they could be treated and redressed. Picking up an old plastic washbasin from the floor, I scrubbed it, filled it with warm water, and grabbed my roll of paper towels.
Once in front of Hank, I knelt down and stooped over to carefully help him place one swollen foot in the water. I added disinfectant and began washing away street dirt and the excess drainage. He closed his eyes and heaved out a long sigh.
“That feels good,” he said simply. Then I helped him lift his foot out of the basin and place it on clean paper towels. I patted it dry and helped him lift the other foot into the water. The wound on the heel of this foot was getting black around the edges—a danger sign.
“You have to go to the clinic and get this sore checked tomorrow,” I told him. “Promise you’ll do that?” He mumbled yes.
With his heel submersed, I began bathing his foot. Suddenly in my mind flashed a picture from another time, nearly 2,000 years ago. Another room, secret from the world, the Savior on his knees, washing the feet of his Apostles.
The message came clearly to me—Hank is your brother! The thought electrified me. What I was doing for him mattered, even though it was only one small act for one person. For a moment, I sensed more clearly the pure love the Savior has for Hank, for me, and for everyone—a love that eventually will overcome all suffering.
“So after [Jesus Christ] had washed [the Apostles’] feet … and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? …
“For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. …
“If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them” (John 13:12, 15, 17).
All at once, I felt privileged to be performing a similar act for my brother, and I knew it made a difference—for both of us.
Nancy Kirkpatrick of the Seattle Sixth Ward, Seattle Washington Stake, serves as assistant family history center director in the Seattle Stake Family History Center.