When I first met him he had come in off the streets and his legs and feet were in really bad shape. I asked him to take off his boots so I could wash his feet and get the provider to take a look at them.
"No way. I'm not letting you wash my feet." The man was much larger than I was, and had just taken off a leather jacket and some big steel toed boots. He had a thick Boston Italian accent and looked like he could have co starred in The Departed.
"Why not?" I asked.
"It's degrading to you as a woman. I'm not going to have a lady washing my feet. I can wash my own feet, ma'am."
I looked again at the blood and dried skin. They needed to be clean so we could do an actual assessment. "I appreciate that, sir, but that's why I'm here."
"That's nice. Like Jesus. But I still really can't let a lady wash my feet, I'm sorry."
He passed away this weekend. I wasn't his nurse near the end, or any time recently actually. But all the stories his friends have told me have rung true to my first impression. "He was a big guy, but always gentle." "Always had a smile on his face." And the one that always chills me, "Even in the end, he didn't let nobody know he was dying. He knew, but he faced it with courage. No one else knew."
Of course we as staff knew, but it's always a bit of a shock when it finally happens. I go back and forth about whether it's brave or not to go in that way. It's brave on the one hand, to not complain about one's fate. But on the other hand, is it completely fair to the people who love you to leave them like that?
At any rate, one of the men who spoke at the memorial service last night said "We know he's in a far better place than he was here." For now, that's all that matters.