A Shopper’s Act of Kindness When I Tried to Hide My Illness at Giant Food
This story goes all the way back to 1990. I have had Crohn’s disease for about 45 years now and have had about 13 operations because of it. Back in 1990, after my first wife left me alone, I had a horrible flare-up that resulted in four hospitalizations and two surgeries during the last four months of the year. Because I was alone I still managed to work about 65 hours a week as a salesperson at a large local motorcycle dealership even though, by then, I was getting so weak that it sometimes took me over 90 minutes to get dressed in the morning. I was pretty much a total wreck, trying to both hang on and to conceal from the world how bad off I was and why I was only 118 pounds.
As it happens, one morning I was making a food run at the local Giant Food when suddenly I just ran out of energy. Just totally ran out of gas and felt so weak I couldn’t move. All I could do was sit down on a shelving unit in the middle of the baking goods aisle, pick up a product, and pretend to sit there reading its label so people wouldn’t notice how odd it was that I was just plopped there. Inwardly I was absolutely terrified! I couldn’t move. I had no idea how I was even going to get back to my car, much less complete my shopping.
Out of the blue I head a voice ask, “Larry, are you OK?” I looked up and saw a woman who was a local client of mine at the motorcycle dealership. I had helped her out after her divorce with buying her first motorcycle so she could make some life changes. I also remembered she was a nurse. I tried to say I was fine and held up the can of whatever label I was reading. She asked me if I knew that I looked close to death and was as pale as a ghost. I came clean that I was too weak to even stand up and I was sitting there trying to figure out what to do.
She said that the first thing that needed to happen was to get me sitting on one of the benches by the cashier lanes. She helped me up, put an arm around me, walked me through the store and sat me down. She asked if there was anything I’d missed while shopping, and I told her I was pretty much done except for a few items. She asked what they were, got my cart and those extra items, and brought it all to me. She told me that her daughter’s Girl Scout troop was selling shopping certificates and that I could write her a check for a guesstimate of my grocery bill and that she would run it all through the check-out using those coupons. She did so, and helped me and my groceries to my truck where I assured her that I would be OK from there on out. I thanked her profusely and told her she had pretty much saved me. She said she knew what Crohn’s is and guessed what was happening when she saw me. She also said she knew what it is like not having anyone to count on for help.
That was 26 years ago. Last summer I was in that same Giant Food, almost in the same aisle doing my weekly grocery run. I saw a lady in her mid-80s sitting on a lower shelf in the middle of an aisle with folks pushing their carts right past her. I sat myself right down next to her and asked how her day was going and if she would enjoy some company. She was very confused but said she was feeling very weak and just needed to sit down. I told her that it was OK and that people sit down in the aisles of this particular food store all the time.
I was able to determine that she wasn’t in need of any immediate medical attention and she promised she’d be OK. I got the attention of a store manager and asked him to go grab one of those battery-powered wheelchair carts and bring it over with minimal fanfare to preserve this lady’s dignity. She was becoming less confused and seemed to be getting a second wind, but we insisted in teaching her how to drive that powered cart and the manager volunteered a employee to help the lady complete her shopping and make sure she stayed OK.
After we got her back to her shopping, the manager told me I had done a good thing. I told him I was just paying it forward.
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