One of our older medics told me a story the other day. He confided in me that he and his partner, over the past year or so, have been involved in a special relationship with a local homeless man who calls himself "Homeless Bob," or HB for short.
The relationship began out of curiosity and boredom. One morning at the beginning of their shift, this medic decided to leave a few dollars and a note, partially hidden in an especially downtrodden part of town. The note read something along the lines of "Take this money as a gift, but please write me back." The drop-spot was a small red shopping basket, hidden among overgrown weeds, trash, and worn away concrete barriers.
Checking the basket every few days, this medic eventually found the money gone and a note - as requested - in return. It was written in sloppy handwriting, uneven lettering scribbled onto a tattered shred of paper. The writer expressed sincere thanks for this unexpected generosity, and praised god for his luck upon finding it.
Homeless Bob continued to write back for an entire year, each time finding some money or gift in the red plastic basket. The conversations grew more frequent, and gifts between the two increased in value. One morning after reading about complaints of sore feet, the ambulance crew left the man a set of workboots, and a warm work suit. Another time a sleeping bag was left. Homeless Bob began to make specific requests for gifts. He asked for money for a bus ticket, since his feet were too sore to walk. He asked for money for clothing or food, some trinket or another. The request was always for cash money, not for objects. Homeless Bob argued that he could "get things cheaper" than the ambulance crew would, so that their money would not go to waste.
The crew would return to the "drop spot" several times a day, checking for new communications. It was the their first stop in the morning. They would sit in a nearby parking lot when posting in the area, from time to time rushing off to help others on 911 calls and then immediately returning. This was their location, their project, their contribution. They were making a difference in this man's life.
One day Homeless Bob communicated that he was interested in traveling to meet some family who lived a distance away. He requested money for a motor scooter, which he said would enable him to get around town as he needed, as well as visit his family as he pleased. Seven hundred dollars, he said, would cover it. They left the money. ..And a little more, for a helmet, gloves, and jacket.
That was the last time they heard from Homeless Bob.
Musing about the experience, this old time medic reclined in his seat. He admitted to me that many times he thought he was crazy leaving all of this money for a man who would probably spend it on alcohol and drugs, waste it instead of seizing the opportunity to better himself. With each letter, though, he felt reenergized in the cause, convinced that the effort they were making truly did have a profoundly positive effect on this man's life. He described the experience as something amazing. Separate from the satisfaction he finds at his job with medical successes, he was able to provide for someone on his own accord: not out of a work obligation, or expectation based on the standard of care. The notes and gifts they left in that basket, he said, were his own choice. ...And from that, he found great satisfaction.
We returned to the drop spot later that day and found the red basket. It was empty, overturned and surrounded by the destruction of a forgotten part of town. The medic sighed as he looked around the area. This is exactly how he found the basket, over a year ago. Not a thing had changed.