I go to a church where we are all like family to each other, most of us have known each other for decades. There is a man who serves as a greeter – he is one of the first that people meet when they come in the door and always ready to greet them with a handshake, a greeting even a joke. I’ll call him Rudy. Rudy has what started as a blemish on the side of his nose and has grown into a raw sore that is literally eating the flesh off one whole side of his nose. He refuses to see a doctor. His wife, Bonnie, is a mild woman and passes it off as “oh that Rudy, he’s just sure it’s going to heal itself.” Some of the men in the church have asked if he would go with them to take him to a doctor, he refuses, with a joke. Not only is it so unsightly that it makes people uncomfortable because they can’t help but stare, but to anyone with any common sense it’s evident that it is a serious problem that could have dire consequences. What can we do?
If Rudy doesn’t want to do anything to care for his body at this point, then that’s his prerogative. His own wife can’t even make him care for himself. It’s hard to know if he’s just being stubborn, clueless, or just plain scared to face reality. Even though he is in charge of his own body, there is nothing wrong with showing a stronger concern out of love and compassion for him and his family.
This will completely depend on your relationship with him and his wife. If you’re not close to them, they’ll most likely see it as criticism. On the other hand, if you’ve built trust over the years, a more formal conversation in a more formal setting than the door of the church might have an influence. If you’re not the closest person to them, then invite that person to step in. If they have children, it might make sense to contact them and encourage them to come take a look for themselves and see if they can have some influence.
You might try visiting with Rudy and his wife in their home and taking a more direct approach. Instead of deciding that he needs to do something with it and forcing the issue, perhaps you could go over there in a spirit of love and concern and directly tell them that you and so many others are worried about losing him as a friend and neighbor. Express your heartfelt longing to have him take care of him so he can be around for his family and friends.
Most of us are motivated by our relationships and perhaps when Rudy hears how important he is to you and so many others, he might reconsider his position on his medical problem. Your directness about his situation may not move him to do anything different. However, it may have a more indirect influence on him through his wife. She may hear the direct concern shared by a trusted friend and realize the seriousness of the situation.
Ultimately, if Rudy and his wife refuse to seek medical attention for his condition, there is nothing you can do. Friends can only influence, not control. Even one of the most brilliant minds of our times, Steve Jobs, decided to ignore his cancer diagnosis for over a year before he did anything about it. By the time he decided to face reality, it proved more difficult to treat, much to the fury and despair of his family and friends.
Your love and concern are never wasted, so don’t be afraid to share your fears about losing such an important friend. If he chooses to do something about it, then he’ll be grateful for such a kind and brave friend who was willing to say something. If he ignores it and lets it get worse, then you will know that you did everything you could to keep your friend around. We can only hope he will listen and care for his body.
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.
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