The Price of a Big Heart

I got approached by two patients today, they lay on the floor of the hospital. This is not a new thing. People sit on the floor all the time. There isn’t enough seats sometimes and the Indian habit of the lotus position lends itself to sitting on the floor. The young woman pulls herself up and starts crying.

“Doctor! I have no food, I came here to take my mother to the hospital. Just look at her foot! (I look, it’s a diabetic ulcer and it needs to come off). We don’t have enough money for even a cup of coffee (South Indians are bigger fans of coffee).”

The ulcer is nearly 20 cm in length. It’s clear that her foot will need amputation some time soon.

She couldn’t get care for her foot and needed diabetic shoes to help her walk. All of this costed money.

This woman wept and it hurt to see someone like that.

So I gave her my month’s luxury budget so she could buy the things she needed and left feeling my heart grow a size and feeling like I had done something to help. I had also gotten her free treatment for the foot.

Less than 5 steps later I get told by one of the ward attenders that she is a con woman, who tricks the charity doctors into helping her. She is a psychiatry patient from a fairly well off family who pretends to be poor to get money out of people. I didn’t believe him.

Until I saw her pull off the same stunt in a ward.

Sigh. Such is the price of having a heart…


  1. Hunt says

    Well, sometimes that’s the cost of finding out you still have a heart.

    I’d still probably wrestle the money back from her. Might look a bit unprofessional…

  2. katybe says

    Enjoy reading, not sure I’ve commented before, so hi! I know I’ve been conned into donating my “luxury budget” at least once. A tearful girl said she’d just argued with her boyfriend and he’d driven off and left her in a strange town many miles from home. So I gave her train fare to get back to her mother, and she took my details swearing she’d pay me back when she got home. Then at the corner, a car pulled up and she got in with her boyfriend, both laughing. Thing is, it wasn’t really about her – I did it because I’d want someone to do that for me in her situation. I know I did the right thing, and if she didn’t, it’s her problem, not mine. In a similar vein, maybe your compassion made you an easier target, but it also made you a decent person. I’m sorry you got conned like this, and particularly that it will make this month harder for you, but it doesn’t mean you did the wrong thing.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    Was the “mother” with the bad foot in on the scam, or unaware that she was being used for a scam, or ???

  4. says

    She was in on it. The diabetic foot is a serendipitous disease that helps her scam people. It probably wasn’t her mother just someone she ran into running the same scam and they teamed up.

  5. Eric Riley says

    Katybe – I agree completely. As I told someone else who was wary of giving money away “in case they spend it on drugs or alcohol” – your charity is not diminished by what they do with that money later. ~E

  6. Pierce R. Butler says

    Now that is just plain dumb on the “mother”‘s part.

    Unless your diagnostic skills were completely deceived, she’s going to be needing tangible goodwill from local doctors “some time soon”.

    Fortunately for her, she now knows where to find at least one with a big heart…

  7. says

    I’ve been had too. Like others here, I still help. It’s like a tax on charity – x% goes to some selfish bugger who doesn’t deserve it but the rest really is needed.

  8. VeganAtheistWeirdo says

    Yep, count me in with the rest who say it’s why you give that matters, not whether the recipient is deserving. I don’t remember ever getting evidence of being duped like you or some of the others here, but it’s probably happened. I figure if I might help someone legitimately in need, it’s worth the chance. It’s like they’ve earned my few dollars with their story.

    I do avoid giving cash directly to those panhandlers with the signs who stand on busy street medians (do other states or countries have this behavior?) because a. I don’t encourage anyone to stand in traffic, and b. I suspect they spend more of their take on cigarettes and alcohol than food. I’d rather straight up take one of them to a place and buy them food, but I haven’t had the courage to offer that yet. It’s also easier to ignore someone when you’re closed into your vehicle with the windows up. That really isn’t a very charitable position, I confess.

  9. Ysanne says

    Definitely the right decision, even if this woman turned out to be a suboptimal recipient for your charity.
    I’ve bought train tickets, petrol, food and other stuff for random strangers often enough to know that there are lots of people genuinely in need of help, and giving money to one who just fakes it does far less damage than not helping someone who needs it.

  10. Ysanne says

    #9: Don’t be shy, offer it. Most of the times I did, the person appreciated it.

  11. bonobrat says

    People chipped in to help a Georgian chessplayer’s four-month-old daughter get a heart operation in Germany at a cost of €60,000 (it would have been over half a million dollars if done in the U.S.). Here’s the story so far:

    Ketevan to be operated in Berlin in April

    Fingers crossed!

  12. Uncle Glenny says

    I got scammed once; a young woman, late at night, didn’t have enough cash for a cab and the cab wouldn’t accept a check. So I accepted a check for something relatively small like $20.

    I didn’t try to just deposit it. I kept it in my wallet and occasionally checked by the bank branch in my supermarket and asked if it would clear. Eventually it did.


  13. Rich Woods says

    About fifteen years ago a bloke who had clearly spent the night sleeping on a park bench asked me if I could lend him 20p so he could buy a sachet of shampoo and wash his hair, since he had a job interview. I thought he was probably just trying it on, but I gave him the coin and wished him the best of luck. About three months later he stopped me in the street, put a coin in my hand and said ‘Thank you. I got the job. Here’s the money I owe you.’ I was gobsmacked. Then maybe five years later I saw him again, asking people in the street for money. He came up to me (I don’t know if he recognised me; I had a beard by then anyway) and asked if I could spare some change so he could get a bus ticket to Tewkesbury. I gave him some loose change.

    I don’t mind doing that for anyone. I just wish some people wouldn’t make up obvious lies, and instead ask straight out. Then again, truth can be stranger than fiction!

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