Nurse at Salisbury VA hospital gives veteran the shoes off his feet

One quality that makes Chuck Maulden a caring emergency department nurse is his ability to put himself in someone else’s shoes.

Recently, he’s been lauded for putting someone else in his.

Maulden, 33, had been working in the emergency department at the Salisbury Veterans Affairs Medical Center for a just a couple of months when a patient came in near the end of his shift one night in November.

The man appeared to be in his mid-60s, Maulden said, and he was there because his feet were causing him such pain he could hardly walk.

“He kept talking about being in bad water in Vietnam,” Maulden said, though Maulden doesn’t know if the man served there during the war. Many soldiers who did suffered from trench foot, caused by long exposure to cold, damp conditions.

The man took off his tattered tennis shoes, and Maulden could see the soles were worn through and coming unglued. The balls of his feet were covered in huge blisters, and his compression stockings had matted to the skin where the blisters had drained. A doctor instructed Maulden to bandage his feet and give him fresh stockings.

“I tried to take care of him medically as best I could,” Maulden said, washing the veteran’s feet with soap and water, drying them and wrapping them carefully with a bandage that wouldn’t stick to his wounds. As he did so, the man talked a little.

“I got the impression that he didn’t always have a roof over his head,” Maulden said, that he stayed in hotels when he could, and that maybe he slept on the street at times.

Most of his family had given up on him, he told Maulden, but his nephew still cared enough to bring him to the hospital that night for treatment.

Homelessness remains a major issue for veterans, and the Salisbury VA hospital serves its share – 4,227 last year, said Jennifer Herb, director of health care for homeless veterans at the Salisbury VA. Often, Herb said, those veterans have multiple issues, including medical problems, mental health conditions and substance addictions.

Maulden finished dressing his patient’s feet, fetched him a fresh pair of socks and extras for later. Then he looked at those beat-up shoes.

“Those shoes were just beat to death. I just didn’t feel that I could solve the problem medically and then put those shoes back on him,” Maulden said. “Then it occurred to me that his feet looked about the same size as mine.”

The Salisbury VA has several clothing closets where it can refer patients in need, but none of those are open at 11 p.m. The hospital even keeps a small selection of items on hand, but Maulden didn’t know if there would be a decent pair of size 10s in there.

So Maulden quietly pulled off one of his own still-new Nikes. He put it on the veteran’s foot and asked, “How does that feel?”

“It feels good,” the man told him. “I need to get me some of these.”

Maulden looked at the man’s nephew, then took off his other shoe and laced it onto the veteran’s other foot. He filled out the discharge paperwork and told the man he could go.

“Don’t forget to get your shoes back,” the man said.

Instead, Maulden said he gave the man a hug. “We talked about various blessings in life,” said Maulden, who has been reticent about the gesture. “It was kind of a private moment, I guess.”

With about an hour to go, Maulden put a pair of medical shoe covers over his feet and finished his shift.

No one would have known about the gift except the nephew called the medical center later to express his thanks. The story was written up in the hospital newsletter and published on its Facebook page.

Maulden is embarrassed by the attention for doing something he considers so right. “It was easier to do than not to do,” Maulden said. “I don’t think I could have slept at night if I hadn’t done it.”

It was that much easier, Maulden said, because the veteran seemed like a person who would do the same thing for someone else.

Maulden, who worked in another local hospital’s emergency department for eight yeas before he came to the VA, never spent time in the military but enjoys working with those who did.

“This is my chance to serve,” he said.