I have been a maker of leprosy bandages for many years. I first heard about them decades ago when they were on the list of things you could do for humanitarian service. Knitted or crocheted, leprosy bandages are like a cross between an ace bandage and gauze, about three inches wide and four feet long. They are breathable and let air in, but are sturdy enough to be washed, sterilized, and used again. Also, they have more bulk than gauze and so cushion a stump so the afflicted member can still be used. You can see a leprosy bandage by clicking here. You can also read about a group who deliver them to a leper colony in Viet Nam. The LDS Humanitarian department also still accepts leprosy bandages, although they’re not listed on their web site as things that they need.
My opening statement sounds like I’m a font of humanitarian giving, having made leprosy bandages, albeit sporadically, for multiple decades. However, when you temper that with the realization that my mailing skills don’t match up with my crocheting output, you’ll understand why I have little stashes of handmade bandages around the house in places I’ve forgotten and only discover when I move. They’re doing no one any good, hidden away in a drawer. However, I had lots of good feelings as I made them. Does that count?
Another curious thing about leprosy bandages is that, invariably, as I’ve been sitting in public working on one and a fellow asks what I’m doing, when I tell him I’m making a leprosy bandage, his reply—every time—is, “Can’t you make it by machine?” I’ve only had men ask me that. I think it’s wonderful that their minds immediately leap to a way to alleviate suffering on a grander scale than I can achieve with a crochet hook, but when I explain that leprosy is treatable in early stages and better use of large sums of money would be in education and providing medicine to places where it’s still a problem, they agree that it’s not likely that sprawling leprosy bandage factories will be built anytime soon.
One time, when I was YW president about twenty years ago, I had the grand idea that my young women would each make a leprosy bandage. This would fulfill a YW Value requirement and help build self esteem. I wasn’t deterred by the fact that not a one knew how to knit or crochet, or that beginners usually learned with large needles and yarn. I organized everything and approached the classroom bristling with balls of thread, crochet hooks, and instructions. Well, we didn’t build a lot of self esteem that night. In fact, I had to pull out the tissues to dab away tears in between picking up dropped stitches and undoing snarls. Neither the snarls, the dropped stitches, nor the tears were mine. I chalked the evening up to a lesson learned and let the idea die a quiet death. Not a one of my young women asked me when we were going to work on them again.
My son did some volunteer work in a leper colony this last winter when he was in Cairo. After I heard him tell about the old blind, maimed fellow that he visited with, I went and found my crochet hook and bought a ball of thread. The leprosy bandage I’m working on may never reach a recipient, but somehow it feels like I’m doing something for mankind.
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