A woman who suffers from a chronic disease known as scleroderma, a disorder that can result in hardening of the skin, wrote an open letter to a group of teenage girls who unknowingly laughed at the effects of her condition.
Amy Gietzen was shopping in Target one day last week when she grabbed a cart and began to wipe down the handle with sanitizer wipes. That’s when she heard laughter behind her.
“A group of three or four teenage girls were gathered behind me waiting for the sanitized wipes. So I turn my head back around and start to clean my cart again,” she wrote in her open letter, which appeared on The Mighty.
Gietzen says she may not look sick, and if you saw her you’d probably think she was a “perfectly normal woman,” the only real telltale sign of the scleroderma are her hands.
“So as I continued to wipe my cart I hear tiny gasps behind me, not very loud but I could hear them, so they definitely weren’t whispering,” Gietzen continued.
“Then I heard one of the girls say in a hushed voice but loud enough for all her other friends to hear, ‘This girl is so slow! I could be checking out the cute boots over there by now.’ Then her friend replies in the same hushed tone, ‘Dude, did you see her hands, I think her dog bit all of her fingertips off! OMG, so gross!’ and another girl chimed in, “That’s probably why she is so slow, I mean, look at her hands.’”
Gietzen said she is fully aware of how her hands look and how they may shock or offend people —most of her fingernails are gone and she’s suffered from severe ulcerated sores on her fingers. Gradually with each sore, the skin gets infected, turns black and dies. She described visiting wound care specialists:
“They would have to scrape the black, dead skin off to give the healthy skin underneath room to heal,” she noted. “It was because I was missing some of the tips of my fingers that I was taking such a long time with my cart. Not because the cart I had was disgusting.”
Gietzen didn’t let those girls get her down. She waited until she knew they were looking at her and whispering about her hands, then she turned around and said:
“’Do you girls know where the dog food aisle is?’ Every single one of their mouths dropped in shock. One of the girls stammered out ‘aisle two,’ while the rest of them still had their mouths gaping.”
As Gietzen walked away, laughing silently to herself, she heard the same girl who made the comment about the dog say, ”Man, she must really love her dog to keep it after he did that.”
“That made me burst out into a full-blown laughing fit!” wrote Gietzen. “Teenagers are quite gullible, but really, girls – you’re giving us women a bad rep.”
And even though Gietzen was able to laugh off the situation, she wondered why people can be cruel in the first place.
“If someone approached me in a kind manner to ask me a question about my appearance, the outcome would be much different. I would feel comfortable enough to answer their questions,” she concluded. They could leave having learned about something they had no knowledge of before they met me. In a perfect world.”