Volunteering for Occupy Medical‘s free clinic can get fairly hectic. Paying bills, juggling volunteer schedules, calling for lab orders, running to meetings, and hunting down donations take up quite a bit of my time when we aren’t serving patients. Usually, it is fun. Once and a while it gets overwhelming.
Last month was challenging. It seemed that Murphy’s Law was the norm. Getting a lab account with the big local provider turned into a paperwork nightmare. We lost a handful of reliable volunteers (some only temporarily) via various obstacles. Then the bus broke down. Even my personal life began to fray at the edges. I toyed with the idea of throwing in the towel as clinic manager.
It was another hot day at the back of the mobile clinic. I had been seeing patients for 3 hours at this point. We were out of vitamin C. The pharmacy voucher program that we work with to fill prescriptions was running out of money. I was trying to figure out how to get mental health help for a veteran patient that just left. I chewed my lip absently.
The next patient was a woman about my age, slight in build and badly bruised. She sat down on the bench as I reviewed her prescription and paperwork that the doctor had handed me. We exchanged pleasantries and I asked a few basic questions about her condition.
She wasn’t in the clinic to treat her obvious wounds. She had a more serious chronic condition that needed help. She had a black eye with a swollen lump that partially obstructed her vision. She was also dangerously underweight. Her hands shook slightly.
I asked her about the wound. She explained that she lived in her car. Even though it doesn’t run, it keeps her safe. When she was out getting food, she was robbed and beaten. She was recovering from a concussion. She had no money. She hadn’t eaten for 2 days until she got to clinic. She stared down at the plate of rice and beans that a volunteer had brought in to share with our patients.
“Go ahead,” I offered. “I will finish your paperwork while you eat.”
“I am too nervous to eat.”
She poked at her food with the fork. Her eyes had a hollow look of despair.
“I am afraid of those people.”
I looked behind me through the window to the park. Patients and volunteers milled around under the hot July sun.
“Do you mean the other patients?”
She nodded. “I am afraid they will get me again.”
“You know you are safe in here, don’t you?” I asked.
“I know. I just can’t make myself believe it. I can’t eat until I am back in my car.”
I hurried through the last of her treatment plan and gave her granola bars and a few boxes of raisins that I had stashed in the cabinet for emergencies. She thanked me and swallowed hard. She gave me a long look before leaving.
“Please come back next week. Tell me how you are. Maybe we can help you out again.”
She clutched her bag to chest before stepping off the bus. I watched her hurry down the street nervously looking around her as if another attack was creeping up behind her.
I knew that all of the work that we did this month, all the hassle, all the fuss was worth it. We had to keep our heads clear and our hearts open. We had to keep moving. There is more work to be done.