Afterward, I realized that it was one of those “defining moments” you always hear about but rarely ever experience yourself. I am so truly blessed to have had the opportunity to take part in such an amazing experience as RAM (Remote Area Medical) this summer in Wise, Va. Not only was it massive and provided medical care to so many people who cannot otherwise afford it, but it was also directly related to medicine, health and pharmacy.
I had many favorite parts about RAM, but one of them was being able to know patients on a personal level, to be able to follow them from 6 a.m. to when they left for home, anywhere between that same evening and the next couple of days. I would see a patient in triage one morning as I took her vitals and recorded her medical history, then again later in the pharmacy as I counseled her on how to take her medications. Patients with mouths full of bloody gauze would attentively listen to me and nod so enthusiastically, despite their pain.
It takes a strong person to tear away from the hardships of daily life, to stand in ridiculously long lines, yet still manage to look after his/her own health. I encountered an elderly patient who had almost all of the medical problems on our list. She had body pains, hearing problems, difficulty with vision, arthritis and osteoporosis, among other problems. As I recorded her history and measured her blood pressure, I listened to her story. She seemed so defeated and must have seen so much in her life. She told me that her son had died two weeks ago in an RV accident. I looked at her in empathy. This is strength. After everything she had seen in life, she still managed to bring herself out to the chaos of RAM, to at least look after her health.
I learned that no matter how busy or stressed I think I am, I have never had it as hard as they have. If they can get through life and embrace it, so can I. I learned that this particular community of people are underserved but not undeserving. I learned that, behind the tattered black tank top, worn boots, goatee and muscular arms riddled with tattoos was a regular man who cared about himself so much that he went to RAM to improve his health. I honestly do not know, if I were in his same situation, that I would find that kind of strength. But I am inspired and made stronger by witnessing it.
In the two-and-a-half days at RAM, we saw almost 1,400 patients. Volunteers did anything from providing food to checking vision to performing surgeries. We filled 2,000 prescriptions. VCU pharmacy students in particular worked in triage, on smoking-cessation education, in the pharmacy, on medication reconciliation, on educational health games and anywhere else we were needed. I saw patients who came from the same city, as well as those who came from Florida. The services we provided, as a unit, was so valuable that if it were possible to estimate total value of care for the entire event, it would be over $1 million!
Although we were able to help so many patients, these same patients helped us in ways they cannot imagine. Just by being there, by looking after their own heath, they gave us hope, hope that maybe someday every single person will have the access to care that they deserve. I know that I will do this kind of service for the rest of my life. When there is a need (and there is always a need), I will dedicate my time and services to helping others. This is something one must learn from experiencing it, not from reading a textbook or watching a PowerPoint presentation. To be at RAM was to do what all of us as future health professionals should.