Shae George (kneeling, left, in VCU Rams T-shirt) found Remote Area Medical a fulfilling experience.
This is the first year that I have done RAM, and I was very uncertain of what to expect initially. The scenery of the six-hour drive was absolutely breathtaking!
We stopped in Abingdon for lunch at Pop Elle’s. Ironically, this restaurant was once a pharmacy. The first evening spent at RAM was just to help with setting up the pharmacy and getting an idea for where all the different teams will be. We then went back to our living quarters to find that the townhouses we were assigned to had no air conditioning and, to be totally honest, were not the cleanest, either.
The conversation at dinner that night was mostly about what we needed to get from the nearby Wal-mart to make living here for the next three days bearable. Then, by showering with our flip-flops on, wrapping ourselves in our blankets, sleeping as far away from the walls as possible and turning our fan (that we had decided to bring at the last minute, thank GOD!) on the highest setting, we made it through the night.
At 4:30 a.m., I was up and getting dressed for my first day here. Even though it was dark outside still, I was surprisingly awake and excited to see what the day would bring. I started off at “Med Rec,” where it was my job to fill out a wallet-sized sheet that listed medications, allergies and other such personal information for each patient waiting to be seen by triage.
The Appalachia School of Pharmacy students were also doing this with us, so it was very interesting to see how the other schools had trained their students and to work with them on certain tasks. Shortly afterward, I was asked to help at triage, so that was where I was for the most of the morning.
I was with a nurse named Donna, who was such a delight to be partnered with. She and I had worked out a system where we’d raise our hands for a new patient, he/she would come over, we’d introduce ourselves, then I’d ask all the questions to fill out their paperwork while she did their vitals. This was where I saw firsthand how critical a pharmacy background is for a task as simple as filling out the patient’s papers.
A few patients had been writing their own medication lists out or had someone write it who didn’t know the actual name of the medication. For example, one lady had “Prabapast 20mg for cholesterol” written down. Turns out the patient had meant to write “Pravastatin 20mg” but couldn’t spell it or pronounce it, and the person writing the list out had no idea, either. I was able to correct the patient’s list and paperwork because I was familiar with the drug name.
About three hours later, I was scheduled to go to the grandstands and play our educational trivia game with the patients who were in the waiting area. Unfortunately, by the time I had gotten to the game, the heat and humidity were taking the life out of the patients. A few volunteered to answer some trivia questions merely for the sake of having something to pass the time, but for the most part, there was not much interest. About an hour later, I was reassigned to triage, where I was able to put a little more of my skills into play.
The nurse I was with, Kathy, allowed me to take blood sugar and pulse while she filled out the sheet and took blood pressures. If there was a patient with multiple papers to fill, we’d both fill them out as one of us asked the questions. It felt good to finally have something more than my handwriting and talking skills to offer to the efforts of the whole RAM mission.
The day had started winding down four hours earlier than expected, so we were slowly running out of ways to help. After doing some cleaning and straightening up, we went back to the townhouses and relaxed. After my much-needed shower, I was able to watch a movie and rest for about two hours before dinner.
About dinner, Reno’s Roadhouse had THE BEST bread I’ve ever tasted! Plus, being at a higher location than the townhouses, I finally had cell phone service and caught up on five voicemails and six text messages I had received from the last 24 hours. Once we all went back to our rooms, there was a short team meeting to discuss what worked and what didn’t for the day, and some games. But the day had worn us all out, and we went to bed almost immediately.
The next day started at 5 a.m., and I was at triage for the first hour and then went to the pharmacy to take prescriptions. Another interesting experience was when a dentist had forgotten to sign a Vicodin prescription. I had to run to the dental side and try to locate the dentist to get the signature. The dental clinic is HUGE! While there are at least three different tented areas where dental procedures take place, everyone knew at the very least what general area I should go to search for this dentist. I was able to get the signature and come back to the pharmacy, and the script was filled and ready before the promised 10 minutes were over.
That’s probably the biggest thing I have come to appreciate about RAM so far. Everyone works together to get everything done! No one team can perform their tasks without the help of the other teams, and so the overall morale of the RAM mission is always high.
People will drive golf carts all day to provide water and snacks, serve meals three times a day for hours at a time, escort patients throughout each step of their care — and all this with a smile! It is nothing like I’ve ever experienced.
I’ve also noticed that the mood of the patients is changed for the better because of it. They are all so thankful and cooperative towards the staff. That also speaks volumes for how much they need health care here. Patients as young as 12, needing root canals or diabetes medications — it’s very heartbreaking.
For the 10 minutes that I was sitting with Amanda and Courtney at the smoking cessation booth the first day, we were able to speak to a group of Girl Scouts who were doing community service at the clothes tent. They had a lot of good questions, and we were able to at least plant the thought in their heads of how treacherous cigarettes and dip are for their health. Hopefully they took enough away information to think twice before they do it, or to reach out to a friend or family member and pass on what they learned.
RAM has definitely been the most fulfilling time well-spent this summer, to date. I’ve grown to like this area, the people and this incredible mission. I hope to repeat this experience for as long as I possibly can.