A defining moment for Sara Ayele (second from right) came when she met a father and daughter who had defied the odds to get to RAM.
“Wherever the art of medicine is loved, there is also a love of humanity.”
When I got to Remote Area Medical, I saw a sea of T-shirts with the above Hippocrates quote. Upon my arrival to RAM, I had no idea that the short four days that I would spend in Wise, Va., would rock my perspective. Before my arrival to Wise, I hoped to gain a greater understanding of how to help patients with limited resources navigate the health system. Little did I know that I would walk away from Wise having gained much more than I would have given.
We always learn in our pharmacy classes how important it is for us as pharmacists to work in rural, underserved areas. But I never quite understood how much of an impact a pharmacist could make in a rural area until I came to Wise.
A defining moment for me at RAM was when I was in the medication reconciliation station. Here I met a father and daughter who traveled three hours to get to Wise. As I sat down in the bleachers side by side with them, slowly they unraveled their story to me. As I interviewed the daughter on what medications she took, she explained to me that her primary concern was to get her teeth examined. She knew she had at least four cavities and feared having to get extractions. She also wore glasses and needed an updated pair of lenses. Her mother was raised on a tobacco farm, causing her to have COPD from the second-hand smoke she inhaled. As a result, her mother was bed-ridden, jobless and dependent on an oxygen tank to breathe. Her father bounced from job to job, and the jobs he took didn’t include insurance benefits, leaving his family uninsured. Worst of all, her father suffered from a stroke just days before RAM and was confined to his bed for three days without being admitted to the hospital because he couldn’t afford it.
I tried to weave in some advice to the daughter and father about the hallmark signs of having a stroke and the importance of getting to the hospital as soon as possible. The only one who knew that the father had a stroke was the family dog. The father claims that the only thing that kept him alive was the constant licking from his dog as the dog tried to keep his face from going numb and drooping. Although today, the aftermath of her father’s stroke are undeniable. When speaking to the father, I noticed he would often lose consciousness and would have difficulty coming up with words to express himself.
The father put his daughter’s health needs above his own in coming to Wise. He got a lottery number only for his daughter to be seen because he knew that he couldn’t sacrifice missing two days of work if health care providers saw both him and his daughter. For him it was a simple decision, but to me it was a selfless decision. To them their story was an ordinary one, but to me it was anything but that.
Having walked away from Wise on Sunday, I learned much more than just how to provide patient-centered care for patients with limited resources. Above all, I saw with my own eyes the best of humanity. At RAM, I saw the Hippocrates quote I read on the DO’s shirts come to life. It is the essence of what tied us all together not only as RAM volunteers but also as patients.
I learned each patient had a story. As health care providers, it is our responsibility to hear their stories. For us, as pharmacists, that translates into providing care to make sure that our patients are around to live quality, healthy lives. We are all a part of the same tribe of humanity because their stories are our stories and our stories are their stories.