Linh Tu, class of 2017

Linh Tu (left) and Lauren Hall

Linh Tu (left) and Lauren Hall

This was my first Remote Area Medical trip; I’ve always had a passion for helping the underserved populations.  During the few days at RAM, I felt like I learned not only to be grateful for everything I have but also to be more open-minded as a future health care professional.

It is an experience that is not only life-changing but is priceless.  The patients were all so grateful for us being there, it brought some of them to tears.  We take for granted the easy access to health care we have here, but these patients have never even seen Washington, D.C., their entire life, and it is only a few hours away from them.

I have patients who came up to me to thank us for all the help we were giving them even if they couldn’t even be seen that day.  Our presence was enough for them.  The part I love most was during the medication reconciliation when I took down patients’ current medication histories. I felt like I was given an opportunity to really connect with these patients on a personal level.  They told me stories of their journey getting to Wise, Va., and how long they waited to just get access to health care.  They also told me about their family, their concerns and their dreams.

I felt more connected to them in our five-minute conversation than I would with someone who talked for hours.  It was then that I realized this trip was beyond just helping patients and giving medical treatments, it was about building a connection with people. Sometimes the most therapeutic thing a person can do to help is to just listen.

Linh Tu (second from left) with Erin Hickey (left), Irene Lee and Khang Le

Linh Tu (second from left) with Erin Hickey (left), Irene Lee and Khang Le

Khang Le, class of 2017

Khang Le in the pharmacy

Khang Le in the pharmacy

The atmosphere was unbearable inside the makeshift barn. Even with constant whirl of multiple fans, the heat was still stifling. I was sitting in line with the other patients to meet with an optometrist. We have been waiting close to three hours already in the poorly ventilated barn. The situation would have been intolerable if it wasn’t for the patient I was sitting next to.

The patient was there to get new glasses and also check on her glaucoma stemming from diabetes. She was an interesting character, to say the least. Throughout the insufferable wait, she remain lively and optimistic. Through my interaction with her, I found out she was a very literate person. She explained to me how she got her accounting degree at a local college. She told me how she was laid off and the tragic story of her boyfriend’s passing from leukemia.

I counseled her on taking care of her diabetes, but she surprisingly was very health-literate. However, for the past year, she had no access to medical services. She noticed her vision was deteriorating along with her health and was very glad that RAM came that year.

This touched me and supported my decision to go to RAM. As I sat in line with the other patients, I experienced firsthand the stress of waiting to be seen by a provider. However, people like the patient I sat down with have no one else to help them, and they still remain optimistic and cheerful. RAM truly is an important service to this population; sometimes, we are all they have.

Triage area, awaiting patients

Triage area, awaiting patients

Lauren Hall, class of 2018

Lauren Hall (right) with Erin Hickey (left) and Meredith Weakley Crumb

Lauren Hall (right) with Erin Hickey (left) and Meredith Weakley Crumb

“We’re so excited to be back this year,” said a middle-aged lady assisting her older, non-English speaking father at the Remote Area Medical clinic in Wise, Va.  I was helping determine what medications were appropriate for the older gentleman to take before going to have some teeth extracted.  “Oh, so you’ve been to RAM before?” I asked.

While I was getting a blood glucose reading for her father, she proceeded to tell me that last year at the RAM clinic her father had gone to visit the medical tent.  There, the doctors noticed something out of the ordinary and eventually discovered that her father had a tumor on his lung.

Because of the treatment her father received at RAM, he was able to then seek out care for what ended up being a stage 3 lung cancer that he had been completely unaware of.  His daughter told me as of last month, 11 months after his diagnosis, her father is now cancer-free!  Her father was very excited to be alive and healthy enough to come back this year to take advantage of the dental services RAM offers.  His story has stuck with me — RAM really does save peoples’ lives.

While this is the most poignant example, I had many very similar conversations with patients who were all so lastingly grateful for the positive impact RAM had had on their health and lives.  As a health care professional in training, hearing stories and being able to actively participating in the care of these patients inspired me.   I left RAM with a charged sense of purpose and gratitude.

A mission that really saves lives

A mission that really saves lives

Anesa Hughes, class of 2018

Although this was my first year as a volunteer at RAM, it wasn’t my first time participating. In years past, I was a patient at the event along with some of my family and friends. Just like most families in rural Appalachia, my family was no stranger to the hard times that seemed to be targeting the area. Health services and resources were, and still are, scarce. And with the coal industries dying out, so was the money.

Anesa Hughes (left) and Chelsey Llayton working in pharmacy

Anesa Hughes (left) and Chelsey Llayton working in pharmacy

If I were being honest, when I was younger I did not want to go to RAM. I didn’t realize what a great opportunity it was nor did I appreciate it. I was sort of embarrassed and didn’t want to be judged. However, I quickly learned that asking for help was nothing to be ashamed of, and RAM was there to benefit me.

Remote Area Medical became a sort of saving grace for us. It truly was a blessing for my mom to get the glasses she needed without having to worry about how she was going to pay for them. For me, a dentist appointment meant I didn’t have to worry about the fact that I didn’t have dental insurance for a little while longer. Along with the services provided by RAM, there was peace of mind.

This summer I was granted the opportunity to be on the other side of the fence. I was a volunteer, along with my fellow pharmacy classmates and VCU nursing students, at the Wise County Fairgrounds. I was thrilled to be presented with this opportunity, but of course I was very nervous.

As I had just completed my first year of pharmacy school, I didn’t feel like I had enough knowledge or experience under my belt to be of any help and felt an immense amount of pressure to do everything correctly. I didn’t want to let my team down, but I also didn’t want to let my neighbors down. However, when RAM started, all of my insecurities seemed to be inconsequential.

I fell into the work flow smoothly, and there was always something I could do to help. One of my favorite things was premedication at the dental tents. I actually felt like I was using some of the skills I had learned in my first year of pharmacy school, and even I knew more than I thought!

While premedicating, I tried to get to know the people I was talking to. I know my people and I know they are talkers, so in making conversation with them I knew it would help them feel more comfortable. I also remembered the shame I once felt when I first was a patient, so I really wanted them to feel welcomed.

Most of my patients really liked the fact that I was a “local girl” who had been in their shoes more than once. One woman expressed her gratitude and how she was thankful for every one of us. She let me know that no matter how small or big our efforts seemed, they meant the world to her. She also told me how proud she was of me for helping out my community.

I also enjoyed working at our makeshift pharmacy. I mostly worked at prescription drop-off and pick-up. I had face-to-face interaction with the patients. I was not only able to tell the patients about their medications, but I was able to tell them about other medical and dental services that are provided throughout the year for their assistance.

It really made me proud to volunteer for RAM. I felt that I was able to connect to the patients and make a difference in their lives. I have always wanted to give back to my deserving community and never dreamed of being able to do so through RAM. It was a great learning experience for me to be able to practice my clinical skills.

Not only was I able to educate my patients, they taught me multiple valuable lessons. My community stays strong and seeks to help one another in hard times, and it was rewarding to see them come together like this. I hope I am able to work the RAM event again in the future. 

A professional and personal mission for Anesa Hughes of Appalachia

A professional and personal mission for someone who grew up in the area

Chelsey Llayton, class of 2018

Chelsey Llayton (right) with Anesa Hughes working in pharmacy

Chelsey Llayton (right) with Anesa Hughes working in pharmacy

I was nervous during orientation and the first morning of RAM, but my fears were quickly calmed when I started interacting with patients. My first shift was spent talking with patients and writing a medication list for those waiting in line. I figured this task would be tedious, but I loved talking with the patients and discussing their medications with them.

Right away it was obvious how grateful they were to receive the care they needed, and they showed great patience as they waited in line. This helped me get over my fears, and I was able to just focus on helping these patients as much as I could.

An experience I didn’t expect to enjoy as much as I did was observing a tooth extraction. As soon as I walked up to the patient, she grabbed my hand and would not let go. It was obvious she was scared, and the dentists were having trouble removing all of the roots, so I held her hand and tried to comfort her the best I could. With my other hand, I helped hold back her cheek and tongue with an instrument the dentists gave me.

Any time I tried to move, the patient would squeeze my hand tighter, so I stayed with her for over an hour. It was a great reminder that a simple act of kindness can go a long way, and I’m just happy I was there. This feeling stayed with me throughout the experience; I found it truly rewarding, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity.

The dental tent

The dental tent