Deep January clinic. (by Dr. Leigh)

Dude. Winter is here. Winter is here, and we’re making it – most of us.

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One patient said, “Remember, you told me to quit smoking a few months ago? Well, I did it.”

Another said, “The blood pressure medicine you gave me last time? It’s working.”

Another said, “I ran out of refills last week. I thought I was just S.O.L.” [“Seriously out of luck.”] (I changed their dosage by a few milligrams, and saved them $40 a month. In other words, I made it possible for them to have any medicine at all, since they didn’t have $40.)

One patient needed, in my estimation, a “simple” skin surgery – simple under normal circumstances, but here? They came back after 2 hours, as I’d asked them, to get a second opinion. In the meantime, they got a tetanus shot. The second-opinion doctor examined them carefully, and finally said, “You should just come into my office, and I’ll do it for free.” Like I said, simple.

The Public Health Department nurses were there, giving free tetanus/pertussis vaccinations, and hanging out with us. We had new nurses. We had a full Triage team, like a well oiled machine. We had new volunteers helping keep track of patients and their medical records. (We take health-record privacy very seriously.)

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Over in the tent, we had a big crock pot full of hot vegetable bean stew; hot tea; home baked bread. Donna said, “I’m still trying to give away these boots,” indicating a large pair of insulated leather-and-rubber winter boots. I got my hair cut in the tent, chatting with a friendly social worker while Benjamin made me look stylish. Food Not Bombs came and set up next door, with more hot soup and bread for everybody.

We have pretty earnest, good-hearted fun at the Occupy Medical clinic. I had a student with me, and I was telling her, This clinic is for everyone, for free, every Sunday. We see a fair number of people who are unemployed and unhoused, and don’t have many resources other than their wits and good looks, but it’s mainly because of where we park the bus, downtown.

If we parked the bus in the Wal-Mart parking lot, we’d still be super busy all afternoon, with people who might have houses to go home to, but they mostly would still lack proper health resources, such as insurance that pays for doctor and dentist visits, lab tests, x-rays, and medicine.

And If we parked the bus at the health-food supermarket, where people go to get their fancy French cheeses, organic blueberries, and herbal toothpaste – we’d still be busy all day. Just because you have $10 to buy a gluten-free frozen pizza, doesn’t mean you have $250 for a single doctor or dentist visit – or $600 a month for health insurance.

No matter where we go, there we are! No matter where we park the Occupy Medical clinic bus, we’ll always be busy, because injury and illness happen in every social class, and people are falling through the cracks in our broken social system at faster and faster rates, as service budgets are cut and insurance premiums rise. This is why, at Occupy Medical clinic, we don’t ask people to prove they’re poor enough to deserve our services (or rich enough to “make it worth our while”). Health care is a human right, not a scarce commodity.

Meanwhile, since we are parked downtown on a Sunday afternoon, we see a lot of folks who’ve been getting really cold. And we get cold, too. It’s cold! When I got out of my nice warm bed this morning, the online newspaper said it was 28 degrees with “freezing fog.”

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We’ve had freezing fog for a week now. I’m seeing more people with bad asthma attacks from it. One guy called it “cold smog.” Today I saw one person with pneumonia. She called it “Occuplague,” after the terrible bronchitis people got last winter in the Occupy camps, nationwide, from living outside. I told her, your lungs sound like a teakettle that’s boiling – they’re gurgling. My little pulse oximeter showed she wasn’t getting a normal amount of oxygen into her blood.

The shelters generally kick everybody out, every morning, no matter what the weather, so people have to basically walk around all day, if they don’t have a job or school to go to. Last week I took a photo of the view out the window, where I work on the bus. The ornamental pond across the street, with the metal fish sculpture in it, was covered with little icebergs. It’s so cold, and folks are obliged to just kind of walk around all day. So they get sick.

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Did you know that the other local do-gooder low-income clinics are now over-full, and can’t take new patients? One administrator came and visited us a couple weeks ago, to ask, hopefully and apologetically, if we will be able to handle the patients they can’t.

But it’s not all bad news. There’s a lot of good news. I get patients coming back in to show me that they got better, with care. Also, after months of wrangling, protests, and peer pressure, the City has provided the Clinic with a porta-potty. This makes a huge difference! For example, it makes life much easier for our volunteers, who stay on the site for 4-6 hours at a time, often coffee-fueled and unable to stop their work to hike down the street and buy something in a coffeeshop, for the privilege of using a bathroom. It’s also a service to our patients – can you imagine what it’s like to try to get to the doctor for a severe gastrointestinal ailment, or to take small children downtown to be seen, and there’s no bathroom? We can also do pregnancy tests and simple urinalysis now. It’s just incredible. It’s practically “first-world.”

The City has also allowed us to plug into the park’s power supply – after we took out an extra-large insurance policy protecting the City from any lawsuits – the kind of insurance policy that would be appropriate for a giant rock-and-roll show. Oh, well. At least we have lights – and a wee space heater, at the chilly doctor’s elbow.

We’re feeling pretty fat and sassy, now, in fact, with our fancy electric lights, and our porta-potty, and our hot drinks and pot of soup. Benjamin, the guerrilla hairstylist, can even run clippers and a blow-dryer, as I found out myself today. Stay tuned for the Friday clinic, staffed by a heroic team of nurses – a dedicated Wound Care Clinic. By golly, if elected officials can’t figure out how to provide health care as a human right, we’ll just have to do it ourselves! We could be heroes, just for one day.

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Occupy Medical clinic is tremendously excited to welcome any new volunteers who can offer any skill. Particularly needed are additional primary-care doctors, nurses, pharmacists, caring-profession students and trainees, dentists, dental hygenists, certified herbalists, veterinarians, pet groomers, licensed bodyworkers, counselors, social workers, mechanics, engineers, bus drivers, roadies, bouncers, organizers, fundraisers, statisticians, publicists, printers, artists, photographers, seamstresses, group facilitators, workshop teachers, friends, neighbors, cheerleaders, and people to help set up and tear down.

About the Public Health Department vaccine programs: http://www.lanecounty.org/Departments/HHS/PubHlth/Pages/lcph_immunizations.aspx#adults

About Food Not Bombs: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=_jZKjBVXGJI#!

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