It was nine months ago, with 30 Covance colleagues, that I headed to Dallas, Texas, to volunteer with the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics’ C.A.R.E. Clinic for the first time. Our team included doctors, a pharmacist, paramedics, nurses and translators, and we joined another 1,000 volunteers for the event. We knew about 1,200 uninsured or under-insured patients would show up for the one-day “pop-up” clinic that the Covance Charitable Foundation had sponsored; we also knew that local free and charitable clinics were ready to receive our referrals once the pop-up clinic closed its doors.
Words cannot do justice to what happened during the eight-hour clinic. Nearly 1,300 men, women and children were given medical help. Most patients looked a little nervous. Some were in tears. You quickly learn that the emergency room is where many of the patients receive their healthcare, when the pain they have is too much to bear.
I’m sure you can imagine the enthusiasm of Covance’s 35 volunteers as we sponsor C.A.R.E.’s New Orleans “pop-up” clinic on July 3. I know a great deal of good work will be done.
“Be in the moment,” I was told during training. “Take your time and listen to the patients.” And listen I did. “There’s always one patient whose story breaks your heart,” I was told. Mine arrived one hour into the clinic. The details hardly matter. His tears flowed, then mine. His story illustrated the power of the human spirit when faced with devastating adversity. His positive attitude to life was astounding. It also reminded me how quickly someone’s personal circumstances can change, and how easily any one of us could find ourselves in his shoes.
All 31 volunteers I traveled with had their own stories, each more potent than the next. We forged new and valued friendships, and together we ended up helping nearly 1,300 of the neediest people in Dallas that day.
I want to leave you with this thought: an eight-year-old girl was waiting in line with her parents for a pediatric check-up. There was no wait for the ophthalmologist, so a colleague and fellow volunteer suggested that she get her eyes tested. But the girl was scared of the machine, and her parents couldn’t afford glasses, so what was the point? The volunteer gently persisted, explaining that all prescription glasses were free, and that the test wouldn’t hurt at all. So, she got a vision test. It didn’t hurt. She did need glasses. And they were free.
While by no means the most powerful or dramatic story of the day, it was a perfect example of the simple acts that were happening all around us. That particular volunteer, because of his gentle encouragement, allowed that little girl to go back to school on Monday and read her books clearly for the first time in years. It was nothing short of a life-changing event.