Seeing dire medical conditions in foreign countries is alarming on all levels. Seeing medical conditions of the same severity in the United States could possibly be even more startling. During the first weekend of school, I traveled with Dr. Rebecca Kightlinger and Derek Dye to New Orleans to participate in a RAM health clinic near the Super Dome and another site devastated by Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita and the oil spill in the Gulf. Little did I know of the health crisis in many parts of rural America.
Remote Area Medical, or RAM, is a non–profit volunteer medical corps dedicated to providing free health care to underserved people across the globe. RAM volunteers focus on tackling issues of rural health: limited access to health care facilities, under and uninsured patients and lack of health literacy by offering free services (medical, dental and vision) to anyone who walks through their doors. They have the number of doctors necessary to see hundreds of patients every day, pull a multitude of teeth, and create a brand new pair of glasses for anyone that needs them. They have been characterized as a domestic Doctors without Borders, treating some patients who haven’t seen a doctor in 10 or more years.
One clinic in the heart of New Orleans was filled to the brim with patients. People had been waiting outside since the night before just hoping to see a doctor. The dim outdoor hallways, reaching 95 degrees in the shade, were lined with patients talking, babies crying and nurses yelling to direct traffic into a room where doctors raced against the clock, trying to offer the best possible care to a staggering number of people. The urgency was visible.
One patient, a young woman, came to Dr. Ross Issacs with extremely high blood pressure. She hadn’t been to a doctor in five years. Her blood pressure had then soared to 227/158 since being laid-off. On top of this, her mother had passed away from a stroke, and she was facing the reality of being unemployed. After learning that high blood pressure could lead to liver failure and stroke- the very disease her mother had died from- she soon saw the severity of her situation. Dr. Issacs began telling her a story about Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The doctor explained Roosevelt’s involvement in ending World War Two and creating the New Deal. He was one of the most intelligent men in politics- and he died from a stroke. If a brilliant man responsible for changing the course of history could fall prey to the same disease took this woman’s mother- a disease that she could work to prevent- then it could happen to anyone. Rather than accusing her of not taking care of her body, eating well or exercising, Dr. Issacs empowered her to change her life. She left crying, but knew that she could beat high blood pressure, and she could live in a world where her children wouldn’t have to worry about their mother’s health.
Patient after patient left with a new sense of freedom- freedom from the ailments that were holding them back, freedom from the incessant pain of a toothache and freedom to actually see the world around them. We forget how much health care means to others, and how debilitating disease can be to those who can’t afford to pay for treatment. RAM focuses on the people who need help the most by empowering and inspiring them to improve their health and by offering services that no one else will.
Allegheny College now partners with RAM through the new Global Health and Development program. Students will have many opportunities to volunteer with RAM for a weekend clinic, a 1–2 week EL experience, or through independent study projects which can be designed by students and faculty in any field of study. Students will be facilitating the RAM–Allegheny connection and they welcome all Allegheny students to volunteer for these experiences.