Robyn Reynolds is a director in the Marketing Department at UVA. She recently volunteered at the Remote Area Medical Clinic (RAM), an annual three-day event in Wise, Va., that offers free medical, dental and vision care.
I have been with the Medical Center for less than a year. During my first week in the Marketing department, I was asked, “Will you go to RAM with us?” I answered “yes” blindly, knowing that I should go. It was just the right thing to do.
I prepared as best I could. Comfortable shoes, twin XL bed sheets, the dreaded fanny pack, extra Keurig cups. But in the end, there’s really no preparing for what happens at RAM. It’s transformative, to say the least.
My partner in Triage was Tom Berry, our director of emergency services. I found this ironic. In the absence of floods, blizzards and construction dilemmas, what happens here really does signal a greater emergency. Most people who come to RAM, constricted by geography and their economic circumstances, get to see a doctor once a year, at best.
They knew the drill; I did not. Arrive early. Take a seat. Try to stay with your family. Speak up for the specialist you’d like to see first. “Dental, orthopedics, mammography. I have this knot on my shoulder.”
It was my job to move people from registration to the nurses’ intake stations. Working outside the clinical environment, I don’t know many nurses. But I knew these caregivers were special. Seasoned nurses, with their commanding and reassuring presences. New nurses, bright-eyed and compassionate beyond their years. All hand-picked for this complex tour of duty.
Sure, I saw things that were unsettling over my three days in Wise, Va., but what I remember most are the things that were reaffirming. I saw Sandra, a model of nursing efficiency, linger with a young woman for close to an hour — at one point, stroking her arm for comfort. I knew what they were talking about had more to do with the patient’s emotional pain than her physical infirmities. I saw Mary with a furrowed brow, concerned, searching her patient’s face for answers, desperate for some hint of what brought him there. I later learned she recommended he be referred to a facility that day for his severe schizophrenia. And I witnessed Sue respectfully greet patients time and time again with unbridled appreciation for simply being able to care for them each muggy morning.
But what I remember most is that this is why I came to UVA. For our singleness of purpose to deliver academic medicine and the acknowledgement that we are privileged to serve those who need us most.
Nearly a week later, I am still tired, my feet sore and my voice coarse, but I am proud. I’ve just begun to process what I saw over those three days, but the skill, compassion and collaboration of my colleagues has left a well-defined and indelible impression. Before joining UVA, I spent 21 years in a business where I wasn’t sure my work made a difference in the grand scheme of things.
Today, for the first time, I know better.
Want to know more about RAM?
Check out our coverage of the 2011 clinic.