Chinese Medicine began as a medicine
by the people and for the people. In our lore,
there is the image of the barefoot doctor traveling
to local villages to give care to those in need.
People would come from all around when word got
out. The doctor would tirelessly treat any and
all who came. For many, this was their only access
to the health care they needed.
Last year, I saw a piece on 60
Minutes about Remote Area Medical (RAM), a non-profit
organization founded by Stan Brock, well-known
as the co-host of the popular 1970’s TV
show Wild Kingdom. RAM has been delivering health
care services to remote areas around the world
for the last 25 years. The piece was done in large
part as a reflection of the current health care
system in this country. No longer were only “other”
places considered “remote areas.”
Now, right here at home, right here next door
is where the need can be just as great. So when
I heard that RAM was coming to LA for their first
foray into a large urban environment, I had to
go barefoot and volunteer.
For 8 days, from August 11th to
the 18th, RAM took over the Forum in Inglewood.
That Thursday in the pre-dawn light, as I pulled
into the parking lot for the first of my two 6am
to noon shifts, there was a long line of people
waiting to get in. Many had camped out in front
the night before. And many would come back later
in the week for more care. I had flash backs to
when, as a child, I had come here to see the Lakers
play, to see U2 perform, and I even saw rodeos.
This is a building that at one time represented
the flash of LA, the glitz and glam of Hollywood,
it was new and fresh, exciting and jubilant; it
was the “Fabulous Forum.” Now, it
felt like a creaky old dinosaur, antiquated, functional
but not well-suited to meet a new demand in a
new time. It felt like our health care system.
With all the talk today in the
media about health care reform, there are those
that say we have the best health care system in
the world. If this is true, then the definition
I am choosing to use is the one I saw on display
all last week: dedicated medical professionals,
sincerely and earnestly caring for those in great
need. By the people, for the people. Physicians,
dentists, ophthalmologists, OB/GYN’s, hundreds
of support volunteers, and now acupuncturists
teamed up to offer free care to all those who
came—most being uninsured or under-insured.
According to Jean Jolly, in total 14,561 services
worth $2.8 million were given by 3,827 volunteers
to 6,344 patients. That’s almost 800 people
a day!! And more could have been treated had there
been enough medical volunteers. It is hardly surprising
that the demand was far greater than the supply.
From the start of my shift, I
had a steady flow of patients. Many came for pain-related
conditions. And many had a long list of lifestyle-related
health issues common in an underserved population:
high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, coronary
artery disease, and high cholesterol. But one
thing was uniformly present in all the patients
I treated: a lack of options. Much of what these
hard-working people suffer from is preventable
through better food choices and nutrition and
lifestyle education. But they are surrounded by
fast food as the least expensive way to feed their
families; they have income that is too low to
afford their own private primary care physician
so they instead use the local ER for such needs,
where doctors are so overwhelmed by the volume
that they have no time to educate their patients
about prevention of disease. Something must change.
Though I am not sure what that “something”
is, I do know a few things:
Education is the silver bullet.
With education, come options. With options, comes
choice. And an empowered and knowledgeable patient
is their own best judge of how to care for themselves
and their family.
As the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention
is worth a pound of cure.” So much of what
we, as a population, from the wealthy to the poor,
walk around suffering from is preventable with
a good diet and exercise. With even the smallest
changes, over time, our medical needs will decrease
along with our costs. And we will begin to transform
our disease care system into an actual health
We, as a nation, are only as healthy as our sickest
neighbor. To see homeless people sleeping on the
street amidst all the wealth in this city is saddening.
That RAM could have stayed open for another 8
days and still not met the demand is shocking.
Health and wealth are inextricably intertwined.
Health is not merely the absence of disease; but
rather it is the ability to adapt to new environments.
The health of our country is today being challenged
to adapt to the profound need to change how we
care for our citizens. Yet, taking the first step
does not require monetary wealth. Rather, it requires
a wealth of spirit. Do I feel compassion for those
who are in need? Do I see myself as their kin?
Do I want to help?
In my time with RAM, I’d
like to think I helped a few people in need. Perhaps
I planted a few seeds of change in some of my
patients’ minds. And perhaps, if only for
a moment, for as long as their pain subsided,
I was able to introduce another possibility to
them, that there is another choice, another option.
That they are not alone in their struggle to live
without pain. That for at least those 8 days,
they had someone to lend a helping hand.
May you be happy.
May you be
May you live
And may you
help those in need.