A week ago this morning I visited with a film crew from South Korea working just outside of Jonesville, Virginia. No, they weren’t casting a movie. They were filming a video appeal to Samsung’s worldwide employees for contributions to help Americans without access to health care. Thankful, Virginia Delegates?
The day prior, a German television news team was on set at this Remote Area Medical clinic capturing the essence of what American political arrogance delivers our least fortunate. So the young South Korean and I traded our stories. I knew a Korea he had never experienced, him being born after my first foray to outposts along a tense Demilitarized Zone. He knows an America that can’t exist in his own nation where there is universal health care; an America you won’t hear honestly debated by Virginia Republicans or their Presidential pretenders.
Incumbent Delegate Terry Kilgore (R-Scott), running for reelection unopposed with over a quarter million dollars in his campaign coffers, failed to drop by to thank his constituents’ benefactors for delivering the health care that his Party’s policies have denied them. Maybe he is saving the funds to pay for a flight to Inchon so he can meet the Samsung executives personally.
The sparsely used and essentially vacant Lee County Airport terminal had been transformed the Friday prior into a health facility; every nook and cranny was claimed. The expeditionary nature of the organization Stan Brock leads leverages volunteers to construct tents, unload and arrange equipment, and prepare for two days of service. Last year, players from the Lee High School football team provided the bulk of muscle required. But this year the Generals had a game on set up day; local churches rounded up some help. A group of students from James Madison University’s (JMU) Department of Social Work, led by their mentor, Dr. Laura Hunt Trull, pitched in both days of the clinic. And there were the cats and dogs like me.
When I arrived on Friday for set up, patients were already waiting for their tickets; almost 24 hours before they were to be handed out. To be fair, not all of the almost 400 who came for care were Kilgore’s constituents. One woman drove five hours from her own non-expansion state of Georgia. And not all of these patients are fans of universal health care.
One patient waiting to have his last six teeth extracted explained his opposition to “Obamacare:”
“Next Spring they are going to implant chips in people’s wrists.”
You have to wonder what men like Kilgore tell their constituents who express such fancies.
Wait, no you don’t.
There are other reasons besides glad-handing constituents and reaching out to foreign benefactors for fellows like Kilgore to attend these clinics. There are innovations that amaze. One such piece of equipment is something school nurses would find invaluable; a device called the Spot Vision Screener. It is a handheld, portable device designed to quickly detect vision issues for patients from 6 months of age through adult. Spot screens both eyes at once from a nonthreatening 3-foot distance. It emits a set of curious noises to gain the attention of the youngest children. Rarely are children brought to these clinics by parents and grandparents for service; more often for convenience because there is no one to leave them with at home. At this clinic there were two children with lazy eye who were ushered by a clinician for an exam. But other children were checked in passing without interfering with the care being given their guardians.
While she demonstrated the device on one of them who had never been prescribed glasses, the clinician explained to the JMU students that the flat chart eye tests used by school nurses are not effective.
Looking down at the result from the screening, she remarked, “Oh, honey, you need glasses. Let’s get you into the clinic.”
When I asked if the data from the device was transferred wirelessly to the wrist chip I received a humorless glare.
You come to recognize the professional volunteers at these clinics; the Appalachian Health Wagon personnel and Dr. Joseph Smiddy from Kingsport, Tennessee along with many of the dentists, technicians, and, of course, RAM Virginia President, Dr. Vicki Weiss. There is one consistent characteristic of everyone involved: selflessness. The patients, despite their often broad misconceptions about access to health care, share a different shared motivation that overwhelms their fears: pain.
On Sunday morning a woman I recognized from the day prior waved me over. She wanted to know where the nurse was who had been in the area where I was stationed. She wanted her test results. Of course there were many nurses, so I tried to narrow it down by asking what she’d been seen for. She was worried about her HIV test. She’d come for dental extractions but during the initial triage, she was referred to the nurse who was there from the local health department. The woman was at high risk but had not sought care.
This is something that most of the patients have in common: they are seeking relief from an immediately acute condition while ignoring chronic conditions that will be even more devastating in the long run. This is the rule when there is no access to health care. The cost of denying care to our fellow Americans far exceeds that of providing preventative care. Do the math; grasp the consequences.
But on this weekend there were more South Korean citizens than Virginia electeds at the Lee County Clinic. The local Commissioner of the Revenue did drop by. No one else that anyone noticed. By the way, Lee Generals lost to Burton High out of Norton 28 – 15. Unfortunately, it looks like they won’t have the chance to volunteer next year as there is no clinic scheduled for Lee County, just like there’ll still be no hospital, unless Kilgore and his Republican friends will come off their high horses.