Occupy taught me to fear winter. The camp was soggy and cold. Bronchitis swept through the tents like a tsunami. The constant struggle to stay warm and dry wore out our activists. It taught the wiser heads a level of compassion for the homeless that shakes your soul.
After 2 1/2 months of struggle, the cops shut our encampment down. Occupy Medical took a deep breath and rolled up our sleeves. We needed a clinic. The camp was gone but the need was still there.
Occupy Medical has been the focus of my weekends for 8 months now. The Sunday clinic is only 4 hours long in theory. Patients show up before the tent is set up. They wait on park benches or volunteer to hoist the tent poles as we scramble to set our clinic up.
The tent takes time and energy that is often in short supply. When we first got the tent, it was the tail end of winter. We fumbled with the directions, spread the canopy over ice cold poles and tied the posts to concrete bricks to keep the wind from blowing it away. That March, it snowed.
It took 2 hours to assemble the beast. Our fingers were raw and frozen. We stuck out hands in our arm pits and stomped our feet to get the circulation back into our toes. We tucked hand warmers into our pockets. It was nice to have shelter from the elements. We knew by the end of the day it all had to go back in the box again.
Our patients trickled in. We were very limited in what we could do for them. We had donated supplies but since we were in a virtual parking lot with a tarp over our heads, we couldn’t do thorough exams or lab tests. We had the most developed first aid services on the planet. We had doctors and nurses performing miracles with a box of bandages and a prescription pad.
By summer, we had our routine down. We set up 4 stations from intake to treatment. We had HIPAA forms, a system to ensure confidential patient records and a steady stream of patients fully embracing the holistic health system. This was due to the talent and professionalism of our volunteers.
The community got used to seeing us every Sunday at the park. Our patient load ranged from homeless families to working class moms to retired veterans. Some sought our help because they had no insurance. Some sought our help because they couldn’t afford their co-pay. Some sought our help because their insurance didn’t cover their pre-existing conditions.
Some just came to enjoy the gathering of volunteers, old friends and a nice day at the park. Who could blame them? This park had become, since the clinic started, a place to engage in fascinating conversations. It was a place to get a warm meal from our allies, Food not Bombs. It became a place to get a free haircut. It became a place to sit in the sun and laugh at horrible puns.
Winter was coming. We needed a little step up. We needed a warm, dry place to see our patients so my volunteers could really shine. This winter was going to be rough and taking up and down that tent over the next few months sounded grizzly. We need a bus.
This is when the grant started. Oregon Community Foundation offered us a sizable grant. With the help of Community Alliance of Lane County (CALC), we hopped through hoops and found that it encouraged us to refine our already shiny system. We were serving an average of 20 patients a shift. These people expected excellence. They needed a bus.
Tomorrow. as we shovel another pound of paperwork onto the pile, our genius pharmacist Jerry will drive a slightly used Blue Bird school bus/bloodmobile down from Portland to our little town.
I can see us lined up on the sidewalk. The doctors, the nurses and the vast collection of volunteers from all over our city will wait eagerly to see that shiny new mobile clinic round the corner. I can hear the cheers already. I am no longer afraid of winter.