Free clinics get all sorts of patients. That is the point actually. Every one can come to Occupy Medical to get free, professional, holistic care no matter what their economic situation is. (We are even nice to rich people.)
Some of our patients come to the clinic with friends. Some come with family. Some come alone. Some just peek in. The tall, rough looking patient that I have code named “Leather Jacket Dude” was a “peek in” kind of guy.
Leather Jacket Dude prides himself on being tough. He has long hair and a beard. He usually wears sunglasses. He clomps around in big black boots and a black leather jacket that he has decorated with chains and his favorite band names.
He has honed this image for a reason. It keeps him alive. Leather Jacket Dude is homeless.
There are 2 ways to survive on the street. You either make yourself invisible by slouching in corners and sleeping under dumpsters or you make yourself look tough. Without using either of these skills, within a few days you will be beaten, robbed and worse. At Occupy Medical, we have seen what worse looks like too. The streets, even in our little college town, are brutal.
Leather Jacket Dude likes Occupy. He has marched in our parades. He has taken sanctuary in the Occupy encampment when it was open. He has picked up a few bandages at the Occupy Medical (OM) bus. He has been chewed up and spit out by the system so he was wary of our clinic even if we are part of Occupy. He had every right to growl. We did not blame him but how do we help this guy?
Benjamin, our volunteer stylist, tamed him. Benjamin offers free haircuts at OM every Sunday from 12-4pm. He is a founding member of our mental health team. He is a retired professional hair stylist. He has a gentle voice and stunning skill with the scissors. I have seen people melt into a warm, fuzzy puddle under his care.
Benjamin offered Leather Jacket Dude (LJD) a haircut. LJD refused. He stood there for a minute looking at the stylist chair and then, responding to Benjamin’s welcoming smile, asked if he just get his hair combed. That was how Benjamin tamed the bear.
LJD kept coming back. He enjoyed the attention in a safe place where he was cherished and admired. He started opening up to us. He shared his stories. He shared his dreams. One day, he signed up to get treatment.
LJD has, for such a young man, has a fairly harrowing list of ailments. Some are due to addictions. Some are due to beatings. Some are due to malnutrition. Some are due to the fact that he has to keep walking all day so that he doesn’t get cited for trespassing when he stops to rest.
We treated what we could. He was distrustful of prescription medication so I offered him herbs and asked him to come back so we could check on him again. He cocked his head and weighed the little bottle of herbal supplements* in his hand for a minute before tucking it in his pocket.
LJD came back the next Sunday. He was surprised at how much better he felt. He even smiled. I gave him more herbs: milk thistle, fish oil, vitamins. We talked about eating vegetables.
When LJD came back last Sunday, he brought 3 friends that I hadn’t seen before. He told them to sign up and talk to that “Herb Lady”. After they all had finished their appointments, they looked through their collection of vitamins like kids sorting through trick or treat candy.
I overheard them giving each other health advice. They mentioned dumpsters that they knew had vegetables and fruit in pretty regularly. They talked about how to fill their water canteens in the shallow park fountains. Then they started giving LJD a hard time.
“You shouldn’t drink any more,” a friend chided. “You should just drink water. That lady works hard to get these vitamins for us. You should take care of yourself better.”
LJD nodded solemnly. He rolled a chewable vitamin C between his thumb and forefinger for a minute before popping it in his mouth. I saw him glance back at the bus as they walked away. I know he will be back next week. We’ll be ready.
*These were donated to our clinic by Mt. Rose Herbs. All services including treatment supplements and prescriptions are free at OM to encourage patient compliance.
**Thanks to David Sierralupe for the photo