Sometimes in life, we focus so intently on the individual tree that we begin to lose sight of the forest. From tending to a single patient to reckoning with flawed healthcare systems, in my service-year, I am learning to view the world from multiple viewpoints concurrently.
It’s approaching eight in the morning and the sun is hidden behind a cloak of clouds that paint the Philadelphia sky ash. It’s early December and I’ve been serving with Americorps for a little over three months. My shoes slam into the concrete, as I walk briskly down the street. The mental image of the bus pulling off two blocks ahead of me plays on an eternal loop, a low-budget nightmarish Tik Tok. Now, I am forced to walk nearly two thousand kilometers to my host site. I am crossing an intersection in front of a large van when I hear the car slamming its breaks. My eyes dart to the right and look incredulously at the hood of a utility vehicle about six feet from me. I don’t have time to process what just happened; I am going to be late.
The Health Center buzzes on, undisturbed as I walk to my office, my eyes already scouring a fax containing information about a patient. Communications like this are often sent by Prescription Assistance Programs informing me of a patient’s status in the program or if there were complications in the enrollment process. I sit and allow myself to be lulled into the flow of my shift. Just before closing, I hear my name over the clinic intercom: I have a new patient. Her condition and treatment are entirely too common. Over the months that I’ve been here, most of the medications I’ve dispensed have been to manage hypertension, asthma, and/or diabetes.
I return to my cramped office to print all the necessary forms, completing what I can away from the patient so as to reduce the chance of possible COVID transmission, before returning the forms for patient signature. The woman is quirky but kind. I thank her for her considerable patience before spending some time explaining to her how our program works. As she leaves, I return to my office. At this point, most of the staff has cleared out of the building. I spend a few minutes faxing the paperwork to the appropriate program before shutting off my office lights and locking the door, effectively resetting for tomorrow.
On my walk home, bundled in a thick winter coat, I race against the early sunset. I wonder what would have happened if the driver of the van this morning wouldn’t have been so reactive. Would I have been bumped by the car and simply had an awkward morning, or could I have perhaps been injured more seriously? The more I think about that experience and the events that transpired thereafter, the more I realize that had I been injured, it’s very possible that the patient I helped would have faced tremendous obstacles getting the help she needed. I have always valued my life for selfish reasons, but I’m learning now to see past myself, embrace a humanistic perspective, and glean more of life’s larger picture as I continue to serve with the National Health Corps here in the City of Brotherly Love.
PREVIEW IMAGE DESCRIPTION: Philadelphia Department of Public Health, Health Center 5
BODY IMAGE DESCRIPTION: An intersection along one of the routes I take to my host site. Here, the sidewalks are frosted in snow and ice.
This blog was written by Cortez Johnson who is serving as a Patient Navigator with the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, Health Center 5.