Sunday, August 16, 2009
There is a phrase in the Torah that tells about the sacred work that the Israelites did to build the holy tent of worship during the wanderings in the dessert. It is said that the people gave from the service of their hearts. It was work that came from the deepest recesses of their souls, was freely given and uplifted the giver spiritually. That ancient notion captures the efforts of the four dentists that I accompanied from our congregation, and additional doctors who joined the dozens of medical professionals offering their services pro-bono at the RAM/LA urgent medical needs event at the Forum in Inglewood.
They faced thousands of desperate people who waited in line from the earliest hours of the morning to get a number that might allow them admittance to the medical services offered at the Forum. I accompanied the dentists and watched as the extracted, filled, cleaned and attended to the endless line of people seeking treatment. No sooner would the occupant of the portable (and uncomfortable) dental chair move on, the instruments swapped for newly sterilized ones, when another patient would be ushered to the doctor's ready hands. Many doctors asked their hygienists and assistants if they would accompany them, and sure enough they eagerly woke up at 4:45 a.m. to get to the Forum in time for the 6:00 a.m. start. If there were any regrets over a Sunday peering into very neglected mouths or longings for warm sheets for a few more hours of sleep not a soul uttered them. Instead there was an overwhelming willingness to attend to as many patients as possible under less than comfortable conditions.
I asked Kenny Jacobs and Gary Solnit (temple members) if they felt that there was spirituality in the work they were doing today. Both responded with surprising rapidity, "it was the most fulfilling few hours I've had in a long time. " Gary said: "Sometimes my days go slowly in the office, today it was different, I felt like the six hours passed in the blink of an eye." When Kenny asked his employees if they would join him, two of his assistants volunteered to join him for the morning.
Michael Simmons didn't even get up from his perch on the uncomfortable chair from which he did his dental work. His assistant of 20 years came along and she willingly fetched new instruments for Michael each time he finished one filling or extraction and was ready for the next. By last time I checked, Michael had seen over 12 patients in the six hours.
David Levine did triage -- he peered into the mouths with the dental light attached to his glasses and using his skills and knowledge determined which one procedure was the highest priority for each patient -- given the large number of patients and the small number of dentists and hygienists it wasn't possible to address all the problems in those sorely neglected mouths. Compassionately and carefully he completed the forms and sent his clients off to wait in line for their procedures.
It was a powerful day for me as I emptied trash cans full of medical waste, ushered patients to their dentists and tried my best to answer the questions about procedures at RAM/LA. I watched dozens of dentists eagerly attend to their patients, each doing his or her best to provide the care that would enable each person to resume some level of normalcy to their impaired lives.
Make no mistakes, this was a sacred event. Doctors and medical professionals offering their skills, grateful patients expressing profound thanks to their caregivers. There were no arguments, no angry exchanges, no one, not a soul of the thousands who filled the arena floor lost patience with another. All knew that this was truly a service of the heart and the recipients clearly understood that there were both receiving care and giving their trust, their health and their hearts to the generous and compassionate professionals who opened their hearts to skillfully minister to those in need.
RAM/LA continues at the Forum through August 18th. Volunteers are always needed. Find out more here.
For LA Times stories and editorials about the event. Follow these links:
How L.A.'s massive free clinic event came together
At free clinic, scenes from the Third World
The sick status quo
Were you there? Write a post for our Social Justice Blog or just let us know that you gave of your time and skills so that we can recognize you here.