I am involved in treating Chicago’s homeless population in a clinic setting and at various outreach sites throughout the city. My practice operates under the patient-centered medical home model of care as we strive to provide a broad range of services under one roof.
We provide in-house primary-care services, mental health dental, case management, and extensiveHIV, tuberculosis, and hepatitis specialty care. >There was one particular case early on in my career that sticks out in my mind.
A patient came in to the clinic, Tom, who had been living under a highway overpass for the last six months. He had absolutely no trust in health-care professionals and wasn’t shy about expressing this. He said he heard about our clinic from another homeless friend, but was hesitant about coming in. However, he decided it was time to give it a shot since his health-care needs had increased. We started our encounter, which I would describe as guarded at best.
After minutes of irrelevant banter, he finally broke down and started to cry. We discussed how depressed he was and how he felt like no one cared. That day I gave him a referral to the eye doctor, psychiatrist and some naproxen for his knee pain.
We scheduled a follow-up visit in two weeks, and I gave him my card. Before leaving he said, “I recently prayed for an angel to come save me and today I found you. You’re my angel.”
His words touched and humbled me. We truly do have an opportunity to be angels to those who aren’t able to find solace anywhere else. What a privilege and an honor it is to take care of those who need it the most and who can never repay us.
I think about Tom all the time, and it reminds me why I chose to work with the medically underserved. Tom and I have developed a wonderful therapeutic relationship. I recently arranged for him to have his cataracts removed and meet with a liver specialist.
He left me three separate voicemails after each encounter and surgery expressing his gratitude and reminding me of my continued “angel status.” Tom has made a difference in my life, and for that I am so grateful.