Dallas, TX | Applied Mathematics, Violin Performance, Pre-Med Track | 2019
This summer, Sophie will volunteer for three weeks in Camden, New Jersey at the Camden Health Care Coalition and Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic hospital. She is extremely interested in how effective preventative health care systems can lower emergency room visits in patients with chronic health conditions. To do this, she will compare her experiences at the two organizations via daily blog posts and weekly analyses of her experiences, especially in the light of Catholic social teaching about the dignity of the human person, regardless of poverty level or social status. She is looking forward to the opportunity so that she can learn more about health care to be the best Catholic physician that she can be.
Blog Post One:
Sometimes, things don’t go as planned.
I’m staring out the window of my attic room, feeling a bit like the Little Princess. I’m living for the next three weeks in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, and already, I can feel the difference. There’s so much quiet on the street… good for time to reflect on the plans that took so long to construct and validate, now gone.
I had originally intended to go to Camden, NJ to work with the Camden Coalition and the adjacent Lourdes Hospital to learn more about healthcare pre- and post-emergency room. But sometimes, a dime turns on its head and life changes. Plans have to adapt and evolve, emails have to be sent, and phone calls made. After feeling like a CEO with the amount of emails, texts, and phone messages (the last a medium I am unused to), I have a new plan. In the next few weeks, I’ll be shadowing and volunteering at Pennsylvania Presbyterian MICU, interviewing members of the Camden Coalition, and traveling to nonprofit organizations to find out more about the Philadelphia-Camden idea of preventative healthcare through service-learning and interviews. I’ll also be researching a monumental change in our governmental healthcare system, a reform to Medicare entitled the Medicare Access CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) and Reauthorization Act, through a health policy professor at Rutgers University.
Amidst all the shattered expectations, I know two things. The first is that I’m going to fulfill the requirements of the Nichols Humanitarian Fund to make (and study) humanitarian efforts in my chosen field, which is healthcare. The second is that in every area of this project, I’m going to think about Catholic social teaching, something, as a Catholic, I’m trying to make more part of my life. Amidst all the shattered expectations, I feel a little more certain articulating my goals, for it’s only when you know where you are headed that you can start figuring out how to get there.
Catholic social teaching began with an encyclical, which is a publication written by a pope. Pope Leo 23rd wrote this famous encyclical in 1891, called Rerum Novarum, which roughly translates to “Of Revolutionary Change” and focuses on the rights of workers.(In my limited Latin, I initially read it “Of A New Thing,” but “Of Revolutionary Change” sounds much better and totally different than the ecclesiastical Church one typically thinks of). But this isn’t just the ecclesiastical church. This is the Catholic Church, and it’s revolutionary. From Mother Teresa working in the gutters in Kolkata, India, challenging the caste system to a young man in Italy ministering to prostitutes and helping them know their worth to an American woman living in a Mexican prison with thousands of prisoners, the Church is about reaching people where they’re at and walking with them. In the next few weeks, I’m going to process all my experiences through daily journal entries and online photograph posts in the light of what developed out of 150 years of writing and thought, the seven Catholic social teachings:
- Dignity of the Human Person
- Call to Family, Community and Participation
- Rights and Responsibilities
- Preferential Option for and with People who are Poor
- Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers
- Care for God’s Creation
I know that by the time I write my second blog post, I’ll have stories and examples from the service I have performed, the stories that I have listened to, and the many, many people whom I have shared time with. I’ll also know much more about the undercurrents of many of these experiences — the complicated world of insurance, which dictates where we go and how we are treated, changing our lives in a fundamental ways. Most of all, I will have learned more about the beautiful revolutionary change that I am a part of.
As I look out the window, noting the darkened evening light, I’m apprehensive of what the next three weeks will bring. I’m alone in this city, and the nearest relative — a grandfather I haven’t seen in years– is at least 100 miles away. All I have with me is my violin, my laptop, my phone, and a debit card. I look at myself in the mirror and try to see myself as an investigative, smart college student, but all I can see is someone who’s young and not sure of herself. But I have a plan, I have hope, and I have trust. And really, that’s all I need.
Blog Post Two:
Seeing a new city is always an experience. First you see the buildings. Then, the landscape comes into view, the vegetation, trees, and many, many flowers, with other members of the landscape, the busy, busy people who are walking and talking fast. They, with their little dogs and iPhones, are constant fixtures in this place. Suddenly, you turn a fraction of a degree and see something else: a head snuggled under a blanket, the owner of which is snuggled into the underside of a building.
I learn a city by its people. There’s tourists, of course, the regulars, and then the real regulars. These are they that eat and sleep and breathe both in and on and under the city, those who know it by its bridges because that’s where they sleep, those that know the transit system because that’s how they try to make a few bucks, those that know the places that are warm and cold and have nice bathrooms.
The place that fits the description is usually the city library, which is where I head to begin my project that first Monday morning. There, at the Free Library of Philadelphia, I’m planning on checking out a few books on health insurance to get myself acquainted with this complex though crucial world of insurance. I also know that public libraries are usually home to city health programs and service activities, so it’s a good place to get started.
God seems to answer my prayers right away. Immediately as I walk in I see someone whom I presume is a nurse talking to a man in a bright yellow though slightly soiled jacket. He is talking loudly to her about his blood pressure, and she is listening patiently. I wait by the table for a few minutes, totally intrigued as to why she is taking his blood pressure at a city library, and when she sees me, she smiles. As she finishes up with the man, giving him some pamphlets on Hepatitis C testing and ways to control his high blood pressure, I watch her demeanor. She is a perfect listener, looking caring, concerned, and totally engaged. When she speaks to him in closing, she chooses her words authoritatively but kindly. Once he walks away, I introduce myself as a college student pursuing a public health project and ask if I can interview her. She agrees.
Talk about caring for the poor and vulnerable. Monica is definitely doing that with her work of taking blood pressure for free as well as insulin testing. She’s chock-full of resources that fit the interests of most of her clientele, those experiencing homelessness, but most of all she’s full of love. Monica confirms my initial thought that sometimes, the worst thing that someone is going through is not high blood pressure or low insulin but loneliness. It reminds me of when Mother Teresa says that the greatest poverty in the world is the feeling of being alone and abandoned, just like the poverty that Jesus felt on the cross.
In my experience in the subsequent weeks, I’ll find that this is a common theme among those who work with runaway and abused kids, malnourished adults, those without healthcare, and patients in the Medical Intensive Care Unit. The greatest poverty is being alone with not having anyone to talk to or to care for you. The greatest poverty is loneliness.
Two weeks later, I’m walking down a street in New York City, having taken a $25 Megabus to explore a city I’ve spent years dreaming about. I’m walking, trying to look like a local in my black hat and jeggings, trying to look cool. It’s just when I turn the corner of Fifth Avenue when I see him. He’s sleeping under a towering construction scaffold. It’s 1 pm in the afternoon, and I wonder how he can be sleeping now, especially with all the noise of New York. All the way down the block I walk, closer and closer. I’m wondering what I should do when he opens his eyes at the approaching feet of a very large group of tourists. Somehow, he sees me.
“Ma’am? Would you, um, do something for me?”
I have to stop. His voice doesn’t seem threatening; it sounds weak. Then I notice the unopened packets of dried fruit and snacks next to him. This man hasn’t eaten in awhile.
“Would you please put my blanket over my feet? I just can’t reach and I’m tired. So tired.”
I do as he asks. The brown blanket is scratchy, and I wonder how long his feet have been bare. I remember how hard it is to cover my own feet with a blanket at home, and how sometimes, when they’re sleeping, the blanket comes off my sisters’ feet, and how, when it’s not put back on, they wake up sounding slightly nasally with gravelly voices. Suddenly, I come back to the present as he says thank you. After saying that he’s welcome, I introduce myself, remembering that if you chat with someone experiencing homelessness you should always ask their name, something remembered from a spring break foray with Christ in the City weeks ago.
“My name is James. Thank you, honey, for doing that for me. I feel a better now, but I’m still so tired.”
I ask him if he would like me to get anything for him, but he refuses. No food, no nothing, and I can’t help but think that the greatest poverty in the world is loneliness. All he wanted was someone to cover his feet. I wonder how many people want the same.