As the street run group and I pulled into the NSO parking lot, I couldn’t quite piece together how I felt before my first street run. There was some degree of uncertainty as to what I might encounter and what my role would be as a first-year medical student, but I also felt an undeniable sense of excitement. Being able to care for people who truly need help is what initially drew me to Street Medicine, and I knew the experience would not disappoint.
We assembled the rest of the crew and, since it was raining and we were unlikely to find anyone outside, headed to an indoor shelter. Men huddled in coats on the steps greeted us warmly as we entered and walked downstairs to set up our makeshift clinic in the basement consisting of a few chairs and our boxes of supplies.
One by one, patients approached us to receive a variety of services. Some nervously asked for their blood pressure to be taken, knowing that they were hypertensive and hadn’t been able to afford their medications in a while; others were mainly interested in having a conversation while we listened to their lungs and placed our fingers on their wrists to feel their pulses. Each of them had a story, and, as we took patient histories and listened intently to their words, we learned the circumstances that had led them to their current state of being and current state of health.
Our patient interview forms became filled with details of these histories and plans for care—medications to be dispensed, hygiene packs to be given on later dates—and our patients seemed relieved as they turned to leave, smiling, shaking our hands, and thanking us by name.
As we left the shelter, I realized that the few hours of time I had offered to the patients that morning could mean months of better health for them. At the very least, I had listened to their stories and planned for some part of their futures, knowing that our group will pick up where we left off during the next street run. More than anything, I left with the understanding that the people we helped that day can now live with the hope and knowledge that somebody truly cares and will help to provide for their well-being for the months and years to come.
Sarah Bommarito, MSI