Carrying Burdens

I entered the exam room to greet a new patient who arrived at our Friday clinic and met a young mother holding her two-year-old daughter. With her head of curls and sparkling blue eyes, she dazzled everyone at the clinic that day. Two Fridays per month, Good Samaritan provides clinical services for homeless members of our community. A van makes trips to a downtown park and a large shelter to pick up folks in need of care. Those who attend receive integrated care meaning they can receive primary care, behavior health counseling, dental services, and psychiatric care in one morning. In September, we look forward to holding this clinic every Friday. Each month we make adjustments to improve our services and meet the needs of our patients. While we seek to make meaningful changes in lives of the patients we serve, Friday clinic is also changing the way we think about and administer health care.

As I spoke with the young mother that day, I learned her daughter and my youngest son share a birthday. The curly headed toddler was happy to chat with me as I examined her mother and even shouted, “I love you!” as she and her mom prepared to leave. She is just like my little one, soaking up the attention of new acquaintances and full of energy. They are both happy and hopeful and as innocent as crazy two-year olds can be. Yet, my son spends his nights in a house occupied by his three immediate family members and she will sleep in one of Atlanta’s largest shelters where privacy is non-existent. Their lives, in some ways, seem worlds apart. However, as I meet patients like this little girl’s mom, I am struck more by our similarities. We are both mothers wanting to give our children the best and hoping that our actions might secure their future in a difficult and sometimes cruel world.

In nursing school I learned about nursing theories, attempts to conceptualize health, human behavior, and heath care. Betty Neuman’s System Model described lines of defense surrounding each individual. These lines of defense act as protection against stressors that threaten the individual’s health. I like to think of them as insulating factors that protect us when our own defenses fail. Life is full of challenges and often what separates people is the existence, number and strength of our insulating factors. I can recount several times in my life where family members, access to great public education, and my community provided for me in difficult times. Likely you have such events in your story as well. But what happens when those insulating factors are not there? What happens when those lines of defense break down?

People were designed for community. We will all experience difficult and even life altering events in our lives. Ephesians 6:2 tells us to “carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” God knows this world is broken. So broken that two-year olds are homeless and communities of people go without basic health care services. But here’s what really gets to me: God tells us exactly what to do about the pain and suffering of the world. We are to carry it for one another.

Every Friday we are working to carry the burdens of our friends and neighbors. These burdens are huge, shaped by social injustice, poverty, racism, and violence. We can’t fix generations of societal inequity but we can start to rebuild insulating factors for the individuals and families who come. We can strengthen their lines of defense. Our Friday clinic has grown from an initial monthly clinic of five patients to bi-monthly clinics of 20 to 25 people. As the Good Sam community of staff and volunteers, we are also learning. We are learning to be gracious and flexible. We are learning to absorb anger when our first desire is to become defensive. We are learning to change the way we deliver care in order to meet needs rather than forcing people to adapt to our comfort zone. It is my prayer that God can use us to carry some of the burdens our patients are facing. It is my prayer that God can use us in the process of changing and rebuilding lives. I know he is changing me through this clinic.

 

Join us in continuing to deliver this life changing care.

 

Written by Breanna Lathrop, Medical Services Director for the Good Samaritan Health Center. Discover more of Breanna’s story here.

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