By Amelia Davis, Community HealthCorps® Member, Salud Family Health Centers
It is only the second month of my AmeriCorps service term with Community HealthCorps®, but the days rush by, filled with hospital visits, home visits, and electronic medical records—all key parts of my role within the Transitions of Care program. Each day upon arriving home after sitting in aggravating traffic, I find myself collapsing on the couch, full of simple gratitude for my currently healthy and prescription-less life.
Recently, my Community HealthCorps® team and I volunteered at a non-healthcare event that instilled in me a different sort of gratitude. After a day full of healthcare-related phone calls, visits, and problem-solving, the eight of us made the drive to the Greeley Center for Independence in northern Colorado to spend the evening with people suffering from brain damage or spinal cord injuries. Our Community HealthCorps® Program Coordinator told us about some of the things we might have to do, but as most of us hadn’t had much interaction with people living in a facility such as this, we didn’t really know what to expect.
In spite of my ever-present belief to always keep an open mind and recognize the hidden story in others, I found myself feeling sorry for these people before I had even met them. I simply couldn’t imagine what life would be like without the freedom to move my legs or any other body part at will. Then, I met Larry* and Johnny*, two men from completely different circumstances and backgrounds. Larry ambled about, chattering excitedly about his work day and how he watered his plants before we came. At the sight of a bee buzzing about the room, he trembled nervously, saying, “I don’t like bees much.” Soon after, I met Johnny as he rolled into the room in his wheelchair. With a big smile and a sly sense of humor, he showed us the photo albums that his mother had made for him. From across the table, Larry would pipe in excitedly, “That’s your brother, right, Johnny?” “You looked good with a mustache, huh, Johnny?” Larry then turned to me and said, “I don’t have any photos. And I’m mad at my brother for not calling me today.” He jumped up to run to his room and came back with a stack of Polaroids, mostly of scenery in Nebraska. The two men huddled over their photos across the table from one another, pointing at birthday cakes and red houses that have now become memories on photo paper.
A short time later, we played Bingo, with Larry shouting “Bingo!” in a black-out game and Johnny just missing a black-out Bingo by one square. It was clear that these two men looked out for one another and had formed a close bond in their time living as neighbors. Nearby, a bright young woman named Marie* beamed as she talked about her love for her home states and her upcoming registration for her degree at the university directly across the street, both things that have helped her move on from an accident that left her unable to move her lower body. I left smiling and feeling uplifted by the small moments where the young and old of various mental and physical capacities shared a laugh or leaned in to share stories.
No one can say what way is the “best” way to live. The beautiful thing about humans is our ability to be perceptive and understanding of all ways of life and to overcome hurdles and adversity that initially seem insurmountable. While Larry and Johnny may spend the rest of their life living in their little apartments on Eldorado Way*, it doesn’t mean that their lives will be any less enriching or fulfilling. The smallest moments can often be the most touching, as I saw with the endearing and loyal friendship between these two men and in Marie’s spark of hopefulness for her future. These small moments can add up, and pity is an approach that doesn’t benefit anyone. A listening ear or a smile, a shared laugh, and the release of preconceptions that are most often proven wrong show empathy and help establish more meaningful connections with others. While there are many things I would like to do in my life, I had never once thought about what would happen if I couldn’t walk or run, or if I had a condition like uncontrolled diabetes that some of the patients in our clinic experience. I am humbled by the optimism and genuine nature of the people I meet on a daily basis. There will always be obstacles, whether great or small; just how great and small those obstacles are is a matter of how we frame them in our minds.
*All names and locations have been changed to ensure privacy.