Wealthiest Man Living Without A Pay-Check For More Than 5 Years.
In May of 2000 I graduated medical school and drove 3000 miles across the country to start my residency training in Family Medicine.
In July of 2003 I started my 1st job as a newly board certified family doctor. My clinic was owned by a local hospital, the largest employer in the county if I remember correctly. By July of 2009, I knew that my career was coming to an end. After spending 4 years critically examining the standard of care, witnessing harmful yet lucrative fads come and go, and suffering the side effects of bankruptcy and debt that come from the high costs of health care with my patients; I walked away.
I quit my high-paying job in October of 2009 and hurled myself into a new identity.
For a year I responded to emails from former and new patients and cared for people out of my little black doctor bag, going on house calls. I volunteered at local schools gardening with elementary students and building habitat for humanity houses and the like.
A year into my new identity, I was shown the semi-dormant free clinic based out of the 70 year old homeless shelter plus so much more called the Yakima Union Gospel Mission.
I merged my identity as a feral physician with that of the free clinic and found purpose and inspiration. Endless quantities of purpose and inspiration. I began the experience with no ability to communicate with the droves of uninsured Spanish speaking patients needing health care. This void was filled within 2 days when the 1st in a string of miracles stretching over 4 years struck in the form of Maria Madrigal, our 1st interpreter. I say “our” because the clinic never was a “mine” situation. My professional identity and my personal identity became wonderfully blurred and smeared across an entire community of homeless and undocumented and charitable and defiantly generous people who partake and donate to this living network that is the free clinic.
I have been supported and inspired by hundreds of volunteer patients, students, health care workers, clinicians, clergy and farm workers.
My new extended family taught me medical Spanish, they have fed and clothed me and returned my love a thousand fold.
I’ve participated in the infusion of quite literally millions of dollars’ worth of free health care over these 4 plus years. I’ve been forced to examine the statistics in various ways by the people seeking grants and donations from various sources. I know we’ve had at least 20,000 visits over these past 4 years. I know the monthly clinic visit totals and the value of the donated time of the various types of clinic volunteers; I know the monthly dollar amounts donated by our patients.
But recently, I’ve been examining the conditions behind those numbers. The conditions. The canvas on which this story is drawn mesmerizes me. It’s a combination. Or a concert of chords. Made up of the depression era roots of the Union Gospel Mission with her fierce Christian core. Such patience and endurance and solidified, confident love for people lost and adrift. The communal atmosphere and value freely projected on the hungry souls who venture onto the campus of the mission.
The endless streams of refuges from our broken medical system which extracts health and wealth from the population and leaves people hopeless. The patient refuges combine with the health care worker refuges whose conscious and humanity refuse to accept the unacceptable conditions of debt, barriers and scarcity. The mountains of goodwill in the form of donated medicines and supplies from around the community form another piece of this background canvas on which our story is written.
The combination to me feels like a pulsing, glowing force that allows the formation of gifts that defy expectations.
And after a time
Our gifts change the expectations.
I’ve often pondered the consequences of this infusion of value into the community.
Maybe the consequence is expectations change.
Expectations of scarcity and suffering.
The canvas of unconditional love, meticulously constructed over decades at the mission permits hundreds and then thousands of other souls to contribute to the song of abundance. This canvas has permitted me to practice my craft as a physician in a way that is mutually therapeutic.
After going more than 5 years without a paycheck, I paradoxically find myself wealthy beyond measure.