The media is waking up the revolutionary work that our volunteers at Occupy Medical (OM) are doing in the community. We are showing up on the radio, TV and the internet. Check out the links for updates of OM’s upcoming projects and to keep track of our history.

Occupy Good Health

Byline: Bob Keefer The Register-Guard

Steve Hayes winced as a nurse washed his left hand, which was turning all kinds of queasy colors around an open wound right between his thumb and first finger.

“You’ve got to wash this with soap and water,” Susan Sanazaro explained as she gently cleaned out an oozing hole the size of a quarter. “And then you want to cover it and change the dressing every day.”

Hayes, 35, was one of more than a dozen patients who showed up Sunday for Occupy Eugene’s free weekly medical clinic in downtown’s Park Blocks.

The Eugene man, who works in a call center and doesn’t have health insurance, said he spilled boiling hot water on his hand five days ago while making tea for himself. He hadn’t seen a doctor until now because he couldn’t afford one, he said.

“Thank you so much for helping,” he said to Sanazaro as he stood up to leave, a fresh white bandage now wrapped around the burned hand. “This was starting to get a little depressing, frankly.”

Based since last month in a converted bloodmobile that was given by an anonymous donor, the Occupy Eugene medical clinic got its start in a tent earlier this year.

The clinic operates from noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays. It sees all patients at no charge and is staffed by a regular group of 23 volunteer doctors, nurses and other health care workers.

For clinic coordinator Sue Sierralupe, an herbalist in her day job, the Occupy clinic opens a window into the cracks and fissures of America’s health care system.

Only 40 percent of its patients are homeless. “The rest are working people with no insurance,” she says.

That describes Bruce Nelson, a 50-year-old mechanic who drove up on Sunday from Yoncalla – for the second time in two weeks – to get medical attention for a problem with his foot.

He’s just taken a new job, he explained while waiting to be seen by the Occupy doctor, and won’t have health insurance until January.

Nelson isn’t quite certain about the politics of Occupy Eugene. The organization grew out of last year’s Occupy Wall Street protests, which condemn the wide social and economic inequalities in countries such as the United States.

But Nelson endorses the clinic wholeheartedly.

“I don’t know the whole story behind it,” he said. “I don’t know what all this is. But I think they’re great.

“This is a great opportunity for people like me who don’t have health insurance to get to see a doctor.”

Occupy’s medical bus is set up much like a conventional doctor’s office, only much smaller. When you walk in the front door, you sit down, practically knee to knee, with a nursing student who fills out some very basic paperwork about you and your medical issues.

Pass through a curtain into another tiny chamber and you sit down with a doctor, who might write a prescription or, as in Hayes’ case, send you through to the next small room for a nurse to clean and bandage your wound.

Deborah Frisch, the clinic’s “data management coordinator,” shared a handwritten list of patients from the past two weeks (their names carefully removed to ensure privacy) along with diagnoses.

They included, in order from a recent Sunday, unspecified “lesions,” an infected cyst, an elbow injury, respiratory infection, bipolar disorder, a hernia, gingivitis, two cases of asthma and an ear infection – the kind of illnesses and injuries that might be seen in any more-upscale doctor’s office.

But this isn’t an ordinary doctor’s office in another important sense.

Frisch explained that a young pregnant woman recently came in to seek help for what turned out to be false labor. The usual therapy, Frisch explained, is to send the patient home with a prescription for a hot bath and relaxation.

This woman, though, lived with her boyfriend in a tent. Occupy found them a warm place to stay for the night, Frisch said.

Besides its charitable aspects, Sierralupe points out practical advantages that the Occupy Eugene medical bus brings to the community.

It could, she says, serve as a frontline defense against the advance of such diseases as pertussis, also known as whooping cough, which has been spreading at a high rate in Washington state and is on the rise in Lane County, as well.

It makes straightforward fiscal sense, she says, to vaccinate and treat people early on for a disease like pertussis instead of letting it establish a foothold in the community.

“Two weekends ago, half of the patients we saw had a bronchial condition of some kind,” she said. “There are a lot of smokers in this population. Their immune systems are constantly at risk.

“Bronchitis is just crazy high in this area.”

But the clinic is facing obstacles.

There are, for example, no public restrooms on the Park Blocks; the nearest public toilet is a couple of blocks away. That affects patients and volunteers alike.

“We have a lot of senior citizens with a wealth of experience who would like to volunteer,” she says, “but they need regular restroom breaks.”

From such humble beginnings, Sierralupe hopes, a grass-roots health care revolution eventually might grow.

“I would love to see more buses like this all over Oregon,” she says. “But we’re the only Occupy medical clinic in the country.”

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