In 1999 young, naive, and enthusiastic Dr. Randy Christensen begged his superiors for the chance to head a new mobile clinic targeting homeless and forgotten teens. Little did he realize the challenges, heartache, and positive changes that would come with the 38 foot revamped Winnebago. It wasn't until I read Christensen's book that I realized the health dangers of living outside in a climate like Phoenix's - heats that soar past 100 in the daytime, followed by chilly nights, coupled with insects and snakes. Everyday a homeless teen spends in the desert, parks, underpasses, and sewer runoff tunnels is a threat to their well being. Countless times Christensen removed cockroaches embedded in ears which had caused rampant infections in compromised immune system. Christensen tells his story with heartfelt compassion, written with modesty regarding his own accomplishments, and genuine humor to his occasional mishaps. Within the pages are stories, we have already heard too often -- government bureaucracy and short sightedness getting in the way of truly helping individuals in need. One young woman mentally ill with an obvious personality disorder was brought to the van over a two year period by other street kids watching out for her. Randy and his staff could treat her for her cuts, infections, and daily needs, but could never get her into a mental health facility because she was too ill to give her real name and she no identification. Without identification, she could not get Arizona's medicaid. Without that, no facility would take her. Law officials could no nothing because she did not present a threat to others. Another difficult passage to read about is his medical team's emergency trip to Lousiana following Hurricane Katrina. I ached as he told of older poor people who had tried to get life sustaining prescriptions (heart, blood pressure meds) filled before the hurricane hit, only to be told by pharmacies that they couldn't fill the prescriptions because the required number of days hadn't elapsed. As they waited, the hurricane hit, the pharmacies were ravaged or deserted, and the poor elderly were left behind with no medical care. Anyone of you whose health would be compromised if your medications couldn't be refilled? What if you didn't have the money to cover the cost if your insurance or medicare suddenly said "no" ?
Randy's writing (as told to Rene Denfelt) covers a decade with the medical van and presents a well chosen mix of successes, failures, and personal family interludes.
You will be reminded that there are forgotten children, teens, and young adults in our country -- probably in each city and state. Randy and Rene will introduce you to a powerful handful of people who care enough to choose jobs of service, rather than financial gain and prestige. Join them on their personal mission of caring and healing. This is a good read to kick us out of our comfort zones and to adjust our myopic vision of our world.