I will never forget my first client. He walked in to the clinic the morning of September 15th. He was just a face in Philadelphia: a balding, middle-aged man; someone you could tell was struggling but wasn’t prone to asking for help. I walked into his exam room, introduced myself, and, before I could sit down, he said, “Nolan, I have a brain tumor. If I can’t get health insurance and get this taken care of, I’m going to die. I just know it.”
This brief encounter was, in my estimation, a microcosm of the AmeriCorps experience. It is at the same time an initiation into the realm of true responsibility and an opportunity to contribute in a significant way to the lives of others. To flash back, I had graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in Kinesiology only a month prior. It was an anticlimactic resolution to the lifelong dream of getting a degree: “Now what?” Like many recent graduates, I felt as though I was not qualified to do, well, much of anything. I had a degree but no real utility granted me with the diploma now hanging in my parents’ house. Now, here I was, working in a health center, integrated in the health management of our most complex patients.
I knew I wanted responsibility, but was I really ready for this? Over the following weeks, I agonized over whether I had done everything I could have to help him get insurance. Only when he called me at 9:24am three weeks later did I get the answer. He was crying. “Nolan, I got the letter in the mail today,” he choked. “I can’t thank you enough.” The rest of our conversation is a muddle to me. All I remember is that he had an appointment with neurosurgery on November 20th. I never heard back from him again. I hope, every day, that he’s on to bigger and better (and healthier) things. So, I pose the question again: was I really ready for this? He got insurance, but I can’t truly say that I am fully ready for what’s to come each day of service. It’s akin to some imaginary race you can never win. You know you can’t, but you show up each day knowing that you’ll at least be able to help a few people along the way. And while you constantly try to catch up, it’s important still to look back and see all that you have accomplished.
Now that my 1700-hour race is almost done, I not only reflect on all that I’ve done, but also all that I’ve become. I’m an advocate, a case manager, a care coordinator, and an insurance specialist. I’ve gained so much from my term of service and I feel like I’m leaving with the knowledge, skills, and utility to continue to make a difference.
This post was written by PHC member Nolan Anderson.
Nolan serves at the Family Practices and Counseling Network - Abbottsford Falls as a Health and Benefits Advocate.