Chronic bronchitis. All the doctors kept telling me that’s what it was when I was younger back in Montana. Half the time in Montana, I was cooped up in bed, sleeping on big pillows to help with the congestion, and the teacher had to bring me my homework to the house. It wasn’t until I moved to Arizona and saw a doctor there that I was finally diagnosed with asthma. Apparently that’s what I’ve had my whole life, not chronic bronchitis.
I had been to the hospital twice in Rome for my asthma when a lady from the daycare where I worked told me about the Free Clinic and all of the services that they offered free to the public. The first time I went to the clinic, several years ago, I was seen by Dr. Harbin, who is the premier asthma doctor in the state. Free of charge. He had donated his time and his services to help people like me who can’t afford to go to him normally. He was part of a group of 20 doctors who donated their services to the Free Clinic once a month.
Almost seven years before I started coming, when the Free Clinic began in 2003 as a branch of the Community Kitchen at the Rome First United Methodist Church, the volunteers saw a need in the Rome community beyond food provisions. There was a great need for medical attention for those people in the area without insurance. In 2007, the Free Clinic officially became a non-profit organization. At that time, the economy was just starting to go downhill, and the need for their services became greater than ever. That need continued to grow over the next six years. They went from seeing patients one day a week to four days and two nights a week. Now the clinic has expanded beyond the care of basic illnesses such as hypertension, high cholesterol, and asthma to include diabetes management, pulmonary care, and dental extractions with the help and partnership of other offices.
For me, this means that I can now manage my asthma and high blood pressure. Even though there is the opportunity for insurance through the company that my husband Henry works for, it is too expensive for us to afford, so I went several years with no medical help at all. I couldn’t get any of my medicine to control my illnesses. Now, the Free Clinic helps me send away to get my medications at a price where I can afford it. They have made my life much easier. The fewer hospital trips, the better.
Every time I come in to the Clinic, I am reminded of how kind-hearted these people who work here are. They don’t have to be nice or patient with us, but they are. There are people who sit in the waiting room and complain about the wait. People are doing as best they can; you can’t expect miracles. I feel like it is the least I can do to bring in a roll of toilet paper or paper towels for the Clinic each time I come in. The Clinic hasn’t had to purchase paper products for months thanks to the donations of individuals and various other groups and organizations in the community. For all they have done for me, it doesn’t seem like enough. It could never be enough.
-As told to Caitlin Lewis, Student Writer
This story originally appeared in Facing Hope, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Georgia Highlands College, Georgia Northwestern Technical College, and Berry College in Rome, Georgia.