By Tony Aguilar
I personally don’t know why anyone would want to work in the medical field—doctors and nurses especially. Their daily encounter with various bodily fluids is enough to keep me from ever considering a profession in the medical field. I, like many others, are squeamish. I faint at the first sight of blood or when a nurse pulls out another worldly tool from his/her arsenal of pain-inflicting tools such as a needle. Even though the pain from a shot lasts only seconds, it’s enough to convince me to take good care of myself so I don’t have to visit medical professionals’ dungeon of terror. But every city has a clinic, hospital or emergency room, which leads me to my question. What makes someone enter the medical field—a profession of selflessness, sleepless nights and nights of countless coffee cups? What about the volunteers or the retired nurses that join a local group that provides free medical services at a rundown clinic? What motivates them to serve even though they’re not getting paid?
The Flying Doctors, or “Los Medicos Voladores” in Spanish, is a volunteer-based nonprofit organization that aims to improve the health and well being of geographically diverse people through education and the provision of no-cost, high quality medical, dental and optometry services. This group of volunteers serves Mexico, Central and South America, and migrant labor populations in the South Eastern regions of California.
Since I can remember The Flying Doctors has served the community I live in through two annual events at local high schools. I used to volunteer by translating for patients but I never found out who the people behind the blue drapes, scrubs and white lab coats were. I was just an observer of the magic they dished out. This year, The Flying Doctors would be providing services at a local high school 10 minutes from where I live. I set out to interview and find out who these people really are.
I arrived at Coachella Valley High School in Thermal at 7 a.m. To no surprise, people were lined up for half a mile outside the auditorium and there were cars parked on the side of the road as far as the eye could see. The only time I had seen this many cars lined up on the side of the road outside of Coachella Valley High School was during graduation. It seems that this was an equally important event for students and parents alike.
The event was scheduled to start at 8 but it was obvious that people had arrived way before 8 in the morning. I stopped and asked people how long they had been standing in line. They replied, “3 a.m.” They proceeded to share that some of their friends and neighbors had been here since 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. the day prior.
At 8 a.m., everyone was led into the schools’ auditorium where they would be triaged to evaluate their overall health and then released to receive any medical services they needed. This process was proving more time-consuming than effective so everyone was released to stand in line for the services they needed. The main services being provided that day were vision and dental. I set out to gymnasium were the dental services were being provided.
From afar, the line for dental services looked to be in the range of well over 200 people. Patients came prepared with umbrellas and lawn chairs. Children were sent to a free day care center and the waiting game began. I entered Coachella Valley High School’s gymnasium where I found an assembly line of dentists waiting for their first patient. I came across the man in charge of the dental department, Larry D. Taylor, DDS and began asking him questions. Dr. Taylor is a dentist from the town of Discovery Bay up north in the San Francisco area. Dr. Taylor said that when he arrived at 5 a.m., he estimated there were 300-400 people in line for the event. I asked the doctor when someone should expect to be serviced if they are the last person in line. He calmly replied, “They won’t.”
According to Dr. Taylor, “This year we have expanded our volunteer base to 27 dentists and have asked for a bigger room.”
I asked the doctor how often he volunteers his services and he responded, “I do this once or twice a month all over Mexico. The care that we see in this valley equates to anything we see in Mexico.”
It looked like an insurmountable feat to get into the building where vision services were being offered so I traveled across the courtyard into the chiropractor services building. I was greeted by Marco Antonio Cazares, of the Spinal Injury Center in Indio. He began telling me about his profession and the services he provides patients at the Flying Doctors. Mr. Cazares and his staff have been participating in the event for eleven years now.
According to Mr. Cazares, his office is the only neuro-muscular care service offered at this event and they have seen a steep rise in the number of patients they service every year. Mr. Cazares also shared that the “majority of the workforce in the Eastern Coachella Valley are Hispanics that work in strenuous labor. These patients suffer repetitive back trauma. This event is their only from of medical care.”
I asked Mr. Cazares why he volunteers at this event. I reminded him that the majority of the volunteers at this event are from other parts of the state so it was kind of refreshing to see a local giving back to the community. Mr. Cazares responded, “ I feel that I have to give back to my community for everything that they have done for me. I love what I do and I’m here to give them what they need.”
After my brief interview with Mr. Cazares, I walked across the hallway and into a room full of physicians counseling patients on what the symptoms they were describing could possibly mean. The physicians were educating their patients with literature and videos in Spanish. Many of the patients had their children with them to translate to the physician.
Amidst the sounds of children running around the room and all the translating back and forth, I spotted a tall, red-haired lady speaking to a patient with a big bright smile. I approached her and shortly the interview speed off on a whirlwind of emotions. Audrey D’ Andrea works at East Bay Family Practice Medical Group, Inc. in Oakland CA. This is Dr. Andrea’s 20th year volunteering with The Flying Doctors.
When asked what motives her to keep participating, Dr. Andrea replied, “My mother was Mexican. She died at a very young age. She didn’t have access to free healthcare so in her honor I take care of people that don’t have healthcare. I see my mother in the patients that I serve and it makes me proud to know that I am helping someone in need.”
I set out to answer a simple question the morning of the Flying Doctors event. Instead of a simple reply, I received a testament in return, a testament of devotion and human kindness in its purest form. The Flying Doctors volunteers are more than doctors. They are students and parents, school administrators and local community members who come together to give back in a time of need. As sure as I am that the sun will rise tomorrow I know that the volunteers will be at another location. Each one of them leaves behind a loved one, family and friends for three main reasons: Love, care and hope.