By Chaya Murali, MS4
As a Federal Work Study recipient, I’ve held a number of different jobs during my time at Baylor College of Medicine. I’ve been a Dialysis Buddy, helping Texas Children’s patients with homework and socializing with them while they undergo dialysis. I’ve been a Student Ambassador with the Alumni Association here at Baylor, giving tours to visiting alumni, who never fail to regale me with tales of their time here.
These jobs were within the Medical Center, but it’s a little-known fact that the Federal Work Study program also allows students to work at certain community sites. Now that I have plenty of free time as a fourth-year medical student, I go to the day treatment center of Bering Omega Community Services several times a week. There, I help by interacting with clients who are HIV-positive.
The experience so far has been rewarding in ways I never expected. One woman is teaching me how to crochet a blanket. When the group took a field trip to a ballroom dance studio, I danced with a gentleman with a prosthetic lower leg. I had assumed his amputation was due to chronic disease, perhaps diabetes, but while we danced, he told me that he developed gangrene in the leg after a minor cut during the mayhem that was Tropical Storm Allison.
One of the women calls me “Chee-Chee,” a silly nickname that nevertheless makes me feel special. One man told me how he used to play professional basketball in Europe. Another is anxious about being a new father in middle age, and he regularly discusses his concerns with the women and volunteers at the center.
Every morning, one of the ladies puts a Motown CD on, and that music serves as a constant backdrop at the center. Occasionally, clients will sing along to the songs that remind them of their youth (most are in late middle age). Less frequently, I recognize a song and sing a few lines myself. The clients are always surprised when this happens. “Is that you singing?” “You like Purple Rain?” Yes, I tell them. That is me. I do like Purple Rain.
For quite some time, I knew that I would complete the bulk of my clinical requirements in late October. Whenever I told people about this, they’d ask incredulously, “What are you going to do with all your time?” I’m glad some of my time is spent working with an organization that provides services to this underserved community. More importantly, I’m glad that this work has allowed me to see “patients” outside the medical context. Is being HIV positive a prominent aspect of the clients’ lives? Yes. But there is much more to them than their diagnosis. Hopefully the memory of these days will help me see my patients holistically in the future.