by Rock Medicine’s Medical Director, Dr Ann Cooley
“Can I give you a hug?” This makes me pause for a moment. You see I’m not really used to this kind of response from my patients. As a full-time Emergency Medicine Physician, most of my patients are usually pretty scared and upset from waiting by the time they meet me, and understandably they don’t really feel like hugging. But that’s not the case here in this dirt-floored clinic in the middle of the Oregon Country Fair. Here I just put my medical skills to the test removing a large splinter from the hand of a young woman wearing a unicorn leotard, rainbow tutu, lime green fishnets, and glitter. She pays me with a hug and a thank you, and it feels just as good as actually saving a life.
Several years ago, I took over as the Medical Director for White Bird’s Rock Medicine program. We are a fundraising arm for the clinic, and the work we do helps support many of the amazing programs White Bird provides in Eugene and Springfield. We are a small army of volunteers who attend concerts and festivals throughout the year to help people have a safer party. Unlike most event medicine programs, we are more than a couple of medics waiting at the back of the crowd. We are a veritable army of crisis and medical professionals who volunteer our time to care for folks who sustain everything from minor bumps and bruises to dehydration to severe trauma.
My second patient of the day is having shortness of breath. His long grey hair and beard are equal length, and he’s wearing an OCF staff shirt from when I was in high school. I give him a breathing treatment, and we laugh about the fact that he does this every year even though he knows the dust will be terrible. “Some old dogs have no interest in new tricks,” he tells me. I encourage him to come back at any time. The day progresses like this with a constant stream of bumps, bruises, and reminders to all who walk by to drink plenty of water and wear sunscreen. The usual reply to this is, “We love you White Bird!” and while I’m hot and tired my heart is full.
My final patient of the night is a young man. I don’t know his name because every time we ask, he begins to laugh hysterically and then scream. It appears he took his party a little too far tonight, and now comes the long journey back down to earth. In my normal job, I wouldn’t have much choice but to give him medications to calm him down, and I have that option here too, but here at Oregon Country Fair on either side of him sits a crisis worker. They have just started to sing to him, and they are reassuring him that he’s safe. He smiles, lays down, and begins a long conversation about interdimensional time travel, and I know he’s going to be just fine.
As we approach the 50th year of the Oregon Country Fair, I am once again preparing to move my medical practice out of the state-of-the-art hospital and into a makeshift exam room. I’ll be surrounded by hundreds of volunteers who set aside their July weekend every year to come take care of everyone who walks in. All of our hard work will help raise money to help White Bird continue its amazing programs throughout the rest of the year, and while I love the ability to help with that, mostly I’m looking forward to getting paid in hugs.