Friday, March 23, 2012


Stephen Kirkpatrick '13

            I’ll bring many things home from this trip.  Memories. Awareness. Photographs. 14 wonderful friends. Newfound ambitions.
            And I’ll bring home 2 swollen red eyes.
            Thursday morning, I woke up with pinkeye. Not precisely sure where it came from, but by this morning it had spread to both eyes, so I figured I should see a doctor.
            No big deal. Just a quick call to the local clinic, a 30-miinute appointment, and a prescription for some antibiotics. In another week I’ll be perfectly fine.
            The clinic I went to on Capitol Hill is a lot like my clinic at home. It’s immaculately clean, decorated in serene blues, and well-staffed. The nurse and the doctor who saw me are friendly. Transferring my parents’ insurance was a breeze, and the whole ordeal only ended up costing me $25.
            The thing is, the entire day, before catching some extra sleep, while watching TV on my MacBook, over my $15 lunch at a diner near the clinic, I couldn’t help making the contrast between my experience today and the one I had on Wednesday.
            We helped organize a closet for the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project at DC General, a hospital-turned-shelter at the outermost border of the District.
Most of the hospitals I’ve been to look like a cross between a luxury hotel and a starbase. DC General looks more like a prison. The hallways are dimly-lit and shabby, with missing ceiling tiles, and generally stink of mold. Residents have to pass through metal detectors before entering. Children as young as 6 years old have to ride the Metro bus by themselves just to get to school. I didn’t see a doctor or nurse in the entire place, or really much staff at all save the few security guards waving the metal-detecting wands over stressed-looking mothers.
            The odds are pretty good that I picked up my pinkeye at DC General. I see it as a sort of souvenir — or a reminder. A reminder to be thankful for everything, a reminder that beyond the marble, beyond the pleasant row houses, beyond the neat little clinics for rich kids like me, lies a weary outpost of despair at the edge of a great city.
            Tomorrow we set out on our voyage home, back to splendid isolation at the College on the hill. Soon the penicillin will kick in, and the redness in my eyes will fade, much like the fading voices of the people I’ve met this week, people who would likely give anything to have such a smooth, inexpensive visit to the doctor as I did this afternoon.
            Voices crying in the urban wilderness, perhaps. All I can say at trip’s end is that I hope they remain even as my eyes return to their normal white and brown.
            I’m pretty sure they will. Thankfully, there are things that last longer than pinkeye.

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