Matt Woeste, MS2
‘Siri, take me to The Healing Place—Women’s Campus,’ I said into my iPhone as I drove west on Broadway toward the medical campus. “I found one location matching your description: 1503 South 15th Street,” she said. In my second year of medical school, I have mostly oriented myself to my new home of Louisville, KY. I know my major landmarks, navigate to most places without the aid of GPS, and finally differentiated the highways that make our “inner” and “outer” loops. On this particular day, however, I found myself traveling to a part of town I have tried to avoid since becoming a Louisvillian. ‘15th street?’ I thought to myself with several loud groans. Fifteenteeth street takes you to West Louisville. For those fearless urban explorers or dwellers, please excuse my previous thoughts: I grew up in a rural area of Northern Kentucky—I’m used to the simple pleasures of country roads and any need to drive in the city is considered a stressful situation. I’m sure you can understand my anxiety as I headed toward a rough neighborhood within my new city. I was on my way to participate in a student run clinic, an option I chose for my second year elective.
The Healing Place (link) is a rehabilitation facility primarily for those struggling against drug and alcohol addictions. I was assigned to the women’s campus for part of my elective time. In the second year you are able to choose from several elective options, with the student run clinics being one of the most popular choices. The Healing Place has two campuses (Men’s and Women’s) with the Hope and GLOH Clinics also being destinations for this elective option. At the end of first year, several of my classmates decided to be student directors where they help coordinate classmates and the logistics of each location and services we can provide.
By the time of my first experience at the Healing Place I was beginning to feel comfortable with my patient interview, but still realized I had much to learn in order to be as fluent and competent as the volunteer attending physicians. At each location there are typically 4-5 second year students, a fourth year, and one or multiple attendings. The students will interview their own patient, present the case to the fourth year who helps you with your delivery when presenting to the attending. After you have traversed through the hierarchy, you meet again with your patient to give them a treatment plan. Although I don’t have a medical license number, helping and learning to write out prescriptions is a cool feeling—something we don’t get to experience in our Longitudinal Standardized Patient Program. The Healing Place has tight restrictions on the medication you can provide to patients because of their history of abuse. Often I found in clinic that the proper treatment solution didn’t come from the prescription pad, but from simply asking how they were managing their program or just inquiring about their past. The patients were never shy and always willing to share, albeit, sometimes more than I needed to know!
I came back to the Healing Place to learn more about the facility through our Community Preceptor requirement in ICM. Instead of going straight to the clinic I was given a tour with several classmates. We went from wing to wing seeing the process of rehab. On day one, many residents start in Detox. Through an open door we kept our distance to allow those trying to shake the pain and symptoms of withdraw. After women have become clean of any drugs or alcohol, they are placed in “OTS #1” which stands for Off the Streets step 1. By following the rules and schedule of the Healing Place the women can move through the ranks of OTS #1 on to OTS #2. With each promotion your freedom is regained bit by bit. For example, in detox you surrender your cell phone and are isolated from communicating to anyone outside of the complex. Daily chores in OTS are rigorous and must be followed. Rise and shine is at the bright and early time of 5:30 AM. It is a requirement that each bunk is made, bathrooms are cleaned, and floors are swept. After OTS, the women go to “Phase.” Phase is one of the last steps before reintegrating into society and is also the stage where they have the most freedom. We attended a “Community”—a meeting where the women have the right to vote and elect their peers to fulfill certain duties around campus. For example, there were positions for managing grounds cleanup or laundry duty. When electing someone to these, the nominator would offer praise to their nominee and explain why it would help them become a better participant or even how it changed their outlook on life with intentions for them to do the same.
I sat next to an older woman during Community. We can call her Jane. Jane had previously been injured and became addicted to her pain medications. She introduced herself to the group as an alcoholic. The Healing Place follows the guidelines and principles of “Alcoholics Anonymous” so many will identify themselves as an alcoholic when speaking, but may identify however they choose. As Jane further elaborated on hardships of her past, (details that will remain private) I began to realize that the difficulties of medical school we face – the task of conquering board exams, and pressure to be a competitive applicant for residency – were quelled in comparison to struggles of our future patients, those like Jane. I headed home from my final visit with this new perspective. And maybe, West Louisville isn’t as ominous as I thought after all, as near the intersect of West Hill and 15th sits a place of healing for many women hoping for a better future.