Written by Shuhua Li
Translated by Hong (Ariel) Chan
Edited by Maggie Morgan
COVID-19 forced Tzu Chi’s Milpitas community clinic to freeze for nearly three years. On June 26, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., residents rejoiced as the free medical services finally resumed. Tzu Chi Northwest Region’s team of medical volunteers got started bright and early. They exchanged some “long time no see’s” as they bustled around, arranging medical equipment to serve a community who had anxiously awaited their return.
Facing Challenges Head On: Volunteers Persevere to Put on Free Clinic
Three years is a long time to put off essential medical care. Many residents in the Milipitas community rely on Tzu Chi’s medical team to deliver services they otherwise wouldn’t have access to. The Tzu Chi Northwest Region volunteers were ecstatic to resume the free clinic and see some familiar faces.
During the pandemic, Tzu Chi’s medical team brainstormed on ways to better serve their patients. The service menu has expanded, adding internal medicine, ophthalmology and chiropractic treatments to the original monthly dental and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) services. This innovative approach allows Tzu Chi to offer more comprehensive medical care to those who need it most.
In light of the still-lingering threat of COVID-19, safety has remained a priority at the clinic. Tzu Chi decided to adopt a by-appointment system to manage the flow of traffic and ensure adequate social distancing on site. Every volunteer and patient was required to carry their vaccination card and undergo an on-site rapid screening to minimize the risk of infection.
The event was full of vitality and compassion; six doctors and five nurses joined the free clinic, and another 26 volunteers from the San Jose area offered their time. A total of 81 patients received medical care that day, most of whom were from Asian and Hispanic-speaking backgrounds.
Eric Kawakami, a Tzu Chi volunteer who led coordination efforts, explained, “For the past three months, volunteers have held weekly preparatory meetings. The spirit of ‘everything is taken care of and everyone takes care of something’ encourages responsibility and allows this free clinic event to be successfully completed.”
Some patients came in pain, but left with a smile; it’s this sense of renewal that is the greatest reward to the volunteers. Helin Guan, a volunteer who handles patient records and filing, said patients would keep repeating “thank you,” showing an outpouring of gratitude for the Tzu Chi medical team and volunteers. It seemed to volunteers that a glimpse of hope can be the most healing in the midst of illness.
His interactions with patients deeply moved Helin; he was living out the phrase “it’s more blessed to give than receive.”
Growing Up with Giving Back
The free clinics’ first priority is providing essential services to local residents with medical needs, but there’s so much more good that grows as a result. The events cultivate the seeds of compassion in the next generation, allowing them to see for themselves that they hold the power to create change.
Volunteers sought to strengthen Tzu Chi’s roots in the community by inviting younger peers to join in. The June 26 clinic was refreshing simply by relaunching, but the addition of two young doctors to the medical team brought an even stronger force of vitality.
Dr. Michael Chen has a youthful appearance, but his age has nothing to do with his wealth of experience. Dr. Chen has been participating in monthly community services since joining Tzu Chi’s Youth group, Tzu Shao. Even when he was busy with medical school, he never stopped giving back. Dr. Chen had been a regular participant in the free clinic events as a dental assistant before graduating from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and obtaining his dental license.
Today, Dr.Chen works in a community hospital, serving mainly low-income patients. He has always believed that “serving the community” is our duty as human beings. When he learned that Tzu Chi was going to reopen the free clinic, he immediately signed on to join the medical team to offer his dental expertise.
Another young doctor has followed in her father’s footsteps. Dr. Kevin Hwang, a chiropractor, guided his child turned colleague in assisting patients on site. Kevin Hwang has been part of the Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) for more than 20 years. He always addresses patients’ feelings before discussing their pain, embodying the philosophy of “curing the mind, body, and soul.”
Actions speak louder than words, and leading by example is key. At the clinic, Kevin Hwang was seen instructing his daughter; he doubled as a senior in the medical field who was teaching novice doctors, and as a father who was passing on the benevolence of “treating patients with heart” to the next generation.
Real Human Connection: Doctors and Patients Bond Through Healing
Tzu Chi’s medical team has been heavily involved with the Milpitas community for many years, and has gained the trust of local residents. Simply through word of mouth, the Tzu Chi medical team has connected with countless people in need of medical treatment.
Ms. Fengyi Ren was referred to the clinic by Mr. Hangsheng Ni, who had attended Tzu Chi’s “Workshop for Seniors: School for the Elder” in Northern California. “I came to get TCM treatment this time, hoping to treat a long-term eye illness caused by my compromised immune system,” said Ms. Fengyi Ren.
After a careful diagnosis and treatment by Dr. Shujuan Wang, Fengyi Ren said, “Dr. Wang was humble and warm during the consultation. She cared for me and listened carefully to my narrative, which made me feel very calm and peaceful. This is what ‘a benevolent doctor’ truly is. I am very grateful for the help of Tzu Chi doctors and volunteers, and I will definitely recommend the free clinic to more friends in need.”
“I’m so happy. I went to the doctor as if I was in a nursery, and then he (Dr. Huang) came to help me fix my body. I now feel very relaxed and comfortable when I walk.” Ms. Xuue Yan, a community member, praised with a smile on her face as she walked out of Dr. Kevin Huang’s chiropractic clinic: “This is the happiest thing for me today, and I want to recommend this clinic to all my friends!”
Xuue Yan happily remarked that, in addition to helping her adjust to a long-term leg length discrepancy problem, Dr. Huang also taught her some simple and fun rehabilitation exercises. She learned moves like the “Superman” and “Cat Pose”, so she could continue to self-rehabilitate daily.
Yakelin Mairena, a Hispanic woman who came to see the doctor with her husband and son, said that she heard about the clinic from a friend who had mentioned Tzu Chi to her. Though it had been a long time, she remembered her friend’s recommendation to come for the free medical services.
Yakelin received a dental consultation as volunteers taught her young son about the importance of oral health care. She smiled and said, “the doctors here are very good and their medical skills are great. I am very satisfied with the consultation, and I am very grateful for the caring and warm volunteers here.”
Well-being starts from within, and requires attention to the whole; our minds, bodies, and spirits must all be healthy in order to live life to the fullest. Tzu Chi’s free clinics seek to accomplish the healing on all levels, offering love in tandem with medical care. Whether they knew it or not, patients revitalized volunteers simply with their presence, ever-widening Tzu Chi’s circle of compassion.