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Life is truly a work of art. A masterpiece, even. Why do I say this? Well, allow me a monologue, if you please. Let’s say you are the curator of an art museum. Quite simply, it is one of the best museums in the world because you are the curator, and only your favorite pieces make it into these hallowed halls. Sure, not every one of those pieces is technically brilliant or has a pedigree worthy of the Lourve or the Met, but each and every one means something to you. Furthermore, you are drawn to these masterpieces for a reason. Maybe it’s the hurried impasto in one painting, or the thoughtful symbolism of that statue, but everytime you look at one of your treasures, you find something new, some thing you hadn’t seen before. It pulls you in, and as you nod your head and say, “Aha! There is such a new thing,” you smile. That new little detail changes you. You are a different person, a better person, than the person who initially gazed upon the masterpiece just moments before. And so art imitates life. For some reason, certain things (people, places, things, nouns) just draw you in. “It” becomes one of your favorites. You may leave it, but you inevitably return to it at times, older, with a new perspective. Each new perspective is added to all your previous knowledge of that thing, further enriching your shared experience. Such is the beauty – and art – of life.
Thank you for indulging me a monologue (sometimes I can’t resist!), and I promise it applies to this post. But recently, I was blessed with the very good honor of going on a Rural Area Medical trip to East Ridge, Tennessee, with a fantastic crew: nine other students and a staff doctor, Dr. Eubank. Interestingly, every class was represented, despite how early it is in the year (the first years just started retinoscopy, after all!).
I’ve been on a RAM trip once before (this summer, to Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, TN), and let me tell you, I love them. I highly, highly recommend it. Seriously, try to sign up for the next one, if you can! You see, it’s so easy as an optometry student to get bogged down by academia. It’s so easy to get caught in the thought that the next exam grade – a mere number – is the most important thing in your life. It’s so easy to think that the light at the end of this four-year tunnel is never going to come. Well, if you’re looking for that light, step out of the tunnel. Go on a RAM trip, give some service to your fellow human beings. Trust me – not only is it refreshing, I believe it necessary.
Plus, you do learn a lot. For example, the first year on our trip, Kay, got a head’s up on chair skills and maybe even some pointers with refraction. As for me, I did a lot of retinoscopy on this trip, and I believed I improved my skills in this aspect. I even got to practice a few slit lamp evaluations, too (remember, we just learned some of these skills over the summer). Of course, there was a lot I didn’t know, and a lot about which I was unsure, but having upperclassmen and Dr. Eubank definitely helped. Their advice will surely come handy throughout the year.
The patient interaction was great, too. I was actually a little surprised at how patient these patients were, considering some of them had been waiting since the previous evening! But one lady told me that I was the best eye care professional that she’s seen. Ha, maybe I was the first! Nonetheless, it was a great confidence boost. Everyone was so nice.
The patients themselves didn’t just come from East Ridge, either. They came from all over the area: northern Georgia and Alabama, south-central Tennessee, east Tennessee. But the big, geographic center of all of these locations was Chattanooga, Tennessee, my home for four years as an undergraduate. Beautiful, lovely Chattanooga, nestled in a valley surrounded by verdant mountains. Chattanooga, serenaded by the Tennessee River.
And so this RAM trip was a bit of a homecoming for me. Yet, it was a unique visit. For the first time, I wasn’t there primarily to meet up with old friends. Instead, I returned to Chattanooga to serve in my capacity as an optometry student. Also for the first time, other optometry aficionados were with me, and I enjoyed the opportunity to show some of my favorite places in the city: the Fine Arts District, the Walnut Street Bridge, the North Shore. I saw the city through new eyes, with a new optometric perspective, and it was gratifying to give back to an area that has given much to me.
And that is the beauty of it all, I think. I had never known Chattanooga in this capacity before, but now I have added more depth to my previous experience of the city. And who knows what the future brings? Maybe one day I can build on this new perspective further, whether on an extern site or in a more permanent capacity. Who knows? Until then, I will certainly have fond memories of this trip for a long, long time.
Photos courtesy of Lekha Samuel
Our awesome group. 327 patients were seen and 252 pairs of glasses were given!
In the Fine Arts District, we paid homage to our own Dr. Savoy.
Looks like driftwood, but it’s actually bronze! Outside the Hunter Museum.
On the bluff outside the Hunter, overlooking the Tennessee River and the Walnut Street Bridge.
Overlooking Coolidge Park.
This is a picture of the Walnut Street Bridge that I took back in 2009, included here as one last illustration of Chattanooga.