It’s 5 a.m. on a Friday. Nearly 1,500 people have been lining up for the past 24 hours in the parking lot of the Wise County fairgrounds in southwest Virginia.
But they aren’t here for a summer-time fair.
This is Remote Area Medical, a traveling health clinic known as “RAM.”
For the next three days, founder Stan Brock and a team of volunteers will turn this fairground into a make-shift hospital, providing free medical care to more than 2,500 people.
“You’ve got 40 or 50 million people that are in this category that don’t have insurance and they can’t get the care that they need or they can’t afford it,” said Brock.
It is an overnight race to be at the front of the line. Numbers are distributed. The lowest numbers will get in first. Those with the highest numbers could wait for days.
The Ramos family has spent the long night waiting in a car.
“In this economy, work is real hard and money’s real tight,” said Paul Ramos. “Last three years, I have passed it up. I guess because I am prideful, but this year I was able to come.”
Just before sunrise, the Virginia RAM clinic officially begins. Today some 1,200 patients will be seen.
Triage is first. Volunteer health workers check vital signs, as well as blood pressure and blood sugar. The clinic includes areas for medical, dental and vision check-ups. RAM couldn’t pull this off without the 1,400 volunteers who donate their time, expertise and compassion.
Over in the optical lab, volunteers Thom and Judy Dandridge oversee an assembly line for grinding lenses, helping people see clearly, sometimes for the first time in years.
“That’s what keeps you going,” said Thom Dandridge. “You get frustrated, you get aggravated because you want to change it and you can’t change it. So you just do your best, and thank God that he put you here to do what you do out here.”