Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Special Kind of Clinic

There is a hospital in a poor area of Seoul called St. Joseph's Clinic. It is a three-story brick building where those who are ill can come for free medical treatment. Begun in 1987 by a doctor,referred to as the father of the poor and recently deceased, it seemed the hospital would have to close because of the passing of its founder, but another doctor, Sin Won-sik, replaced him. He is a well-known doctor in the field of contagious diseases and a professor at the Catholic Medical School.

The journalist interviewing the doctor recalls the peaceful and joyful presence of the doctor. He learned, he said, to laugh from the heart and give thanks. The word Dr. Won-sik hears most often now is 'thank you'. When he worked and taught in the college medical hospital, it was, he said, a word he rarely heard.

He mixes daily with those who come to the hospital to volunteer, to clean and prepare the patients for examinations and treatment, many of whom come to the hospital drunk and disheveled, often alone, street people, travelers, and always the poor.  Never has the doctor heard any volunteer say it is difficult. Many of the patients have been scared by life and are welcomed by the staff; returning to society they leave behind numberless 'thank you's'.

One volunteer, the doctor says, comes often to bathe the patients. On one visit, he came with a patient whose body was partially paralyzed. There was such a stench  from the patient that the thought of cleaning him was just too much to bear. But the volunteer washed him thoroughly, especially his legs and rectum area, and it seemed to the doctor that the volunteer was not conscious of the smell. It took about one-half hour. The doctor recalls this as one of the most beautiful moments, among others at the hospital, that he recalls seeing; he was embarrassed at what this was saying to him.  

The doctor's father, when the son became a doctor, told him, "Difficult as your studies were to become a doctor, be of help to others in your life." Whether these  words of his father were the reason for his decision to do all he could to help those most in need of medical care, he doesn't know. What he does know is that he did not want  to finish his life as a professor. Although no longer young, he does have six years years before retirement, and he wants to spend it at the side of the poor.


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