These volunteers had the look of a great bunch of enthusiastic people who had converged from different backgrounds, demographics and philosophies because their hearts were all in the same place for this one morning.
Funny how opportunities sneak up on you. Saturday morning was an experience I would never have had if not for my wife's alarm clock, commitment and enthusiasm. When her radio went off about 6 a.m., I woke up reluctant. Getting out of bed to go make coffee meant overcoming substantial inertia. In those first moments, the prospect of venturing out for a few hours to help load an enormous semi truck with medical and other supplies bound for Honduras held about as much appeal to my drowsy self as failing to act on core beliefs. And I like to wake up early.
In retrospect, this would have been one of the all-time missed opportunities of my life -- the sort of experience that, once you've had it and understand what you might have missed, makes you cringe at the regrets your inertia might have cost you.
The Hackett Hemwall Foundation does this every year about this time. Directed by Dr. Jeffrey Patterson, who was among the heroes featured in last week's Isthmus cover story, the foundation is devoted to providing high-quality medical care to people in developing countries who could not otherwise afford it. Patterson is also a professor of medicine and public health at UW-Madison, founded the local chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility and is now PSR's national president.
Established in 1969, the Hackett Hemwall Foundation convenes clinics and conferences to train physicians in treatments for chronic pain, ENT (ear, nose and throat) surgeries and other procedures. It also organizes an annual trip to Honduras in March for scores of physicians, nurses and supporting volunteers, treating thousands of patients in the space of a month. And it marshals medical, educational and other supplies for shipment to developing countries like Honduras.
This was Saturday's task.
We arrived at Chet's Care Care Center on Aberg at about 7 a.m. to find the enormous semi backed up to the garage. Its destination: La Ceiba, Honduras.
Inside the garage, several dozen people -- including Chet himself, and Mary Doherty, the Hackett Hemwall Foundation's executive director -- were already hard at work loading the big truck when we arrived. These volunteers had the look of a great bunch of enthusiastic people who had converged from different backgrounds, demographics and philosophies because their hearts were all in the same place for this one morning.
A forklift and pickup truck were delivering pallets of boxes and loads of other stuff from nearby storage units through another bay into the garage.
Among the items we would be loading on to the truck this morning: more than 200 boxes of general medical supplies, almost as many boxes of specialized medical supplies, more than 150 boxes of school supplies, more than 20 boxes of dental supplies, playground equipment (including a mighty heavy teeter-totter that took a handful of strong men to lift onto the truck), a couple of kitchen stoves destined for Honduran schools, chairs, tables, lamps, two TVs, a couple sets of parallel bars, wheelchairs, dozens of walkers (some for adults, some for children), books, bicycles and a cargo tricycle.
It's been said that many hands make light work. This is often true. But there were times this Saturday morning when many hands made heavy work an experience shared by several people. The aforementioned teeter-totter -- as unwieldy as it was weighty -- was one example of this, requiring five or seven strong men to muscle up onto the truck's floor, which stood about shoulder height.
And then there were some large wooden crates. The biggest was estimated to weigh in the neighborhood of 800 to 1,000 pounds. In this case, it was not many hands that made light work of it, but a forklift -- and even then, it was tricky enough to make watching the process an apprehensive experience.
Many hands did, however, make light work of boxes and walkers, lamps and chairs and smaller items.
Many hands also made for camaraderie during opportunities to gather around doughnuts and coffee while the three men inside the cavernous truck's big box strategized over packing logistics and decided how best to arrange the truck's contents high and tight to minimize shifting and settling of contents over all the bumps to come on the long trip to La Ceiba. The exercise made for an impressive display and good spectating for those of us who took an occasional break to catch our breath and shake out fatigued muscles.
The reward of all this, for me, was an excellent full-body workout, the opportunity to lose myself in the tasks at hand, and the chance to narrow by some small increment the broad gulf of hypocrisy that exists between my core beliefs and daily actions. My own modest contributions this morning were a pittance compared to the commitment of some folks who have been doing this kind of heavy lifting for eight or nine years -- and to all the other unseen people who do so much heavy lifting on behalf of their core beliefs across a range of issues, with little or no acknowledgment by those of us who may share those core beliefs but too often stand idle instead of acting on them.
Recognizing this redoubled my admiration for those physicians and nurses and volunteers who will pay their own way to Honduras in March to help the Hackett Hemwall Foundation serve Hondurans who would not otherwise enjoy a level of health care that some of us in the U.S. take for granted.