Margaret Cervantes, a retired medical assistant, has been mostly staying home to avoid catching the virus but is still volunteering at Culture of Life. She uses a cell phone from home to answer calls to the clinic, scheduling appointments in an online Google Doc that other employees can access. Robinson also has more help than usual from medical students as other residency opportunities had shut down during the pandemic: During my visit, one student spoke to a patient over the phone in Spanish.
Open about 20 hours a week during the COVID-19 pandemic, Culture of Life provides diabetic wound care, ultrasounds, endoscopies, stress tests, and blood work. The clinic has 16 exam and procedure rooms and runs out of a former law office donated in 2018. Half its budget helps patients pay for care the clinic can’t offer, such as dental work. The clinic website also specifies what it chooses not to offer—abortions, sterilizations, assisted suicide. Robinson said that’s part of his intentional effort to respect God’s authority to give and take life.
Esmeralda Rivera, a nurse practitioner and the clinic’s medical director, is also volunteering from home but sees patients by phone and video call. She treated a family of eight for COVID-19, and they referred others—about 40 so far. Rivera said many patients, especially the homeless or illiterate, didn’t know to take COVID-19 precautions such as mask-wearing and distancing. Others in multigenerational homes, common in the Rio Grande Valley, couldn’t avoid catching it from relatives. Rivera helps them find nearby pharmacies that accept vouchers from the clinic and tries to teach COVID-19 safety when she can.
Robinson has cared for about a dozen patients with COVID-19. Since the pandemic hit, he’s also treated more stress-related ailments than usual—chest pain, stomach problems, high blood pressure.
Robinson said his patients come looking for comfort and hope, not just symptom relief. Clinic volunteers try to offer that hope through prayer over the phone and in the exam room. Volunteers gather to read Scripture before the clinic opens each day, and Robinson reminds them and himself to look for Jesus in patients.
“Is it going to be someone who’s going to curse me out today or smell bad? Can I see Jesus in that person?” he said. “Show them that they’re royalty—that’s what we’re striving to do.”
—Esther Eaton is a WORLD Journalism Institute graduate and a WORLD intern