A young patient gets care and entertainment from a team on a trip run by St. John’s Episocopal Church in Williamstown.
A young patient gets care and entertainment from a team on a trip run by St. John's Episocopal Church in Williamstown. (Courtesy of St. John's Episocopal Church's Medical Ministries International team)

"At this festive season of the year ... it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts. ...

"We choose this time because it is a time, of all others, when want is keenly felt and abundance rejoices."

So a kindly gentleman tells Mr. Scrooge in Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" -- and it is true now.

As the cold comes and the Northeast recovers from storm damage, and as the country debates how to direct its resources, people who can give often think about what to give, and how.

We have found as we assembled this magazine that people who make a living by serving may also be uniquely generous in their free time, and with it.

Here are doctors, nurses, medical interpreters, all the many people who work in medicine, who spend their vacations traveling to heal and teach, or foster students, or help those who need and cannot afford basic care.

These professionals have the skill, and they have the compassion -- but I'm amazed they have the time.

My sister is a medical resident in a small program, and she gets a full two-day weekend off about four times a year. Six-day weeks are standard. So are 24-hour shifts.


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In this country hospitals are often understaffed and underpaid; a doctor may have bare minutes with each patient and a VNA nurse may be penalized for taking the time to explain medications. (I have heard stories of both.) Time is the most valuable resource many medical people have.

And many of them give that, too.

I'd like to thank them -- the Doctors without Borders and the dentists who treat families without insurance -- and also the people who will work emergency room shifts over the holidays: The EMTs who will come out on Thanksgiving night to make sure an old woman is breathing comfortably and will remember her name from their last visit, six months ago.

Thank you for remembering, through all the pressure of time and lack of sleep, that you are caring for people often frightened and out of their depth.

Thank you for answering the phone when we call.