Angels in pink

Julie Bocker bustles through the halls of the Brimexclinic, stopping to fix a crooked picture orblow a kiss to a patient. As the current presidentof the Pink Ladies at ABC Hospital, which runsthis clinic for low-income patients in the Observatorioarea of Mexico City, she manages 130 fellowvolunteers. Joining the Pink Ladies, she says,seemed like the best way to help poor communitiesjust minutes away from her own privilegedneighborhood.

Image:Courtesy ABC Hospital

Pink Lady volunteers have been active at ABC Hospital since 1953.

“In Brimex, [we treat] the maid, the gardener,the carpenter, window washers on the street, thepeople selling things in the market,” says Bocker,63, whose parents emigrated from Switzerland.“It’s the people who work without benefits.”

The clinic provides healthcare to about 7,000uninsured local residents. The Pink Ladies serveas doctor-patient liaisons at ABC’s main hospitaland at Brimex, which relies on time donated byabout a hundred doctors.

“This was a great opportunity to help outsidemy house,” Julie says. “It helps me feel okay withme and with the country.”

Julie’s mother was also a Pink Lady at ABCHospital. In 1953, the group started fundraisingand facilitating patients’ visits. Over the years,they have also sewn diapers and on occasion haveeven paid for patient care.

Julie comforts patients by remembering theirindividual stories. When I toured the clinic withher, Julie asked in Spanish after a patient’s grandmother.With another patient, she spoke German.

Collectively, the current Ladies speak ten differentlanguages. They counsel patients on preventativemedicine and give talks in the clinic waitingroom, for example cautioning against letting childrentoo close to the stove: many patients have smallkitchens, where it’s easy to spill boiling water. Julieknows because she’s visited their homes.

The Ladies help patients in ways that timestrappednurses and doctors can’t. “We add a warmfactor … [that] makes a difference,” said VickySilvan, who has volunteered for thirty-two years.“We ask the patients, ‘Is there anything we can doto help you?’ Nine times out of ten they say ‘Yes.’”

While Julie works directly with patients, volunteerslike Vicky raise funds for the hospital’s charities.Art fairs, book sales, and other events supportcauses like the Chemotherapy Fund, which paysfor cancer treatment for poor patients. The profi tsfrom hospital gift shops, where Pink Ladies workas cashiers, fund projects like the state-of-the-artCancer Center opening this year.

Vicky and longtime friend Edna Baitenmann werethe first to raise funds by selling used books. Collectively,they have been volunteering for 85 years.

Edna, wearing lavender cat-eye glasses, saysshe became a Pink Lady because small favors, likemailing a letter, can make patients more comfortable.Vicky says there are few things more worthythan volunteering as a Pink Lady: “It isn’t just acutesy-wootsy job. It’s work.”

The Pink Ladies don’t shy away from bringingtheir work home. Edna once used her native language,and her kitchen, to comfort the Dutch wifeof a patient in intensive care.

“I took her to my home for lunch the day afterwe had a party. With all that leftover food fromthe party, we gave her food and food and food. Shemust have thought we ate like rich people. Thenwe took her to a hotel.”

Julie later added that Edna once let anotherDutch patient’s wife stay at her house for a week.

Maybe after decades of volunteering, after themany names and faces, a one-week home-stay justblends into the whole experience. Or, in typicalPink Lady fashion, Edna might have downplayedthe episode out of modesty. This is part of theirlegacy. Following the example of Julie’s mother,the Pink Ladies remain humble, sitting quietly behinda gift shop counter, posting a letter, or coylydenying just how long they have been volunteeringtheir time.

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