"I had survivor's guilt"

When we last spoke to Dr. Lucy Uber, we were chasing her down for an interview. According to her, things were hectic. When Uber is not working as a pediatrician for her private practice, or at the Los Angeles Children’s Hospital, she is volunteering with IsraAid, one of the volunteer service providers Shalom Corps works with. Uber spoke with us about some of the guilt she experienced during the height of the pandemic in the U.S.A, which brought her back to the volunteering world. She also talked about how she felt when the work actually started to slow down.

1.) What type of volunteer work you do?

The type of volunteer work I was doing with IsraAid was handing out food boxes, pre-packaged for people who were needy and were driving up to Los Angeles schools to get just basic foods for their families. We would coordinate drive-in lanes where people would drive up and we would put the boxes in their car. There was no contact. I did this for a couple of weeks in the height of the pandemic in Los Angeles.

2.) What made you sign up to volunteer?

I volunteered with IsraAid because… well I have actually been participating in their work for a little over a year since they got started [operating] in Los Angeles . I am a physician, so I was supposed to deploy with them to Kenya to work with them in one of their refugee camps over there, but because the situation was unstable at the time, we canceled the trip. So I’ve been involved with the IsraAid humanitarians professionals network for just over a year, and so, during the pandemic I was working at a children’s hospital in Los Angeles at the emergency dept and as well as in my private practice, but things were actually very slow in the pediatric arena.

So I had this survivor’s guilt because I have many, many colleagues in New York and they were all working on the front lines and here I was, getting cut back on hours.

Dr. Lucy Uber

So I felt I really wanted to help use my time outside the hospital and with the free time I had, since there wasn’t anywhere to go or anything to do, I decided to try to give back in other ways. So volunteering with IsraAid was kind of the natural thing to do, since I was already involved with them.

Dr. Lucy Uber

3.) Were your family and friends hesitant when you told them you wanted to volunteer during the pandemic?

My family and friends were not hesitant because I work in the hospital, so I had been living with my family trying to save up money to be able to buy something of my own in LA. But, because of the pandemic, I packed up my things and moved out overnight in order to distance from my parents and not expose them to anything I might bring home. So for me, volunteering at the food-bank was low risk. We have no physical contact with anyone. We’re always six feet apart and we are wearing masks and gloves, so for me it was not a concern at all.

4.) What is something that shocked you or really made an emotional impact on you during your time volunteering?

Unfortunately, I wasn’t shocked by much. I work in LA at a children’s hospital, where we serve exactly the community that was coming to pick up these boxes. These are people that are oftentimes immigrant families, very low income and what I think really impressed me most, was the volume of people coming. The endless amount of cars that would line up to come get this food and wait in long lines to get things like pasta, dried foods, canned foods — things that are relatively inexpensive. It just goes to show you the level of…just that there are disparities in the population. These people can’t afford the basic needs, so they wait in these lines to get them.

4.) What is something that shocked you or really made an emotional impact on you during your time volunteering?

I think I was moved most by the gratitude people showed. Just genuinely grateful for us being there and just showing up. And people were truly, truly grateful and you could see it and it felt good to help fill in that need and be there in whatever capacity just to help. I think being a physician in that community gave me a different outlook on the circumstances of the community that we serve and it was nice to be able to interact with them outside of the hospital and help fill that gap when I couldn’t really help in other ways.

*Uber received her medical training at Tel Aviv University, where she lived and studied for 4 years before taking up a residency in the Bronx, New York. Following the residency, she moved back to her home-town in California to begin working as a doctor. She still works and lives in Los Angeles.