The following is the text of an article printed in The Orange County Register on October 8, 1996 written by Laura Saari
The Band-Aid Lady
Across the parking lot of a by-the -week motel near Disneyland, marshals are padlocking room 258. A husband and wife with a small boy tumble down the stairs. They wrap a tarp over a small trailer hooked to a faded blue Chevy. Linda Dunlap, who has helped the family for the past month, walks toward the car. Her face drops. The boy sees her coming and slouches in the back seat. Climbing into the car, his mother forces a smile.
Dunlap peers into the car with her one good eye. "I won’t ask a dumb question like, "How’re we doing?’ Obviously not well," she says. "Is there anything we can do? Can we help you find a shelter? You want my card?"
The husband turns the starter. The engine sputters. He floors the gas.
"OK, I’ll call you," whispers the mother. Tears.
The boy flails an arm out the window. "You got any snacks?" he asks. The car pulls away, trailing blue exhaust. "The situation with these children," Dunlap says, "has etched a dark place in my soul. I wouldn’t like myself if it didn’t."
Dunlap drags a stethoscope out of a plastic shoebox in her car trunk.
"We’ve got an 18 year old with a pacemaker that’s misfiring," she says.
Dunlap, 49, a registered nurse, brings free medical care to the doorstep of the needy - even though a brain tumor has damaged her eyesight and disabled her immune system.
Calling herself the "Band-Aid Lady," she hands out colorful bandages - and much more - to the families who live in low-cost motels and apartments around Disneyland.
Outside a room at the Golden Forest motel, Samantha McGaha is shielding her month old baby’s eyes from the sun and worrying about how she’s going to come up with the rent in two days. McGaha, 18, shares motel room costs with a friend, but he’s lying flat on his back, too sick to go to his $5 an hour job in a packing plant.
"He’s been passing out at work, and last week, he started throwing up," McGaha tells Dunlap. "We take him to the hospital, but they don’t do nothing for him. They take him for a few hours and send him home." He has no insurance.
One week earlier, Dunlap had checked the man’s pacemaker and discovered it was misfiring to the tune of 11 irregular beats a minute. She made a few calls and got him into a clinic, where doctors reset his pacemaker. This time, when she measures him, she lets out a whoop.
"I can’t believe it," she says. His heartbeat has returned to normal. He’s probably vomiting because he’s got a simple case of the flu.
Not all problems are resolved so easily. Dunlap stops to see another young man, but he’s not at home. She says he works in a sweatshop 14 hours a day with no lunch break. He hasn’t been able to shake a deep chest cough for months; he has nosebleeds for hours and has been losing weight. Dunlap has spent hours on the phone trying to get a doctor to see him. No success. She worries that he might have tuberculosis.
"Why is this kid bleeding? I would up telling him to go to the ER in the middle of the night and tell them he’s been bleeding for hours. They’ll have to take him if it’s an emergency."
More Than Band-Aids
She heads toward her 1986 blue Oldsmobile Firenza, "Bluebell," which serves as an office, waiting room and medical cabinet all in one. Frequently, by the time Dunlap finishes visiting one patient, another is waiting by her car.
In an ideal world, Dunlap would use a fully stocked medical van owned by the Orange County Rescue Mission. But she needs volunteer nurses and doctors to do that. The Rescue Mission has been able to open a clinic only once or twice a month, because only one doctor has volunteered.
As Dunlap walks back to her car outside the Golden Forest, a 4-year-old boy, his white-blonde hair shaved into a military crew cut, runs after her. She turns and he stops short, shifting his weight, his hands in his pockets.
"Can you give us some bread?" he asks. Dunlap works with Mardi Reynolds, "The Bread Lady," another volunteer who for the past 10 years has brought donated day-old bread to the motels.
Dunlap says some children shove the loaf into their mouths.
"How many children do you know in Orange County," she asks, "who go to the supermarket and run straight to the bread isle, concerned about getting bread?"
Dunlap brings more than medical care; she often brings donated clothes as well.
A woman is waiting beside Dunlap’s car.
"I’m covered with hives," says Judy Delgado, 47, showing Dunlap a rash on her arms. "They gave me a three day notice, and I haven’t received my Social Security check. Watching this," she waves at the padlocked door, "hasn’t helped."
Delgado, a former nurse, says she sold everything she owned and moved from Idaho to California for the doctors.
"I have an inoperable brain tumor," she tells Dunlap.
"Would you believe, I do too?" Dunlap says. For 10 minutes they form a huddled support group of two.
A Caring Life
After two brain surgeries failed to kill her tumor, Dunlap began to accept her doctor’s prognosis that she had only six months to live.
That was 10 years ago. When Dunlap returned for a check-up last spring, a nurse told her: "You’d better decide what you’re going to do with your life, because we’re giving you a normal life expectancy."
A radical new treatment under experiment at USC - RU-486, the controversial French "abortion pill" - apparently had shrunk Dunlap’s tumor so considerably that she could now expect to live a much longer life.
That’s normal lifespan, Dunlap points out. Not normal life.
She has inherited a host of medical problems with the tumors and surgeries, problems that leave her too fatigued to work a full-time job. But she can volunteer.
Although she had trained as a registered nurse, she had spent most of her career, pre-tumor, as a jailer and detention officer. She wanted, finally, to use her nursing degree.
When her husband, Dave, agreed that they could eke out a living on his salary alone - he sets up computer networking systems - Dunlap decided she wanted to help people on the streets of Orange County. Using $2,000 from a small inheritance left her by a grandmother, Dunlap launched a nonprofit corporation.
"As a culture, we’ve drawn such a strong line between the haves and the have-nots," she says. "We have let our caring go out the window. I decided to do this mainly for the children. I battled the idea for months. I knew I would get in over my head. But finally I said, ‘I’ll do what I can.’ "
After brain surgery, Dunlap’s body is unable to make steroids. She’s lost much of her muscle strength. She must take steroids which depress the immune system. She knows she is putting herself at great peril working with the sick; she dreads flu season.
"My lungs have shrunken," she says. "It’s very difficult for me to get up and down the stairs."
Scenes From Real Lives
She is huffing as she climbs the stairs at the Golden Forest to bring a walker to Erma Jones, 50, who fell and hurt her back at her job in a convalescent home last year. Jones has a bachelors degree in sociology but has been unable to return to work.
Living on less than $500 a month in welfare benefits, she and her two daughters have been forced to move out of their home and into a motel.
"This is depressing if you’ve worked all your life, taking care of yourself," Jones says.
Dunlap says she is shocked by how many middle-class people in Orange County are living on the edge - people with college degrees and good job histories.
"I think the cross-section section through society is getting broader," she says. "We’re cutting into what used to be the middle class."
She checks in on a young man with diabetes. With an MBA from California State University Fullerton, and a $27-an-hour accounting job, Tony Putera never imagined he’d end up living in a motel with his wife and 2-year-old daughter. But after he was laid off six months ago, the family quickly ate through their savings to pay rent. He has submitted many job applications, but he thinks employers might be turned off when they realize they are calling a motel.
His wife, a nurse, continues to work, but they can’t afford to add Putera to her insurance. Putera has been unable to see a doctor.
"How’s your blood sugar?" Dunlap asks.
"Ten minutes after a shot, it’s still 568," he says.
"That’s not right."
She fishes into her pocket and hands him a card for a clinic run by St. Joseph’s in Orange. A visit will cost him $5. "Do you have $5?" she asks. He looks at the ground. "Not right now."
She reaches into her wallet.
"Oh, don’t do that lady," he says. She insists. "OK, but I’ll pay you back," he says.
As she’s walking away, he calls her back. "Excuse me, Mrs. Linda? This is my business card. But I’m not chief accountant anymore."
For The Children
Dunlap heads to the Pitcairn Motel in Garden Grove.
She’s discovered several cases of head lice in the motel and in a neighboring complex. Some children have been sent home from school.
A mother at Pitcairn has donated her room to use for shampooing and combing. A 4-year-old boy wearing a Treasure Island T-shirt stands at the door, holding onto his dad’s pants, afraid to come in.
"We don’t hurt kids," Dunlap says. "We gotta fix you." She digs into her purse for a bag of Gummi Bears.
As a volunteer shampoos his blond crew cut with RID, the boy clutches his Gummi Bears, not opening them.
"My daughter got sent home with lice last year on the first day of school," says his father, Tony Sauceda, a single father of five children. "People keep pointing the finger at you" ‘She went home because she had bugs.’ "
"I hate these," says the boy, Cody. "They itch." His scalp is bloody and raw from scratching.
"There goes one right there," says volunteer Mary Lovelace, 15, whose mother donated the motel room for the lice clinic.
"They look like spiders," Cody says.
Near the end of the day, outside the room, Dunlap collapses on a curb, exhausted. She digs into her purse for a greeting card her husband gave her that morning. He’s written: "Linda, let’s hit ‘em again!"
"I don’t even remember what my life was like when my biggest concern was catching that wonderful movie on Turner Classics," she says. "The needs are so great. I may have gotten in over my head. But I don’t see myself ever walking away from this. I see my life being haunted."
To make a donation or volunteer to help, call Project Dignity at (714) 534-4271.