Friday, February 13, 2009

One View

I open the door that leads from the clinic area to the waiting room. I see 24 people sitting on 24 chairs sitting on dirty blue carpet. Some chairs are covered in old, stained upholstery. Some are covered in old, stained vinyl. All have held years of peoples' lives, years of stories. People in the waiting room are varying shades of color, most are dark. Some are white. Some are dressed in their native country's clothes. There are young and there are old. I see canes and walkers. I see children playing with toys. It is standing room only. I smell old tobacco. I smell alcohol. I smell bad perfume. I smell unshowered people. They look sad and tired. Most have been waiting there for hours. Some of them have appointments and some don't. For a few moments I think I'm working in a clinic in a third world country. Then I remember I'm looking at the poor in a major US city. They all look up at me hoping it will be their name I call to leave the holding pen. When I call one person's name, I want to call them all because I can't stand that they've been waiting so long. It is now only one person's turn to tell me their stories. 

I find out what brings them here, what ails their body and what ails their mind. I try to make sense of their lives. I discuss their illnesses, their medications, their often unimaginable tales. Some speak English, a lot don't. There is often an interpreter in the room. I've heard many African and Asian languages and I've gotten good at figuring out what African country someone is from by listening to them and looking at them. 

Too many times someone's English isn't good and they don't bring an interpreter. It can be painstaking for them to tell me why they're here and painstaking for me to figure it out. It's not just that they don't speak our language but they've come from such a different culture and view their bodies differently. For instance, Somalis often think there is something wrong with their liver or kidneys but when I ask them to point to the pain, it's not where these organs are. 

I try and make sense out of their chaotic lives as I describe their problems succinctly in the computer for the doctor. Now they wait again. They might be here most of their day.


Foxessa said...

Health care is like that for almost all of us these days. Not only immigrants.

It's worse than ever now, with the economic disaster. The public health safety net here in NYC keeps having its funds cut, which means cuts in hours, cuts in staff, cuts in everything.

I've watched and experienced personally the slow moving glacier disaster that health care has become in this nation since Nixon first went to war on the system. I was just getting old enough to be responsible for my own care. But as long as one is in the university system, it's OK. As long as you have employment that provides some insurance you used to be OK. But not now. Even if employed, those benefits? They really aren't there since the insurance industry decides whatever you really need, it isn't paying for. I sure had that zapped to me when 3 MRIs were ordered for my spinal condition. I had insurance. Guess what? After months the insurance company informed me that those MRIs weren't necessary and it wouldn't pay. And that was when I still had insurance -- so-called 'good' insurance.

Love, C.

Molly The Dog said...

Thank you for your great comment, Foxessa. Actually, our clinic is open to anyone who has no insurance or on state funding so only a portion are immigrants. I see what you are talking about everyday and I know it will only get worse. Patients can't get the medications or tests the doctors feel are necessary. The state insurance questions anything and if someone has no insurance, they are even more screwed. It can be hard to see this all day long.

Foxessa said...

Molly, I cannot imagine how it must affect someone to advocate daily for those you are helping.

What is also so terrible is that it doesn't need to be like this. It really doesn't need to be like this. It could be different. But so many people WANT it to be like this, in order to punish people for not being rich.

Love, C.