pilar (not her real name) has been here in the united states for about a year. she doesn't speak any english, and supports herself as a dishwasher at a restaurant in town. for several months now the pain and numbness that starts in her fingertips and continues almost to her shoulders has been getting progressively worse, and she came in to see the orthopedic specialist who sees patients at the people's health clinic once a week. the doctor recommended she have a fairly expensive test to see if she has carpal tunnel syndrome, so he asked the assistant to set up an appointment at a neurology clinic. the clinics she called didn't mind that she'll need an interpreter, but the conversation ended when they found that she doesn't have a social security number (like many of the patients at people's health, and which can be an indicator of whether or not an immigrant is legal). so we didn't make the appoiintment for pilar and will try either another clinic or applying a bit of pressure to those clinics we've already called.
sometimes i think about what it would be like to be an immigrant here in the united states. i usually just imagine not knowing the language and think "that'd be hard". but at the clinic i see a mother with her crying, sick 3 month old and in her eyes i see fear and weariness and something like desperation. in this new place she has few options and nearly no support system. the baby has had trouble breathing since birth, she says, and i think about my brother and sister-in-law and how alarming the slightest new development of their newborn was at first, and how scary were the endless possibilities of death that that new life had brought them, and i try to imagine that uncertainty combined with this family's reality, their poverty, their isolation, their displacement. this isn't merely a difficult undertaking, it's monumental, with incredibly high stakes.
needless to say, it's been an interesting first week at the clinic.