A story about the need for culturally and linguistically sensitive care

By admin
Published: Monday, June 15th, 2009

I came home to Portland, Oregon for winter break from graduate studies at the University of Chicago. It was nice to go home during this time because both of my younger sisters also were away for college. A couple days before Christmas we went shopping, buying presents at the last minute and catching up as sisters do. When we got home, the house was empty and there was a message on our answering machine from our aunt. She said that our dad was in the hospital and that he suffered a heart attack. We went numb and rushed to the hospital. We were wondering what happened and how bad was this.

At the hospital, the doctor told us how bad it was. There were three blocked arteries, two at 90% and Dad would have to go into emergency surgery early tomorrow for bypass. I think one of my sisters was sobbing. I could barely hear the doctor, but he said something like my dad should have followed his primary doctor’s orders and taken his medications. I thought this was odd that he was blaming my parents because knowing my very traditional Asian parents, they would do pretty much what their doctors said. It was just as likely that the primary doctor had misdiagnosed my dad’s level of risk. Being distraught and distracted, I put my frustrating thoughts aside. We had to go visit my dad before his surgery and I had to be brave.

He looked so much more frail than I had ever seen him as he laid between the railings of the hospital bed with his gown. He had needles and wires around him. I think some of us sobbed. I tried to keep it together for him. The doctor started to explain more about the surgery and what would happen with the bypass. There was an interpreter there in the corner and the doctor looked towards her and then she’d talk to us. As the doctor continued to talk, I noticed that he never really talked to us, only the interpreter as if she was a member of our family. Actually, I felt as if we were secondary, an after thought to the doctor. Again, I was so out of it that I all I can do was hear what the doctor was saying let alone advocate for my family and myself. I felt like saying to the doctor, “Excuse me, but we’re over here. Actually, if you tried to find anything about us, you’d find that this man on the hospital bed has three college educated daughters who can understand everything that you are saying. We can even translate for our mom as we have done all our lives, too.” But I was exhausted and the discussion was over very fast.

After my dad recovered, I wanted to write to the hospital and doctors to tell them thank you for everything they did for him, but I also wanted to tell them how much more painful it was for me to go through it when the ignored or failed to understand me or my family.

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