Month: July 2018

My Immigrant Patients

Joanna Sharpless ~

In the living room of the house where I grew up hangs a framed copy of a seventeenth-century map of Pennsylvania. The land is divided into tiny plots, each painstakingly labeled with a family name.

When I was little, I’d stand in front of the map and search for the little squares labeled “Sharples”–the original version of my last name. I’d imagine my distant ancestors, John and Jane Sharples and their seven children, dressed in bonnets and breeches as they sailed across the Atlantic in 1682. As Quakers, they’d purchased land from William Penn and had fled religious persecution in their home country, England.

To a young girl, their immigration story sounded romantic; but as I grew older, I realized that it wasn’t. Their life in England must have been unbearable for them to be willing to risk losing everything in order to rebuild their lives in a strange wilderness. Indeed, they paid a steep price: One of their children died on the journey. I also had to consider their role as colonizers, living on land that had once belonged to Native Americans. How should I feel about my family’s immigration story?

Felipe's Story

Felipe’s Story: “I’m going to the U.S. I’m going to see who detained the clouds and how they detained them.”

“There was a time [in Mexico] that it didn’t rain and there wasn’t a lot to eat in the country. There were no crops. People started to say that the Americans stopped the clouds so it wouldn’t rain, because they are very powerful. I said, I’m going to meet these Americans — I’m going to go to the U.S. I’m going to see who detained the clouds and how they detained them. I was about 15.”

“[Hubo] un tiempo que no llovía y no había mucho que comer en el campo. No hubo cosechas. Empezaron a contar los señores que los Americanos detuvieron las nubes para que no lloviera porque son muy poderosos. Dije, voy a conocer los Estados Unidos. Voy a ver quienes son los que detienen las nubes, como las detienen. Tenía como 15 años.”

Fatima's Story

Fatima’s Story: “I want them to be better than me. I’m here, stuck.”

“I tell [my children], you don’t have to do anything for me, just go to school and do what you have to do. On the weekend I take them to the mosque, because jeu can learn Arabic and all that. And I just want them to study. That’s all. That’s the main thing. If you want to be someone tomorrow, you have to work hard right now.

I want them to be better than me. I’m here, stuck. I cannot do the work that I want to do because I don’t have the degree for it, so I want them to go to school and not struggle the way I’m struggling right now.”

Fatima, age 32, immigrated from Guinea in 2002

About the Seeing Immigrants Series:

From the time she was a medical student, Joanna Sharpless has been collecting immigration stories to learn more about the struggles and celebrations of being an immigrant in America. For a social medicine project undertaken during residency, she combined excerpts from interviews with a half-dozen of her immigrant patients with photographs of these immigrants holding something of importance to them. Three of these photos and excerpts are presented here. More will be featured in …

Fatima’s Story: “I want them to be better than me. I’m here, stuck.” Read More »

Annabelle's Story

Annabelle’s Story: “She said to me, ‘This is your day. You pass.’ And I started to cry.”

“The [immigration officer] said, ‘Well, you’re applying for your citizenship. I’m just going to ask you a few questions.’ She had a stack of books like this on her desk for me. She asked me, ‘Name one of the longest rivers.’ And I said the Missouri River. She said, ‘Who votes for the president?’ I said, ‘Citizens 18 and older,’ like we were having a little chat. And she said, ‘Oh you planned for this! You know it all!’ I said, ‘Yes ma’am.’ And she said to me, ‘This is your day. You pass.’ And I started to cry.”

Annabelle, age 61, immigrated from Jamaica to Canada in 1992 and from Canada to the U.S. in 2003

About the Seeing Immigrants Series:

From the time she was a medical student, Joanna Sharpless has been collecting immigration stories to learn more about the struggles and celebrations of being an immigrant in America. For a social medicine project undertaken during residency, she combined excerpts from interviews with a half-dozen of her immigrant patients with photographs of these immigrants holding something of importance to them. Three of these photos and excerpts are presented here. More will be featured in a later issue of …

Annabelle’s Story: “She said to me, ‘This is your day. You pass.’ And I started to cry.” Read More »

A Second Chance

“Dr. Iqbal, are we really going to follow up and keep her in our practice? She’s a heroin addict and she’s going to be using again this pregnancy. She never went to any rehab or took any suboxone!”

I asked our nurse what she knew about the patient other than what she obtained in triage. She replied that it was all she knew, so I told her the rest of the story.

The Second Law of Medicine

Sandra Relyea ~

I sit in the cab of an old pickup truck on my father’s farm, listening to the water gurgling through irrigation tubes alongside a field. The truck is parked next to a barbed-wire fence. I’m waiting for the water to reach the far side of the field so I can pull the tubes and reset them in the next field.

As I wait, I watch the setting sun turn the Sangre De Cristo Mountains red and orange. Crickets chirp in the tall grass; frogs start their evening chorus. Smells of alfalfa and milkweed blossoms scent the air. Peace settles over me as the light fades.

To my left, I notice a little spider spinning an orb web between the fence wires. A mosquito buzzes around my face, looking for a good landing spot. I catch it between two fingers and try to place it in the spider’s web.

Home Invasion

Laura Grace Weldon ~

Get out my green mug, round as a pregnant belly.
Casually pour grounds in the filter
despite monitoring devices warning
of an intruder’s presence.
Act normally. Breathe deeply.

Let the cosmic swirl of cream in hot coffee
remind me how small one lifetime is
in an infinite universe. Remember
the Vedas say God’s playfulness is expressed
through perpetual creation and dissolution.

Quell fear. Be peace.
Ignore creaks and groans as intruder
inches closer. Pretend
the future is a given,
as it was before
the diagnosis.

Quitting Cancer Sticks

Fifty years ago, smoking was socially acceptable, and I purchased my first carton of Kools for only three dollars. Liberated and away from home in college, I could inhale freshly lit tobacco whenever I wanted. Ah, heavenly.

Honoring Addiction

My son struggled with addiction for over eight years. He died last March of a heroin overdose at the age of 25. To lose a child is completely devastating. I’ve been working through the many layers of grief and am slowly healing.

Cracked Up

Carlos Downell ~

They say that to write well, you should write about what you know. I’m a homeless drug addict. This essay is not about me, although I’ll figure in it. It’s about drug abuse among the homeless, a subject I’m very well acquainted with.

I have a dual diagnosis–substance-abuse issues and psychiatric dysfunction. Double trouble. If I can’t get meth, I’ll smoke crack, and if I can’t get crack, I’ll smoke pot or take pills or whatever I can get–anything but inhalants. I’m what’s known as a polysubstance abuser. (Most addicts are.)

I’m in recovery. Sounds like I should be in a hospital bed, and perhaps I should–but I continue to function. I abide, I persevere and I survive: It’s what I do. I reside on the sidewalk, on the railroad tracks, under the freeway overpass.

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