Thursday, October 13, 2005

My Family’s Visit to a Private Clinic in Santo Domingo

October 11, 2005

“I haven’t been this sick since eighth grade,” Dana strained herself to say. She’s fifteen pounds lighter from the last time I saw her a month ago. We are not the twins we used to be. Her pale skin and fragile body contrast the unfortunate ten pounds I gained this summer and my Dominican-tanned face.

I lay on the floor on a folded comforter while my mother rubbed Dana’s back on the queen size bed on which I usually sleep. “Don’t worry about me,” Dana pleaded. But, how could we not? How could I sleep comfortably as my twin sister cried next to me? I could see the pain in her eyes that tell me that she’s tired and frustrated, that she is ready to give up, but Mommy and I would not allow that. We’re fighters. We have always been. I did not sleep that night; no one did.

In eighth grade, Dana was diagnosed with a rare stomach disorder called Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome (CVS). CVS is a rare stomach disorder which causes a person to suffer severe vomiting and nausea. It is as hard for me now as it was back then when I first learned that Dana was sick. I refuse to get used to seeing her like that, vulnerable and in agony all the time. I still believe that she will get better one day. I have to be strong because that is all I can do. I am helpless but not hopeless.

The doctors are helpless too. None has ever tried to find out how to make her better. When she goes to the emergency room, the doctors drug her up to mask the pain, leaving her even more vulnerable and incoherent then when she entered. She tries to tell the doctors what is bothering her, but they do not listen. They seem not to care.

When my host mother insisted that we go to the emergency room this Saturday, we hesitated. We thought that if the hospitals to which we have been in the United States are bad, then the ones in the Dominican Republic could not be any better. Desperation kicked in though and we went to the hospital despite our reservations.

It was raining as we walked the two blocks to the private clinic on the corner of Calle Jose Joaquin Perez. The white sign with big red letters that read, “Emergencia” welcomed us as we entered into the waiting room. The room was empty unlike the waiting rooms I have become so used to at Hartford Hospital and Waterbury Hospital. Instead of institutional, worn-out, and stained seats, the clinic had what seemed to be antique furniture. The floor was so spotless and shiny that you could see your reflection in it.

We did not even have the pleasure of waiting in the waiting room because the nurses, who dressed in white, neat uniforms, attended to my sister immediately. They led Dana to a clean bed where they attended to her. A woman with glasses, the doctor, walked to Dana and asked us what was wrong with her. My host mother explained to her that Dana had been vomiting for several hours.

I continued, explaining to the doctor my sister’s medical history as best I could in a language that is not mine. At times, I had to ask Dana questions because she knows her body best, and the doctor listened to me intently, as I made up words for medical terms. Despite the language barrier, it was the first time that we had ever experienced a doctor who listened, who empowered us.

Perhaps, she understands that the patient has the most expertise on his or her body. A medical degree from Harvard or any other medical institution seems be reason enough for American (US) doctors we know not to listen to Dana. One should not insult these know-it-all doctors or their egos by trying to explain anything. This is what I have learned.

After conversing with the doctor, she decided how she would treat Dana and explained everything to us. She would give Dana something for the nausea and the pain. We knew that she could not cure Dana right then and there, but she tried to help anyway unlike the American doctors we have experienced, who see patients as tasks and not as people they need to assist.

The nurse came to inject Dana with medicine. I turned away because I could never stomach seeing people poke my sister with needles. As always, the nurse had to try more than once to find a good vein. Dana barely has any left. Her many trips to the emergency room have left her with thin veins and scar tissue—battle wounds of her illness. The nurse felt bad; she said she hated digging people more than once. She tried one more time with a smaller needle and was unsuccessful.

Mommy and I did not judge her. We know that it is difficult to find a good vein in Dana’s arms. Instead of stabbing Dana’s arm multiple times like most nurses at Waterbury Hospital do, she called another nurse over who tried to find a good vein and who was successful. Dana tensed up from the pain the needle’s intrusion into her vein caused, but the nurses, both of them, rubbed Dana’s body to soothe her. “Respira, mi amor, mi carino,”(Breath, my love, my darling), one said, as the other gently and humanely injected the pain-killer solution into Dana’s weak body.

I observed the nurses; I observed how they treated Dana like family, like a person. I was surprised by how close they were to Dana, how they touched her in a loving way. When they talked to us, their tone was not condescending like the tone we have become so accustomed to hearing at Hartford and Waterbury hospitals. They do not assume we are ignorant minorities who have nothing better to do than go to the emergency room. They respected us, and we almost did not know what to do with ourselves.

Thirty minutes later, Dana was ready to leave the hospital. They treated Dana without even knowing if we had enough money to pay for it. Their priority was on helping Dana, not on getting paid. We ended up only having to pay thirty dollars for Dana’s treatment, treatment that usually cost more than a thousand dollars in the states. What the Dominicans lack in financial resources, they make up for with love and compassion—something that some American (US) doctors have lost. After we arrived back to my apartment, I realized that my mother and sister had to come all the way to the Dominican Republic to have the best hospital experience they ever had in their lives.


Anonymous Charlotte Beyer said...

Dena, Your eloquence and love come through so powerfully, and I admire your perseverence and most especially Dana's.
I send you both an enormous hug and much love,
Your Westover connection (forgotten maybe) Charlotte

3:56 PM  
Anonymous Christina said...

Wow, Dena that was fantastic. It inspires me to become a physician that shows much compassion and kindness to my patients' needs, because that is just as important as treating them. Keep it up. Give my love to your family.

4:02 PM  
Anonymous catharine wright said...


This is a moving and tender testament to your love and compassion for your sister, and for those who suffer in general. Hearing that this was the best hospital experience your family has had is an outrage. Insensitivity should never be part of a healing environment. I know that your family has tried so many things, but I wonder if there are any other resources in the states that you could draw on. Any alternative practices? I can understand why Dana feels like she's at the end of her rope; it sounds debilitating. And it's infuriating that color and economics play such a role in health care in the U.S.


7:06 PM  
Anonymous Alana said...

I have to say I nearly had tears rolling down my cheeks as I read each of your beautifully poignant words. I remember when Dana would have her really good days at Westover, but then I remember when she would be ill for days, weeks at at time. It was so hard to see her suffer then as I am sure it is much more so now. The both of you are so strong, and you taught me how to be strong in return. This strength you gave me is a gift I will always treasure. No matter how long it is between the times we speak, the both of you as well as your mother are in my thoughts and my heart. Your friendship meant so much to me at the mere four years we spent at Westover just as it does now. I love the two of you so much. I wish I could do something for the two of you. I truly wish I could. I hope you realize that I learned so much from you. I grew leaps and bounds as a person because of the two of you. More importantly, I learned to be myself around the two of you. If I could be one ounce of the person you are, Dena, and of the person Dana is, I would consider myself so lucky. There is so much more I could say, but I'm afraid I would ramble on for pages and would just end up saying the same thing over and over. Simply put, I love the both of you very very much.
Much love,

3:42 AM  
Anonymous ReNard Rogers said...

I love you Dena! I wish I could use words, half as successfully as you do, in order to describe what you mean to me and so many others.

11:28 PM  
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5:35 PM  
Anonymous Carlos said...

I write this comment to you with tears coming down my face, my heart pounding at a thousand miles a second, my nerves pumping as if they were ready to pop. It is sad that one has to go outside of the United States to notice all of the injustices that are around us when we are there. That our skin color reflects the type of treatment we will get at the hospital, that cold, ruthless people linger U.S. hospitals, only there because of their nice degrees. I miss that attention and care I used to get in the DR when going to the hospital with my mom for my asthma. In the US they sit you down, put the mask on and then let you go, with only a prescription. Bueno hermana, hasta luego y te quiero muchisiiiiisiiiiisiiisiiimo....MUAH! Oh, and what are you talking about Spanish not being your language???You are as Dominican as I am....

7:24 AM  
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