A Latino male in his twenties had been brought up the unit from PES (Psych emergency). I was standing at the nurse’s station going over a chart when I heard the nurse in front of me proclaim, “Yep, your tax dollars at work,” pointing to her chart and looked for a sign of commiseration from me. I didn’t know what she was talking about, so I followed her finger to the part of her patient’s chart that said “SSN: 888-88-8888.” “Gotta be illegal!” she said.
As I recall, my face was set for ‘yeah-and?,’ but she mistook it for ‘I-agree-sister!’ “Do you believe the nerve of these people,” she went on, “sponging off the system like this? We really need more border patrol!” I was picturing the band of rednecks currently patrolling the border between Arizona and Mexico while repressing the urge to roll my eyes. She actually waited for my reply.
Feeling non-confrontational, but ever a wee bit sarcastic, I said “But who would we get to do our dishes?” Again, she mistook, and must have heard: “Were you raped as a child?”
[With ever reddening face and pointing finger]: “They come here and take our…..!!”,” Those people using our….!!.”, "I have worked too long and hard for...", “They need to…!!”
Some part of me was using therapeutic technique with this wounded soul because I recall muttering, “Mm-Hmm” and “Hmm.” There was a long pause. Lots of downward looking; paper shuffling. I think I heard panting - then, “I do my OWN dishes, thank you!”
To my rescue, came the seasoned unit clerk, peering up from his paperwork and over a pair of glasses perched at the end of his nose. He said to her, over said glasses, and without any hesitation, "And what about, ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door’?" - the inscription at the base of the Statue of Liberty. On my walk home that night, I thought of all the things I wish I had said. I thought about how I wish I had stood up for that Latino man. He will get the treatment he needs; I was not concerned about that. I was concerned about the attitude coming from the long time SFGH nurse, and this was not the first time I had heard such prejudice.
By the time I reached Valencia and 19th, I was livid. The man was human; the sentiment of that nurse was not. Part of the mission statement of SFGH is, “…to deliver humanistic, cost-effective, and culturally competent health services to the residents of the City and County of San Francisco.” What is a resident? Does he live here? Legally? Does it matter? Do we accept everyone, or only those with papers?
Frankly, I am willing to let the care of that man be part of ‘my tax dollars at work.’