During my stay at Harborview Medical Center and Providence Mount St. Vincent Rehabilitation, I interacted with a wealth of people from physicians to nurses, nurse assistants, technicians, administrators, social workers, occupational, physical and speech therapists, cafeteria workers, and housekeepers.
Many had common names. Others had unfamiliar ones. Recalling the lessons of Dale Carnegie, in his book “How to Win Friends & Influence People,” which espouses a person’s name is the sweetest and most important sound in any language, I’d ask them to pronounce their names.
Taking another lesson from Carnegie, I expressed a genuine interest in their lives, respectfully asking about their backgrounds and how they chose their careers. It was a refreshing distraction from fretting about Rich’s and my conditions and learning about other’s cultures and experiences.
For instance, two nurses at Harborview, Mike and Faith, came from Kenya, but gave different accounts about their country. One said it was full of trees, and the other described it as desolate. Both concurred there were opportunities to see lots of animals, and as children, went to national parks and reserves. Faith, who had three children, was very excited about visiting Kenya in July and showing her children where she grew up.
A nurse assistant at Providence came from Sudan where his father grew cocoa beans. I asked if he ate a lot of chocolate, and he said no. Most of the beans grown in Sudan are exported then processed into chocolate.
Several nurses with fine features and calm demeanors came from Ethiopia and Eritrea. Aimia, who was a month or less from giving birth, was training another nurse assistant with a similar name. Of Asian descent, she was always cheerful and eager to help.
Phuong with housekeeping was diligent about tidying the room Rich and I shared at Harborview. I ardently thanked her, recognizing the important role she played in reducing the spread of germs. Harborview was meticulously cleaned with Purell hand sanitizer dispensers by every doorway!
When I was transferred to acute care, Mostin, of Middle Eastern descent, eased my anxieties when he wheeled me back to radiology for x-rays. Throughout my stay, he’d pop into our room, exchanging pleasantries that brightened my day.
At Providence, I met caregivers who were also new to America, including a visiting nurse from the Dominican Republic, phlebotomist from Russia (who woke me up at 6 a.m. two mornings in a row to draw blood), and a physical therapist from Vietnam. Martin, who had an accent, greeted me every morning, taking my vitals, and cheering my success at getting out of bed, dressed, and down to the cafeteria.
These people – along with professionals whose parents are American citizens or descendants of immigrants – contributed to my ongoing recovery.
It’s disheartening, therefore, the current political environment where immigrants are scapegoated, locked in cages, rounded up to be deported (even if they lived in the U.S. for decades), and marginalized.
America was founded on immigrants. My grandparents all passed through Ellis Island, with scarcely more than what could fit in a suitcase. They embraced their new home, finding work, marrying, starting families, and encouraging their children to excel.
Today’s immigrants are no different.
They simply want a chance to grab the American dream. A farm worker, laborer or maid has just as much chance of raising a child who becomes an extraordinary doctor (or other professional) as someone who comes from generations of Americans.
There are far more reasons for welcoming immigrants than against them. Providing a reasonable path to citizenship spurs the economy with people eager to fill jobs that others aren’t willing to take. It revitalizes communities with immigrants willing to move into depressed neighborhoods, open businesses, and purchase goods. Finally, welcoming immigrants (and refugees) increases innovation and diversity with people arriving with new ideas, skills, and determination.
I’m deeply grateful for the exceptional care I received at Harborview and Providence Mount St. Vincent. The journey to America, taken by many of the people who cared for me, should be inconsequential compared to their expertise and compassion.