I am 60 years old and live alone. I came to the United States in 1996. After a few months of studying English as a second language at an adult school, I was able to survive with the limited income that I earned from my daily hard work. I was not as fortunate as many others. I got laid off many times, which caused me to move constantly to accommodate my jobs’ locations. At my previous job, due to low income, I had medical insurance from Contra Costa County. It was called the “Basic Health Plan” which the county gave to me every six months. I came to the clinic, where I met with my doctor to re-apply every six months when my insurance card had expired. During this time period I didn’t have a problem communicating with the people at the clinic even with my limited English. In 2002, I got very sick and came straight to the clinic for urgent care, only to find out that my card was expired and was told to re-apply by phone. I was not allowed to see my doctor to explain how difficult it was to have a conversation by phone in English after having diarrhea for several days. Still, the people at the clinic sent me home without much help. They let me know that there is a Vietnamese line to serve those with poor English.
Back home, after trying several times to call the phone number I was given, I discovered that there was not a Vietnamese line like I was told at the clinic. Consequently, I tried the English line and was unable to explain in detail what I was experiencing. Finally, I gave up and began to take all types of non-prescription medicines for diarrhea. The diarrhea stayed with me on and off for six months until one day, I couldn’t move out of bed. My legs had become excessively swollen to the point at which it was bigger than my thighs. I called my sister and she urged me to call the ambulance immediately. I was brought to the hospital in Martinez, where there were no interpreters at that time. I stayed in the hospital for two days before the doctors found out that I had previously lost 40 pounds due to nutrition deficiency and a major virus in my intestine. My life was saved. But I now have to take medication for the rest of my life.
What can we learn from my story?
- The language barrier is a serious issue that needs to be addressed more properly.
- The hospital system is too bureaucratic and not flexible.
- There is a need for more interpreters at all clinics and hospitals.
- The cost for being treated keeps people from the care they need.
- Hospital and clinic staffs need to get proper training to help people promptly & effectively.