Blog | Friday, May 22, 2020

'We called and called'


Last night on my shift I was assigned a woman in her 50s who had been transferred from another hospital with diarrhea, cough, and fever, diagnosed with COVID-19. She was now off any supplemental oxygen, ready to move to a less intensive unit in the hospital. [Identifying details changed in this story.]

She was lying in bed, sweaty, stiff and uncomfortable. “Where are you from?” “In Ecuador.” Why'd you come here? “To make a better future,” she says, turning her face away. They were only living five to a room, she tells me. Her roommate was diagnosed positive. She's still coughing. She was working in construction.

She had a son. The patient was from Ecuador but various Hopkins people were under different impressions about where the son was living. Someone had written “Honduras” with a Sharpie next to their number on the see-through sliding room door. It said “Guatemala” in a couple of notes in the chart. I think people were mixing up Spanish-speaking countries. “No, my son's in Ecuador,” she said, confused. “Why would they be anywhere else?”

I called her son. I gave the international number to the hospital operator and before I finished giving the digits the operator finished the sequence for me. I guess other people had tried to call. There was a foreign-sounding ringing on the other end. “Alo?”

“Thank God for you,” he said. “We've called and called but no one picked up. We were so worried. She's out of danger?”

“Not entirely. But she's better.”

“God bless you and your work. We would like to send her something. Can we do that?”

“From Ecuador to the U.S.?”

“Why not?”

Yes, why not.

Zackary Berger, MD, ACP Member, is a primary care doctor and general internist in the Division of General Internal Medicine at Johns Hopkins. His research interests include doctor-patient communication, bioethics, and systematic reviews. He is also a poet, journalist and translator in Yiddish and English. This post originally appeared at his blog.