Do You Understand Me?


He finally comes into the room to examine my little Juanito.  Pobrecito, he is warm, coughing and his nose won’t stop running.

“Hola, Sra. Rá-mirez.  ¿Qué tál?  ¿Su hijo tiene fiebre?  ¿Duele los oídos?  ¿No comiendo bien?’ he asks, enumerating any possible sign or symptom.

Wait a minute!  Can I please tell my story?  And it’s Ramírez not Rá-mirez.  How many years have I been comign to your office, as well as all of the other Ramirez families, for you not to be able to get it right by now?

“Sí, fiebre y mocos,” I answer – he has had a fever and a runny nose.

“¿Cuánto tiempo? ¿Verde o clarito?…” he drones on.

Why can’t he let me explain the situation instead of asking me all of these questions?  It would make things easier.  He checks Jaunito’s ears as my son sits, squirming on my lap.  He then checks his throat.

“Señora, garganta muy.  MMMUUUYYY roja – necesita penicilina,” he tells me, describing my poor Juanito’s red throat and the usual week’s dose of penicilin.

I nod, satisfied with what he has found, I guess…

Before I can ask any other questions, the prescription flies into my hands and the doctor is out the door.  That’s it?  What about the rash on Juanito’s belly?  What about the fact that his left eye has always seemed to look in more than the other when I observe him playing?  What about Juanito – my son, not my son’s throat?

It’s not easy getting over here.  First, I have to ask my boss for the day off – he doesn’t like when we do that, even when I explain that one of my children is sick.

“One of your six children is always sick, it seems.  Why can’t you get someone else to take them to the doctor?” he asks, almost spitting out the word “six” as if I were some farm animal.

Who else will go?  I have to take two buses to get to the doctor’s office and when I finaly arrive, who knows when my name will be called.  My husband works two jobs and my sister has her own kids to take care of.  Then there’s the language issue.  Sure my doctor can get by with the Spanish that he has picked up by treating the community, our community, but is it enough to understand me?

What can these people possibly know about my situation, about our situation?  My children’s doctor gives them shots and penicilin and sends us on our way.  My boss has no idea what it means to earn $5.35 an hour, take care of a husband and six children and not have medical insurance.

I come back to the doctor’s office three days later, this time with Araceli and Miguelito, both with Miguelito, both with runny noses and a cough that keeps all of us up at night. I asked for another day off this morning, and my boss threatened, “Any more days off in the next month and you’ll be quickly replaced.”

“Sra. Rá-mirez.  ¿Fiebre? ¿Moquitos?  ¿Tos…” I don’t even listen to the questions anymore.  He’s like a machine.  I just nod.  I know the routine and so does the doctor.  I get my prescriptions and leave until the next one gets sick, because once one child gets it, he passes it around to the rest of the family.  What do you expect when you live in a two-bedroom apartment?

“Nos vemos pronto, doctor” I tell the doctor that I’ll see him soon, bundle up my kids in their second-hand scarves and mittens and go out into the bitter Chicago winter to catch my first bus.


Marina Kamenetsky, Class of 2000