All posts by witch

LAUGH SO YOU DON’T CRY

There is an adage that when things get really bad, and you feel despair, look for the lighter side. Find the humor. Laugh so you don’t cry.

Humor is an age-old way to deal with things that scare us. That make us uncomfortable. For this week, I wish to bring some levity and a respite to the fear we are all fighting, if we are in the fight at all. And I am not alone, by a long shot. People are flooding the internet with home-made song remakes (Mama, I just killed a man – My my my my Corona – Amazing Space, six feet you are). They are creating poetry, art, music, altering famous paintings, sharing their trials and tribulations in humorous ways, and much more.

To what purpose? To keep our spirits up. And to show that we still have fight in us. That we are resilient.

Staying at home:

Having trouble making yourself stay at home? Shave your eyebrows off.

Weekly horoscopes: Aries: Avoid imminent danger by staying at home. Taurus: Avoid imminent danger by staying at home. Gemini: Avoid imminent danger by staying at home….etc…

Let’s have a moment of silence for those who agreed to live with crappy roommates because “when would be ever be at home at the same time for more than a minute?”

A lot of parents schooling at home are about to find out that it actually wasn’t the teacher’s fault.

Stuck at home listening to her owner drone on for hours every day, it dawns on Ginger that she wasn’t cut out to be a support dog after all.

Socially avoidant, pacing restlessly inside your home, obsessively self-cleaning, and somewhat moody? Congratulations, you are now a cat!

Charts:

How to distinguish Corona virus from the cold or flu:

  • Regular cold and flu: I really feel terrible. I think I’ll stay home!
  • Corona: I feel really terrible. I think I’ll fly to Colorado and go white-river rafting with a group, attend a large music festival in a major city, or head to Waikiki and play volleyball on a crowded beach.

Sanitation:

My body has absorbed so much soap and disinfectant lately that when I pee, it actually cleans the toilet.

After years of being too busy at work to thoroughly clean and clear out my house, I have just discovered that wasn’t the reason I didn’t do it.

Coffee filters will work as toilet paper, but it does change the taste of the coffee.

The neighbor kids we had hired to pick up the poop in our backyard just quit. They finally figured out that we don’t have a dog.

The notice said gloves and a mask were enough to go to the grocery store during quarantine. They were so wrong – everybody else had clothes on.

Politics:

News Flash: Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the US National Institutes of Health Infectious Disease Institute unveils a simple yet effective mask that can potentially save millions of lives. (Photo of a press conference he held with Trump, with duct tape over Trump’s mouth).

Isn’t it strange that those of us who live from paycheck to paycheck are supposed to have months worth of savings to get ourselves through this crisis, while billion-dollar corporations have planned so poorly that they need immediate government bailouts or they will go belly up?

Top world leaders and global activists are gathering for a hush-hush summit on a small island to try and solve the COVID crisis. US President Trump, German Angela Merkel, Brit Boris Gordon, and Swede Greta Thunberg end up alone on the last flight, when the pilot announces that the place is going down, and they will have to grab one of the three parachutes for passengers. Just like with COVID, not enough protective gear to go around. A quick decision must be made, and Trump jumps up. He snatches the gear off of Greta’s lap before she can even unbuckle, and announces, “As the leader of the greatest country ever, and the smartest man living, I am the most important person on this flight!” and he jumps out. Gordon quickly grabs a parachute and jumps out after him, no apology. Merkel jumps up and tells Greta, “grab the last parachute, honey. You are so young with your whole life ahead of you. We are all in this together. Go and live!” Greta smiles and quickly hands each of them a parachute out of the bin. Merkel asks wonderingly as they gear up, “How can we have two left?!?” “Easy,” Greta answers. “The smartest man in the world just stole my backpack.”

Social distancing:

This quarantine has me finally realizing why my dog gets so excited about something moving outside the window. I think I just barked at a squirrel.

Today, the devil came up to me and whispered in my ear, “You are not strong enough to withstand this storm.” And I whispered back, “Get six feet back, you (insert expletive here).”

Corona pickup lines:

Is that hand sanitizer in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me from six feet away?

Dang, they keep saying they gotta flatten the curves but luckily it’s not working on you!

Look, I know this is sudden, but if COVID doesn’t take you out, could I?

More jokes will come, no matter how bad things get, because we won’t be able to process all this without humor. We will continue to make art about it. Continue to talk about it. Continue to laugh in the midst of our fear and sorrow. Remembering our resiliency, reaching out to each other, from at least six feet away, and laughing through our tears.

PLENTY

As a very young lass, I had the opportunity to live in a less industrialized country with a fledgling government in power, promising a new era of equity and social justice that had been a distant dream during years of puppet governments and foreign interference. It was all very exciting, from my point of view. Revolution! Yet there were mass shortages of basic goods and even electricity, and the water supply was turned on for two-hour increments daily. People started hoarding basic food and supplies, and profiteering occurred. The government responded with very strict rationing and other measures, but the shortages went on. There were trade embargoes in place and even things like glass soda bottles became precious. I had come from the land of plenty, where empty shelves were unheard of. I asked a respected local elder what she thought about the shortages. Her response surprised me.

“I think it’s great! Now people are more grateful for what we have. We don’t waste as much. We are more protective of our resources, like running water and electricity, because there has to be enough for all of us to share. ‘We are only as rich as the poorest person among us.’ That is our motto! So I do agree with the strict rationing of basic food items. When everything is run on money, the rich can pay starvation wages and hoard the wealth. Before, poor people could not get what they needed, because it was put out of their price range by profiteers. Now, everyone in the country has the right to the basics, like food, housing, even healthcare and schooling. Share and share alike. Then work hard for your luxuries, if you want them, but nobody should have to starve or steal to feed their children or take care of their sick and elderly.”

I don’t claim that I will revel in it if we get to a point of scarcity where we have to turn off our water for part of the day, or have regular electrical shutoffs, or food rationing. And of course it will be terrifying if people where I live get to the point of civil unrest and even starvation – and let’s pause and acknowledge that this is the reality today in many parts of the world, through no fault of their average citizens. But I do think that this slowdown and even partial shutdown that we are experiencing in an attempt to mitigate the current virus can be an opportunity both individually and collectively to take stock of how we want to live and what matters most to us. What are we working for? Where are we rushing to?

For those few who thrive best in the rat race, there seems to be an anxious urgency to get back to work, not just for food and shelter, but as their recipe for personal success and self-worth. I had a chat across the lawn recently with our new megacorporate neighbors who are both able to work remotely on full salary. But they are “going crazy” as they told me, with their own two toddlers underfoot while the daycare is closed. The little buggers need so much time and attention during Mommy and Daddy’s workday! “Expect to see arts and crafts displayed in the windows soon because we’ll have to find SOMETHING to keep them busy so we can get our work done! We might even have to take some vacation time, because it’s so hard to stay productive!” The gym is closed as well, so they just set up a treadmill in their driveway, and they take turns running in place.

And what about the rest of us, the many of us who don’t measure our success by money, and yet need money to survive and keep paying our bills? Natural to panic and wonder if we will go under before things improve. But I do believe that much of our money problems will resolve themselves. Money, after all, is simply a socially agreed way of owning property and exchanging goods and services, and as policies change, so will our money woes. Remember, the only thing that cannot be forgiven in our society is individual failure: “Don’t go under – or go live in a tent. Your fault if you didn’t pull yourself up by the bootstraps!” But if we all sink or rise together in a shared economy, then large-scale adjustments will have to be made to accommodate the changing circumstances. Dominoes will fall in all directions, and those living hand to mouth will fall first. But collective collapse means a collective solution, and that means our government will have to take action and readjust some basics. Lots to think about. Lots to process. And we have a wide variety of examples from around the globe of how different nations are meeting this challenge. Lots to learn.

In addition to the money woes that all contractors face, in common with the many employees without secure jobs or benefits, and our fellow freelancers and small businesses, those of us who are healthcare workers face a much increased risk during a pandemic that sends contagious patients to our hospitals. While others are ordered to stay home, we are ordered to go to work and care for the sick and dying. Fortunately, many of us have come to peace with death through our years of work. I have accompanied many people on their final journey, and I had the honor to be holding my own dear mother’s hand as she passed away. I can now see death for what it is: the natural and inevitable end to each human existence. And I can see grief for what it is: love that has nowhere to go.

Interacting with other cultures around death and dying has been illuminating, because in our dominant culture, people seem shocked and dismayed by anyone of any age in any condition passing away, as if we just never expected it – as if we didn’t know we are mortal. It is a shame that every death must be a shock and a tragedy in our eyes, rather than the natural next step, and one we can accept. It is enough to lose a loved one and grieve without being in denial and shocked at our mortality as well.

More relevant to me than the specter of death is that I still find great satisfaction in living. I truly treasure the opportunities I have been given to interact with and serve others. I value my health and strength. I am grateful for my home, and my several jobs – including the ones that are not paying me right now (I am a contractor for the bulk of my income). I appreciate the ocean, mountains and forests of my home. I am happy for art and music and learning. Grateful for my readers, of course. And I am most especially happy for the strong connections I have, for my social network, for the people who love me, and allow me to love them. Happy for the outpouring of love and offers of help during my illness. So many people encouraging me as well as offering direct, practical help. Even my childhood sweetheart got in touch, to my exquisite and unmitigated delight.

In all this abundance, all this safety, even in illness, my heart goes out to those who for whatever reason, do not have a soft place to land. Who truly feel that their missing paychecks will lead to economic disaster in a matter of weeks or months. Who are facing health challenges that mean exposure to the virus could put them on a ventilator. Who are isolated and alone in their lives, whether due to relocation, poverty, or family separation, to such a degree that they simply don’t have the comfort of close friends and family nearby who can and will check on them, help them, relieve them. Who don’t have enough people in their circle – even during illness or a crisis – to ease their weary hearts, and provide them with practical help.

Not long ago, someone in my family was asking me how we can best support another family member, a common question for us. What if this happens? What if that happens? How can we help then? I answered, we do what we always do. We run around like a bunch of firefighters with a safety net and we just keep moving it underneath them so they always have a safe place to land. That’s our job. On a small scale, and on a large scale.

As to looming death, speaking philosophically, I can truly die happy, if such is my fate, with renewed appreciation for all that is precious in my life. Hopefully much later, because I am not yet tired of this fragile, scary, beautiful world upon which I am destined to live out my life in this even more fragile, ephemeral and yet resilient snippet of human flesh. Wishing all my readers good health, long life, and lots of love.

CORONA EXPOSURE

The corona virus is not just exposing us to contagion and illness. It is also exposing the cracks in our healthcare system, among other things. Take my experience. I am a healthcare worker. I have excellent private insurance through my employer. I am running a low-grade fever, and have fatigue, but then who doesn’t right about now? I wouldn’t think much of it except I just got a call from my boss that my work wife ( a dear colleague who works right next to me) had been exposed to the virus and is very ill. She was not told about her exposure until after she had been back at work with the rest of us for several days. In fact, as an interpreter, she found out randomly because the clinic “didn’t think to call” interpreter services about the exposure. Yet we are staff hospital employees. Imagine how the contracted agency interpreters will be treated. How likely is it they will be informed of specific exposures and testing needs, and who will test them? And what about all the rest of the self-employed, and others in our communities?

I sought testing, as our hospital website directed, by first contacting my own doctor’s office, and here is how it went for me, an educated, competent healthcare worker, very used to negotiating the healthcare system. When I get through the phone tree, they tell me I cannot talk to a nurse as I usually can, because they are overwhelmed. There is no way they could squeeze me in today for an appointment either (which is their usual policy for urgent needs and why I chose them as my provider). I will have to leave a message and then wait for a call, but no one can say when because they are overwhelmed. I argue to the point of rudeness about getting in, tell the person on the phone that my boss just called to say I have been exposed, and I have a low-grade fever. I need to get tested! Not just for myself, but for others, because I am a healthcare worker. Sorry, she repeats, but we are just slammed. You’ll have to wait.

So what, I posit, would happen if I just show up at your emergency room? Well, she says, they would treat you accordingly. Huh? What are you saying? What is your policy? I don’t understand you. What do you mean by treated accordingly? Will they charge me the thousand dollars plus for any emergency room visit? And if I go there, will they test me on the spot? Do they even have test kits? Well, she confesses, I really didn’t know how to answer that, so that’s why I just said they would treat you accordingly. But if we cannot help you fast enough and you want to try elsewhere, I can give you two hotlines to call. One for the County Public Health, one for the State Public Health. Wow. So my excellent, top of the line (“this is why we need the freedom of private insurance so we can choose to pay for the care we deserve”) insurance is giving me an 800 number for the historically underfunded, battered and beaten public health department.

I ask my doctor’s staff whether these numbers are actually offering testing to the general public, or whether they just have recordings of the general rules and guidelines, like wash your hands and stay home with a fever, and she guesses “a little of both” at which I wonder aloud why I would need to call Public Health and listen to a recording when I have excellent private insurance, and have gone to the same doctor’s office for over 20 years. She just offers me the numbers again and tells me I have to wait for a call from the nurse who “has piles of people to call.” Be patient and stand by.

The nurse calls me back late Friday afternoon at closing time and says I cannot come in today. It will have to be next week. I remind her that they have a Saturday clinic (another reason I chose them) but she tells me there is just one doctor for that clinic so they will not allow anyone to come in for testing on Saturday. They already decided. No exceptions! Sorry! But she can give me an appointment for Monday. That is “just as good” she informs me, because they would simply tell me to rest, drink fluids and isolate myself whether I tested today or Monday. So it should be just fine to wait three more days. Just stay home from work from now on, while we wait for the results that can take 3-4 days to come back.

There are many people in situations like mine, and worse, of course. I specifically took a half-time job at the hospital so I could get health insurance, because health insurance options for the self-employed can cost over a thousand dollars a month even with huge deductibles. So I have health insurance and even sick leave for my hospital hours. I will lose all my court pay for any missed shifts, but at least I have a halftime job with employee benefits for some kind of a safety net. For my many colleagues who exclusively contract, of course, they will get no sick leave, zero pay, and there is no system in place to cover their lost income. Contract medical interpreters are not alone in losing income, of course, but it is worth pointing out that they are exposed at work and still not allowed any recompense or even testing. It is cold consolation to my fellow health workers that eventually we will all be exposed, because people are not able to get tested, self-quarantine, and inform others of the exposure, in a timely and effective manner.

Back to my private doctor’s office and his nurse. We talk on for a few minutes regarding my exposure, risk and symptoms. I thank her for the appointment as if she were doing me a personal favor. I really am grateful, though! So glad I have this wonderful private insurance! As we are about to hang up, she adds, oh! What was your temperature? I carefully explain to her that my normal temperature is 96.7F which is 36C, not 37C which is more typical, so when I get a fever, it runs low, but it is a fever for me. My blood pressure is also 85/55 so I just run lower than the general population overall. I invite her to confirm in my chart (not that she has time) that even when I had pneumonia, my temperature never rose above 101F. Oh, dear, she exclaims! That is a problem.

She is so very sorry, but she has to cancel my Monday appointment after all! She understands that I want to be tested, am symptomatic, and that my boss called to say I was exposed, but I do not qualify to get tested under the government guidelines. We are “not allowed” to use a test kit on someone like you, she explains. There is such a shortage that we are just not allowed to! So I simply must find a way to develop a fever of at least 101.5 if I want to get tested. She ends on a upbeat hope: Maybe your fever will spike up to 101.5 over the weekend and then you can call in for an appointment next week! Fingers crossed for getting a good fever! Okay, thanks.

This is not the county jail nurse I am talking with. That kind soul has fewer resources and staff. It is not the public health department, historically strapped for money in our for-profit society. It is not even the county or the state hospital, where they struggle for full funding and resort to asking for donations (just like our public schools do). This is a private, nonprofit hospital recently bought out by the megalith Providence, a subsidiary of the even more megalith Catholic Church. But I cannot get tested for Corona exposure by my own doctor – as a symptomatic healthcare worker with excellent insurance and a documented exposure – because my body temperature runs low. I guess I can comfort myself that if I do succumb to the virus, at least I can die coolly, and well insured.

I call my hospital’s employee health office, and spend some time on hold with them. No doubt, they are overwhelmed as well. They tell me that I should “follow the guidelines online” and go to my own doctor, because they just cannot test everybody. My doctor won’t test me, I tell them. They repeat that my doctor “should” test me. When I explain that my boss told me I had been exposed at work, and they have a duty and an obligation to test me, an awkward pause ensues. Clearly, the runaround had been working pretty well for the person answering the phone, until now. I told her I had looked over our website, and done online searches, but could not find the specific place to find testing, apply for testing, or any contact information, but this number. She apologized and told me “it should be there”. I told her it was not accessible, and asked her to verbally instruct me as to what the procedure was, as far as she knew it. Presumably Employee Health had been given some training, some information, regarding employee testing? Where do I go? How do I get tested?

Oh, dear! She was sorry but could not tell me any details of the testing options for employees, as “that is being handled by another hospital” which is odd, as that “other hospital” is one recently bought in the series of shell game hospital buyouts and sellouts – by the state hospital where I work. Too bad the person on the phone – my coworker – has no information about how people who work at our hospital – like me – can be tested, how long it takes, or anything about the process, but can only direct me to a website. Why do I feel like I am calling Comcast Customer Service when I am calling my own Employee Health office – part of our Human Resources? Wouldn’t they be the ones to be informed and provide vital healthcare prevention and testing information for vital healthcare workers? But they have no information because a hospital “we” just bought is “doing the testing” so “we” don’t know. Thus, my own doctor refers me to 800-numbers for public health, and my own hospital where I was exposed refers me back to a website.

As of now, I have filled out the employee testing request form (not available to contract interpreters) and am waiting for a call back for a phone interview, to see if I can be granted the chance to waste a precious test kit on my humble nostrils. I would hope that my being a healthcare worker, exposed at work, and now running a fever, might weigh in on my side, and I can feel my fever rising as I type these words. If it rises enough, I may even qualify to get tested.

For the record, I will be as surprised as any of my readers if this becomes my last post, and I fade into the darkness and silence of the grave (especially as I plan to be cremated and have my ashes cast into the sea). My concerns are broader. If I cannot get tested, then who can? These barriers to testing, in the best of circumstances, are bound to increase people’s exposure to the disease. And what about the thousands of contract interpreters across our state and elsewhere, who roam from clinic to hospital, and don’t even have an “employee health” to turn to? Will they all stay home with no income, or just work unless and until very ill, as they unwittingly spread the virus among vulnerable patients? Who if anyone is arranging to have interpreters work via video remote or telephone as possible? And we are of course a miniscule slice of an immense pie.

I dread to think about those millions upon millions without health insurance in the midst of so much concentrated wealth. Those with compromised immune systems or weak lungs. Those who cannot afford to stay home for a week or two just in case. Those who cannot speak the language or for other reasons even begin to negotiate our complex healthcare system. Beyond health risks, the societal implications are unfathomable, with small businesses going under, schools closing, travel bans, and a huge swath of working people facing job loss and financial implosion.

As a contractor myself who pays at least 25% of my adjusted gross business income on taxes, it is surreal to be in a place where huge global corporations – the same ones that have lobbied to use our city as a tax haven while distressing our tax-supported infrastructures to the breaking point – are now considering using a slice of their astronomical profits to produce and deliver free Corona test kits to symptomatic residents as an act of “charity” – a task our public health department could have afforded, if we had a reasonable tax system that was fair and equitable across the board. One of many symptoms of a sick economic structure that the Corona virus merely highlights.

As a healthcare worker, I fervently hope that part of our recovery can be taking a better, closer look at our healthcare. Our patch-work business model healthcare delivery system, with its severe lack of coordination and financial barriers for patients, can turn into a literal death sentence for thousands almost overnight. I fervently hope that this virus may lead to fundamental change in healthcare delivery for our nation. It is past time to create and sustain a viable, funded, staffed and preventive public healthcare system. And no, it is not too late, because this is not the first and will not be the last pandemic. If nothing else, let us learn from our mistakes. Let this be our wake-up call for healthcare reform. Let the Corona virus be an eye-opening blessing in disguise – for those of us who survive it. And for those who succumb to it, rest in peace.

TONGUE-TIED

People tend to ask interpreters if it is hard to “say all that” and to find the words. To speak quickly enough and not leave things out. To remember what someone said, and to switch from consecutive to simultaneous. But for some of us, the hardest part is not how we say what we say, but what we are not allowed to say. We are not allowed to speak in our own voice, except to clarify a linguistic issue. There is an argument that we may be “cultural brokers” as well, but I want to bring up something else today. I understand all the reasons why interpreters must “stay out of it” and mind our business, which is to provide clear and transparent communication for others. Our clear professional duty is to be impartial messengers. And yet at times, it can be painful to be tongue-tied.

The vast majority of interpreters have multiple skill sets, multiple degrees, and even several professions. And we may change hats and take on a different role from one day to the next. Yours truly, for example. I happen to be the first certified doula in the state where I live, and for those who are not familiar, we accompany women on their birth journey, providing support, encouragement, information, and sometimes negotiating on their behalf with staff, something an interpreter is absolutely not allowed to do, according our ethical guidelines. And yet in almost 100% of interpreted sessions, we know that one party is vastly more defenseless, while the other is powerful and competent within the society they serve. So standing by silently when it appears that someone is pressured, overlooked, or disrespected can be quite traumatizing.

Moral distress is defined as the painful gap between how you envision something should go, and how it plays out, while being helpless to make it go the way you want it to, or believe that it should. A very few interpreters tell me they just disconnect (or even dissociate?) and interpret by rote, thinking only of the words, guarding themselves against feeling anything, especially helpless compassion. And all good interpreters make it a practice to “stay in neutrality” and remind ourselves that we cannot possibly know what is best for the patient in any situation, and it is not our job. Yet we are still human, with our full range of emotions and values, and interpreters naturally suffer from moral distress in varying degrees while interpreting in healthcare and other settings.

As we witness the care people receive, whether they get it in a safe and respectful environment, whether they seem to fully understand and truly consent to the care they receive, or even when they are denied needed care, we find ourselves both helpless witnesses to what appears to be avoidable human suffering and at the same time complicit in conveying the communication leading toward less than ideal outcomes. But we cannot do anything about it, because after all, we are just “doing our job” – and what a loaded phrase that is, coming out of all the war trial testimonies. There is a conundrum here that is rarely talked about, well worth pondering and contemplating as we go about our daily tasks at our respective jobs.

To change hats, though, for a moment. Let me share with you the honor, the pleasure, the deep love and gratitude, that I am flooded with, having recently been chosen to be the doula to a wonderful and brave birthing mother. The details I provide here are with the mother’s permission.

As doula, I had the power to encourage at every step where the mother was discouraged. As staff kept warning the mother that she was going to need technical interventions – not for any medical reason – but because the contractions would get “bad” and “painful” and “hurt” and I kept reminding her that they would be “strong, powerful, effective and intense”. They kept telling her she was getting too tired, or looking uncomfortable, while I reminded her that she had the innate strength and endurance to ride out the contractions, one at a time. They kept treating her overall like something was wrong, when nothing objectively was – it was an extremely low-risk, completely healthy mother and full-term baby showing zero signs of distress, and the labor was advancing very typically and normally.

Why does one institution treat childbirth as a terrifying disease, while another treats it like a natural event that most mothers and babies can get through just fine? Why, at last count, did this hospital have the highest cesarean rate in the whole state, a whopping 40%, while another hospital had only 8% cesareans and the state as a whole averaged out at around 25% including all the high-risk pregnancies? This hospital is not particularly high-risk. Mothers were generally coming in very healthy. The nurse told me they were aware of their high cesarean rate, and had instituted a “better communication” policy with a whiteboard in each room that all staff were to read and write upon. The doctor even had a hospital-issued jacket emblazoned with a “use the whiteboard” slogan in large letters. But the communication they were praising was among staff, not with the mother.

I did not hear a single doctor telling the mother that she was doing great. That she was perfectly healthy. That the labor was quite normal. That everything was going fine. That she was going to be able to do this. That her body had its own wisdom and knew what to do. That it was natural for her to feel fear and doubt, but that we were all here to support her, and the doctors could intervene if needed. But no interventions were needed at this time, because this mother was rocking it. This mother was riding the waves of every contraction as it came. This mother’s body knew how to open up for her baby, just as a baby bird pecking it way out of its egg shell already instinctively knows and can sing the melody of its family birdsong.

The overall message was “things can go wrong so we’d better hurry up” rather than “you are doing great, but we’ll keep an eye on you and we’re here if you need us!” Throughout the birth process, staff kept telling Mom that it was going to take so long and be so hard, unfortunately so. They talked about childbirth as if it were some kind of cancer that needed high-tech treatment to relieve Mom – of the baby. The doctors seemed intent on convincing her (against all science) that she was not a live-bearing mammal. That her body would be totally bewildered about how to birth a baby, and thus she would have to rely on their expertise, their interventions, their technology, and at this hospital, for 40% of mothers, their operating room, to get the baby out of her mammalian womb.

How can this be? How did this patient, this first-time mother, this non-staff member, out in the community at large without a stethoscope, miraculously and unwittingly – without studying the matter – manage to grow every fingernail, both eyeballs, and every hair on the baby’s head? How did she quite naturally, in the dark, build a lovely placenta and nourish her baby from a two-cell creature to a full term baby, complete with all its organs and parts, without a doctor micro-managing the process? Well, nature is mysterious and miraculous. And natural.

I remember specifically that this mother spent four hours between exams laboring to fully effaced (the cervix is then paper thin and ready to open quickly!) and very stretchy and soft, all the while the baby was doing just fine and so was mother. But the doctor focused on how she had “only” moved from 5 to 6 centimeters dilation, ignoring what she must, as a doctor, know as well as I do, that labor tends to speed up once the cervix is fully effaced. Instead of any encouragement, the doctor came out with a dire prediction: If you keep taking 4 hours to open each centimeter, it will take you 16 more hours, and then you will have to push for 4 more hours, and you will not be able to do that, so you will need a cesarean! A false premise leading logically to a false conclusion, and for what purpose? Oh, and by the way, the average pushing time for first-time mothers is 1 to 2 hours, not 4.

So here was Mom advancing by thinning the cervix and making it soft and stretchy, as the doctor had noted. She was in a regular, intense pattern of contractions every three minutes, as the monitor displayed. Mom was rocking it like a snowball heading downhill. Mom was absolutely speeding up in the process, as is predictable in a normal, healthy birth, but our births have been taken over by the medical establishment and abnormalized. Even pathologized. And here was a doctor standing in front of this healthy birthing mother, telling her she needs to start her on IV Pitocin, a hormone to speed up labor, right away, although it is carries a risk of stressing the baby and mother out with too frequent, too long, and too painful contractions. When she was already in a great pattern of healthy, active labor, heading close to transition. But on the off-chance that it takes 16-20 more hours, she will be too tired to keep going, so let’s intervene right now!

As interpreter, we all know what we would have to do. Ignore our own voice. Tie our own tongues. Our job is exclusively to be the messenger of other people’s opinions and words, not our own. In this case, the interpreter would tell the patient, because the doctor just did, that her labor is abnormal. That her body will not work. That she is simply incompetent to have a baby without intervention. But I am here as a doula. Blessed hat change! Blessed freedom. I was able to appropriately encourage the patient. It was even my job to do so! I was able to remind her that her body was working, that there no signs of any distress in the baby, and that she was advancing. The baby was tolerating labor just great. That she could change plans if and when she medically needed to.

After thinking it over, the patient told the doctor she would like to keep going without interventions for now. The doctor shook her head in disapproval, then raised her eyebrows and reluctantly agreed that she would “let” us have a “trial” of two hours, but then she would have to insist, because this mother was NOT going to have the baby without the doctor’s help! “Remember, if you don’t get Pitocin soon, you’ll end up laboring all day and all night and then end up with a cesarean tomorrow. I’m trying to help you here! You can’t go on forever!” the doctor ominously warned her.

A doula is not going to leave such a discouraging message hanging over the rest of mom’s labor like a black cloud, so this doula told the doctor with a smile, “Here’s our plan – why don’t you come back when you said, and I predict that you will find this mother fully dilated and ready to push, and she will absolutely NOT push for 4 hours, because she is strong and athletic. So I predict that she will likely push around 57 minutes or so. Besides which, I know this baby, and she is a daytime baby, and her birthday is today, not tomorrow! So this mother doesn’t have to ‘go on forever’ because she is having this baby today! She has the strength she needs, and she is doing a great job!”

The doctor just laughed and said she liked our plan better than hers, but she didn’t think it would happen. We need to be realistic! This mother needs help! “I’ll be coming back in at 2:00 to Pit her,” she concluded, then walked out. Now here is the lovely part. The doula part. When I turned back to the patient, I saw a sparkle in her eyes. She had focused on my encouraging words. I saw renewed confidence, renewed energy, a deep realization that she was able to give birth, and that she was giving birth. She was filled with determination. With sweet hubby on one side, and doula on the other, she was ready to labor on, unless and until she needed an intervention. Which she didn’t end up needing. Woohoo! Yay biology.

When the doctor came in 90 minutes later to “set her up” for Pitocin, guess what? She was already 10 centimeters and pushing! And when doctor gloved up and announced herself “ready to deliver the baby,” this doula reminded us all that it was the mother delivering this baby. Yes, folks. Believe it or not. We have been trained to consider it the exception to the rule, but the mother herself was actually giving birth. The mother, a live-bearing mammal, was delivering a live baby mammal, capable of giving birth in her turn, hopefully in a more natural and more humane setting, a quarter of a century from now. Yay mothers. Yay Mother Nature.

When did the industrial medical complex take over? Was it when they burned the midwives, witches and healers? Was it when we founded a country on the principles of greed and profit, and set up a for-profit medical care system (with a few charity programs to take the edge off and avoid revolution) in which patients are told they need doctors for everything from acid indigestion to constipation? In this birth, my job as doula was to help this mother find the space and tap into her strength and confidence so that her body could do its work unimpeded, within a very distracting and discouraging hospital environment. And I did it, to my absolute delight, by using my own words. Which is absolutely forbidden as a medical interpreter. Sweet, wonderful words!

Let me be clear that I have been to many births as interpreter where it was healing, safe, respectful and appropriate. But I wish to point out that treating the human body as if it cannot eat, poop, birth and die without lying in a hospital bed hooked up to massive amounts of expensive medications and constant monitors, being “rounded” upon by a team of so-called experts who will decide how to treat you, and who believe they have done their job as long as they measure and document every step they take, and treat you more like a helpless, diseased animal needing to be “relieved” of your birth experience and “delivered” of your baby … no. Humans are mammals, and not so surprisingly, most of us are quite able to naturally get pregnant, bear our offspring and breastfeed.

Let me assure any worried readers that never have and never will, whether doula or interpreter, stand in the way of a mother getting the medical care she needs, or even the medical care that she wants. I am certainly no proponent of putting babies or mothers at risk. The ultimate goal of every birth is to have all parties come out of it alive and well! Mothers with complications, diseases, premature labor and unhealthy babies should absolutely have access to the high-tech cutting edge medical care available at teaching hospitals, from fertility treatment to sewing the cervix shut to hormone treatment and even surgeries in the womb. Mothers who want pain meds or anything else that is safe and available to them should get it. Absolutely, and no shame! But let us not forget that childbirth for the vast majority of healthy women is a natural process that interventions, noise, interruptions, constant monitoring, negativity, and technology will only disrupt and complicate rather than serving. And I am glad I could say so, and be a part of welcoming this baby into the world, as only a doula can.

The ancient wisdom encapsulated in the saying that “The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it.” Yes. That. It was so healing and satisfying to be able to remind this mother, over and over, that she has inner knowing. That she has a body capable of birthing her child. That she can trust herself, and trust the process. And seeing her progress through her labor, in spite of constant interruptions and even discouragement, yet stay strong and focused within herself …. What a wonderful testimony to this mother’s courage. And how utterly sweet for me not to be tongue-tied, for this magical, life-affirming moment.

HOUSING

As Your Honor knows, housing is a key stabilizing factor in anyone’s life. Knowing where you are going to sleep tonight – having somewhere to store your things, is gold. Yes, my client failed in following up on his treatment. Yes, my client relapsed. But let’s take a step back and look at the overall purpose of any punishment. Let’s look at the likelihood of creating more accountability and seeing the changes we hope for him supported in a less expensive and more useful way.

The prosecutor is asking for a 30-day jail sentence. Your Honor, if you impose that much time you might as well just sentence him to the full maximum, the year in jail. Remember, this is a misdemeanor. Why am I saying 30 days is functionally the same as the whole year? Because he will lose the subsidized housing that he just got into. The housing that his social worker and case manager worked hard to get him into, specifically so he could stabilize and stop being a problem for society. And for himself.

Your Honor, we have all seen the growing number of tents in our city. We all know that there is a long waiting list for any housing, any roof, of any kind in this city. If you put him back at the end of the line, if you put him in jail and he gets evicted while locked up, what will be the result?

He will be back to square one. He will be back on the streets. How is he going to avoid his friends who use? His friends who sell? His friends who are not his friends, and are not his support group? How is he going to find his way back to stability, and treatment, and enroll in food stamps, and get help for his mental diagnosis, and get help with the prescriptions he is court-mandated to be on, so he won’t fall back into self-medicating with drugs? How is he ever going to get the chance to maybe see his family again, and work on earning their trust by prolonged sobriety?

I understand the need for accountability. I do. And I am not going to stand here and give you a detailed list of the problems he has had, like the recent loss of his mother, and getting assaulted, and having his meds for his mental health diagnosis stolen, and the rest, because one thing addicts in treatment learn is, it is their responsibility to stay clean and sober in all of life’s circumstances. Yet as his attorney I feel it incumbent upon me to point out the obvious, in stating that he has had very little of what we now call social capital. I don’t need to go into details, Your Honor, because I know you get the picture. He hasn’t had very many chances, and he messed up this one, and he knows it.

He knows you can send him back to the streets today, and back to square one. He is waiting to hear your decision today. Your Honor, it is no secret that this defendant has messed up every relationship he has had through the bad start he got and the bad choices he made since. He does not have a stable person left in his life who would let him so much as sleep on their couch, let alone move in with them for the meanwhile. I think for those of us with a large safety net, it is hard for us to fathom the loneliness that would entail. Hard for us to truly fathom how incredibly easy it would be to just give up, in his situation. Just give up for good. But he is still trying, against all the odds. With very little to go on but hoping against hope.

I am not going to stand here and say he shouldn’t have any consequences for relapsing, but community service, or day reporting, or anything else you can think of, would make more sense than kicking him out of safe and sober housing. This is the first place that provides him with the kind of support and guidance he never got at home or in foster care. Give him one more chance and then throw him away if you have to. I already told him, and I am happy to repeat it now, because it is important, that at some point the judge is going to quit worrying about how he is doing and choose to just protect society from his bad choices. I just hope we are not at that point yet. How to combine justice and mercy is beyond me, and I am glad I am not in Your chair today, Your Honor. But taking away his housing just doesn’t serve justice.

Please don’t kick him back to square one. He has been kicked enough. And he really is trying to rise. Trying to get his life in order. And I hope, contribute to society. I know him better at this point than a lot of people do. I know him as he is now, clean and sober and trying. I am willing to invest in him. I believe he has a future. I hope you will consider an alternative consequence instead of the jail time, because I don’t want to see him back here again. He is happy to do day reporting, community service, work crew, or whatever you need. But let him keep his housing. It is for the greater good.

LONELY

I have met a couple hundred men who tried to hire a police officer to perform sexual services for them. I haven’t felt like giving space to them as I identify more with the sex workers than the johns. I am glad that my city has changed the name of the crime of soliciting a prostitute to Sexual Exploitation. I would prefer we go even further, given the current state of the so-called market, or human trafficking trade, and call it Economic Rape.

I am not opposed to the policies in countries like Finland where it is legal for both parties to contract directly for sexual services in exchange for pay, even if I personally think it would be both creepy and sad to pay a person for sex, especially someone young, poor and vulnerable. I agree with Finland’s policy to continue to criminalize pimping as well, because at the very least, the sex worker deserves 100% of the pay for any kind of touch. And where sex work is legal, it is much easier for workers to reach out for help the same way other workers can.

Sex work has not been decriminalized or legalized in my area, but sex workers are no longer arrested and prosecuted. In parts of the country where they are still arrested, they are at risk for being harassed and exploited by law enforcement, and often have to provide services without pay to avoid jail and fines, while remaining virtually enslaved and getting no protection from their pimps. It is a very hard trade to break out of, if someone else is sending you out to touch 25 or 30 guys a day and raking in that money. They don’t want you to get away. Sound exaggerated? According to local police, that is the average expectation for “jobs in a day” among the trafficked kids they now work to rescue.

When I have interpreted for the john’s class, a member of the vice squad comes in and routinely gives statistics: 85% of area sex workers are under 18 years old; 99% of these minors are pimped out, sometimes by family members in a long, tragic lifetime of abuse and exploitation. Approximately 1% of the US population has ever gone to a prostitute, but people who do try to normalize their behavior just like those who engage in domestic violence. At the end of the workshop, the city brings in a psychologist who tries to convince the johns that this trade is bad for them as well as for the sex workers, so they should care.

But do they care? I have only met one who said it was upsetting to hear about the sex workers during class. That he didn’t realize they were mostly so young, and that they didn’t get to keep the money. He mostly talked about the money. Because he was a poor immigrant, and he could identify with doing a job and then getting shorted on pay. He could identify with some middleman sending him out on a job and then keeping most of the money. The rest of it he couldn’t fathom, because he was raised to think of “those women” as other. I saw him cringe each time a speaker suggested the sex workers “could be your mother, your sister, your daughter”.

The typical guy I meet on these cases is lonely. And lonely means isolated. Lonely means out of social network. Lonely means apart. They don’t have friends here. They are sleeping on some uncle’s couch and there is no chance to starting a family, so they can’t really date in the traditional sense of finding someone to set up a home with. They don’t even have papers to be in the US, and any day some random guy at the bus stop could ask them for the time – in their language – and then ask where they are from and then arrest them, because oops, that was an ICE agent, stupid.

So what does any of this have to do with sex work? Nothing. God gave them two hands, as the old saying goes, and they should know how to self-soothe. Yes, they live with a lot of people in a small space, but that is what the shower is for. Take care of your own business. But somehow there is an underlying loneliness and a deep well of isolation that makes these men reach out for a sex worker. Perhaps we should have compassion for them, because they are suffering, yet I cannot overlook the fact that they exhibit zero regard for the person whose body they plan to enter. A person whose work situation is much harsher and inescapable even than their own.

The typical guy I interpret for makes a big deal about how this random girl came up to him. She came up to him! And she smiled. Not a lot of people smile at poor immigrant workers with a backpack on. And she seemed friendly. And she seemed nice. And she talked to him. She talked to him in a friendly way! Then she asked if he wanted a date, and he was just blown away. What a dream come true. Then comes the hard part to stomach.

She tells him she is just fifteen, but that is not a problem. Is it? Girls get married at 12 and 13 in his village. It’s not that weird. Is it? Then she tells him she will have sex with him. It used to be around 50 dollars maybe two decades ago, but it is down to 25 or so in our new economy with lots of homeless and lots of addicts. So he says some version of full frontal and she says 35 dollars and he says 25 dollars instead and they agree to the price and the act, and he is so happy for that moment. He tells her to get into his truck. He is a stranger in a strange land seeking comfort from a stranger. It’s not that bad, is it? And he will be touched. Wow! Is this really happening?

No, it is not. Because four cops in uniform show up as he grabs her elbow to steer her to his truck and they start talking about Miranda and how he has the right to remain silent, and how anything he says can and will be used against him in a court of law, and he has the right to a lawyer, but wouldn’t he rather just do this the nice way, and admit that he was about to go off and have sex for pay – with someone who literally just told him that she is underage, so this is not just sexual exploitation, my friend, but commercial sexual abuse of a minor. Oh, and now all of a sudden he doesn’t know English after he just negotiated over “the f word” with a purported 15-year-old? Okay, dude. Let’s go down to the station.

I have heard defense attorneys argue during trials that these sting operations are unethical and racist. That they target poor men and immigrants. Why isn’t the city going after the high-end call girls?!? Then the prosecutors put the young cop on the stand. The one who has agreed to be in danger. To be groped. Yes, they are groped routinely. To be talked to in horrible ways. And then having the relief, the safety, of other cops showing up and protecting her. And she testifies about human trafficking. And she testifies that the city is doing its best to protect the youngest and most vulnerable “street” sex workers, because they are the ones at the highest risk of harm. There is no entrapment. Whoever approaches them and agrees to exchange sex for money will be arrested across the board. Most guys say no, thanks. For the others, prosecution is appropriate.

CHOKING UP

On Fridays, I have the mixed pleasure of working on the omnibus calendar at our county superior court. This is where 50 to 150 lawyers gather in a locked room and negotiate their cases, figure out their scheduling, and then bring each case on the record so the judge can decide whether to change the trial date, order discovery, change conditions of release, or grant a continuance. This and dozens of other possibilities are squeezed into a very crowded morning courtroom session. And every case or two, one of the guards yells out, “Keep your voices down!” to the milling, chatting lawyers.

All kinds of actions and requests take place, along with some emotional moments off the record. A few months ago, I witnessed a lawyer who was waiting to go on the record get arrested himself and whisked off into custody in handcuffs. He had apparently gotten embroiled in the financial crimes of his money-laundering clients. Another time, I saw a ghostly pale young married couple ushered into the courtroom in their best Sunday clothes, shakily holding hands and whispering to each other. Whatever could the poor hapless things have done to get into felony court? They went before the judge and were charged with conspiracy to commit murder.

In one of today’s cases, the defense attorney had carefully crafted an offer for two years in county jail instead of state prison and deportation, which was the likely outcome of going to trial on a drug case, but the defendant told him he had simply given up and just doesn’t care any more. We went round and round between “I don’t care, you’re the lawyer,” and “I cannot decide for you”. We ended the interpreting session with a reluctant trial set, and the defendant was still muttering on about how he just didn’t care, and had literally given up all hope. I muttered all his despair right along with him in English, to his great satisfaction. As we turned away, he called out to me cheerily, “Hey, thanks so much, Madame Interpreter! Hope you have the loveliest day ever!”

It is a weird place to spend time, partly because we all agree that time is such a commodity, and we all rush around. And yet we spend the bulk of our time there waiting. So many individuals working the system, commiserating about their backbreaking obligations and personal time constraints. The cases shift and change from minute to minute, pieces of a living, moving, complex puzzle. For each hearing calendar, the defense attorney has to find and meet with the assigned prosecutor. They then have to find me and talk with their client. Many lawyers on both sides are in trial , so they send a colleague to cover for them, and I never know who that is. If the defendant is in custody, we may have to wait in line to get a chance to meet with them. If out of custody, of course we have to wait for them to show up. Then we wait again to get our turn to go on the record, unless the judge allows an off-the-record continuance. I tend to sit where I was see the whole courtroom and gallery so I am ready to jump up at a moment’s notice and get one more case checked off my own busy schedule.

Beyond all the bustle taking place within the jail holding area and the active courtroom, there is an audience sitting in the gallery. They are locked out of the courtroom behind bulletproof glass and a guard is assigned to open the door for each person one by one as appropriate. New lawyers are routinely greeted by the door guard with a gruff, “Who are you?” But I slip by the guard as a known face, and find my spot on the bench along the wall, facing the audience in the gallery. Most of the lawyers smile and greet me. One came up to me today to say every time she sees my face, she remembers this adorable 18-year-old drunk driver – a case we worked on together where he was able to get into treatment after “blowing a two” meaning he had drunk well over double the amount needed to be drunk while driving. Last she heard, he was still sober! We all have the cases we remember more than others; the ones that trigger our emotions.

Sometimes my mind wanders as the waiting extends and in a dreamlike state, I find myself guessing which of the people in the gallery on the other side of the glass are the accused. Which are friends and family. Which are with the press. Which are private defense attorneys who don’t have the sense to come into the courtroom and inform the main bailiff that they are ready to go on the record so their case can be in line to be called. And which are parents. Today there were a mom and dad in the front row. They were already seated when I arrived early, and sat there for around two hours waiting. Then I saw both their faces light up with recognition: a pale bearded young man was led into the courtroom in handcuffs.

In-custody defendants all wait together in a locked area. As their case is called, they have their hands cuffed behind their back and are then led into the courtroom by the guards. Once standing before the judge on the record, the cuffs are removed. They are not supposed to turn around or signal to anyone in the gallery. But it is almost impossible for people who have been locked up for days, weeks or months awaiting trial not to sneak a glance into the audience to see if anyone is still there for them. On the way out, if not on the way in. This mom and dad both stood up as the defendant was ushered in. And when he turned after his hearing, in cuffs again, to be returned into the lock-up area, they each signaled to him.

As the ushering guard caught this, I saw his shifting facial expression. He was clearly contemplating whether to intervene of just let it go. It is only a matter of seconds that the defendant has the chance to catch anyone’s eye in the gallery as they are quickly walked back across the courtroom to the locked door leading into the jail holding cell. So it is a judgment call whether to scold, intervene, or ignore the contact. Most guards do intervene because when people in jail get the chance to signal to people out of jail, community safety or trial witnesses can be at risk.

In this case, the dad was a large ruddy man, well over six feet. He looked weather-worn, but his face was set and clear when he rose to his feet. You could see that this dad was here to support his wayward son during his ordeal, no matter how little he understood about what the hell his son must have been thinking to get into this kind of trouble. Dad was here to show support, and lend his strength. But when he and his son caught each other’s eyes for that split second, Dad visibly choked up. His face crumpled, like a slow motion film of a window shattering and falling into pieces as it breaks. Dad dropped his eyes as his face fell apart, and immediately raised a hand in a salute, a greeting that invited the onlookers to look away from his broken face and focus on his strong, work-worn palm, held steadily aloft.

Meanwhile, Mom was a wiry old gal with gray hair in a ponytail and a huge purse that undoubtedly had cigarettes in it. She looked worn, yet feisty. She wasn’t giving up on her baby boy! She jumped up as soon as she noticed him enter the courtroom and she stood at attention during his hearing, carefully writing down his next hearing date as it was announced. She would be there! Right when he turned around after being cuffed to leave, just as he caught his Dad’s eyes, she dropped her pen and pad and pressed both her hands right up against the glass. Then she sent her love with a wide-open mouth, exaggerating the words I LOVE YOU. Her mouth reminded me of a baby bird as they cry in their nest, opening as wide as they can in the hopes of some regurgitated nourishment from their parent. I LOVE YOU! She repeated toward her son’s back as he disappeared through the locked door.

Some guards will order the prisoner to “look away!” Some step between the prisoner and the gallery and physically block the view. When a defendant tries to turn and look about from the bench, the guards almost always order them to “face the judge!” On the walk back, I often hear a guard saying, “No signalling!” Especially with suspected gang members. But this time, the guard let a sigh escape as he witnessed the parents reaching through the glass to their son. Perhaps he was thinking of his own parents. I don’t know. But the guard swallowed and sighed and he didn’t say anything and he didn’t step between them. It takes around 12 steps to reach the lock-up area, and they crossed in silence, the only words being the mouthed I LOVE YOU that mom was so eagerly shooting through the bullet-proof glass.

Few people in the courtroom seem to notice these encounters. The lawyers are in their own world, making their own plans, hurrying along and thinking about what they have to do next. Most people do not want to engage and witness, because we prefer to remain safely distant. God forbid we should ever be in the position of these parents, raising a hand with our face crumbling and dissolving as our child sees us and looks away, with one more sad moment seared into his already sated memory bank. God forbid our own child should ever see our tears and know himself to be the cause of them. So we tend to look quickly away, and not look back until the family greeting and separation is complete and over.

Those of us who notice, like this guard, find ourselves inexplicably swallowing and sighing, almost in unison. As if we had each been administered a mouthful of another person’s sorrow. I have never heard anyone talk about it there, in the courtroom. Perhaps we cannot speak aloud of such things, while we are being so very professional. We are on camera, and we are being recorded. And as officers of the court, we exhibit due decorum. And so instead of talking, those of us who witness these fleeting greetings through the glass each silently swallow our dose of sorrow, and it tastes like love and pain in our mouths. And we each release a sigh, because we find we have been unwittingly holding our breath. Then we remember to breathe, and we pull ourselves together, and we get ready for the next case. Because time is short and there is so much more to do.

FIGHT FOR HIM

So I was seeing this guy at work, and yeah he was married, but his wife wasn’t around. I mean, she was going to come later, after her visa came through. Because he had status. From ICE. He had papers, so he was bringing her and the two kids up, but it takes years and years. And meanwhile, he is a man, and things can change, and we were both lonely, and two years go by and we are happy, and then she pops in out of the blue. Her visa came through. They arrived. Her and the kids. You know?

Well, I tried to back off and let him, you know, have his family, but I guess after all those years of waiting, he found out he wasn’t that happy with her after all. He was not the same person anymore. And I think the fact that he hadn’t really been waiting for her, like she had been waiting for him, you know, they were arguing at home. And she heard about me, of course. People talk and she was not happy about me. She heard about me, because a lot of us are here from the same area and she has like five cousins both male and female who work with us at the packing plant. So I backed off.

A few months go by. He’s still living with her but now he’s unhappy and lonely just like when I met him and he misses me and he starts looking at me all goo-goo eyes and regretful and bringing me coffee on breaks and pretty soon he is walking me to my carpool and then he wants to give me a ride himself and then he drops me off last and you know. He’s all wistful and needy. It happens. And it happens a few more times, and one time I’m like, remember, you have a wife, and he’s like, well, I want to come back. I am happier with you. I want to leave my wife and be with you. And we can have kids and all that. Me and you, baby. I love you best, and I promise to treasure you and protect you as much as the eyes in my own face.

So he gets brave for once, which our men are not known for in these situations, and he breaks the news to his wife, and she goes ballistic. She really loses it. We walk out after work the next day and she is there with two of her female cousins, and they grab me right in front of him and put me in a car – and he just stands there! He just stands there half-smiling like an idiot, in shock, I guess. But here I am in a car with an angry woman on each side of me holding one arm and the wife is driving and this is not good. Not good. I didn’t even know she knew how to drive! So she drives us out to this long gravel road and then she just pulls over by the river, under the trees, and they take me out of the car. And the two of them hold me by the arms and she starts in on me. And she is shaking with rage.

No, I know. I’m the one charged with assault here. I mean, I know I’m the suspect for this fight. I know. This isn’t that beating. I’m trying to explain the situation from before so you can try to understand. You look young. I don’t know if you’ve gotten married yet or if you have kids but people can get fierce. Where I am from, it’s not that unusual for women to fight and it is always over a man. I’ve heard women here just walk away and are like, oh well. Hope they’re happy. I’ll get another one. But we don’t like to switch. We aren’t raised that way. We get stuck on the one guy, and if there are two of us, there will be trouble until somebody wins and somebody walks away. And I tried to walk away but he came after me. Not my fault.

Anyway, the wife said a bunch of really nasty, vulgar stuff. Excuse my language, but she kept saying “I’m gonna show you what a whore looks like!” and I was thinking, well I’m not a whore, I’m more like his other wife kind of, but of course I couldn’t say anything back. I just stood there held by my arms and she kept screaming at me and then she slapped me a bunch of times but she was still mad so she punched me and pulled my hair and scratched my arms and face, and then they pushed me down and kicked me, her and the cousins did. I just curled up trying to protect my face.

I thought they might throw me into the river – I really thought this was the end of me and I was kind of glad I don’t have children yet. But then they just walked away and left me there and drove away. I just lay there for a while like a wounded deer, wondering what the hey. In shock. In pain. Thinking of the foolish look on my man’s face when his wife was shoving me into the car. What a wimp! Where was he when I needed him? Yeah, sure, he’s gonna protect me like the eyes in his face. Sure, buddy. I guess you’re destined to go blind then. He didn’t have the …. bravery to protect me after he said he would. Empty words!

I managed to get up partly because it started raining and I had to move, but everything hurt like crazy. It turns out I had a broken rib. I had to walk forever, limping along, then I got a ride and the people who picked me up took me straight to the hospital. By now my face was swollen up bad. Anyway, I guess the doctors routinely call the police when somebody shows up like I did, and luckily they didn’t call ICE on me, because I don’t have papers. The police gave me a bunch of information about where I could get help. They figured a man had done it so they gave me stuff on domestic violence and immigration both. The looks on their faces when I said it was a woman! The cops were two men and they were like, dang!

So funnily enough, because she beat me up, I called the numbers the police gave me about my rights and all that, and it turns out if you are the victim of a crime or a even witness and you help the police to solve it, you can get a special visa called a U-visa. I think it was set up for solving drug crimes or something like drug trafficking, but it also works for people who get beat up like me. So my rival was going to get me a visa. God is great. But then the devil fools with the best laid plans. My foolish pride.

The thing is, our traditions. Maybe someone from here could get that happy ending, and be like, hey lady, thanks for loaning me your husband a couple years, and then thanks for getting me a visa. I won. But what she had done rankled my heart. Not just the beating. This woman, she had hurt my feminine pride. Dragging me away in front of my man and him doing nothing. And I was really injured, too. My face was every shade of purple and blue and one eyes was swollen shut. The rib took a couple weeks to heal. I had to stay away from work because it’s a lot of heavy lifting. I was staying with some girlfriends from the plant and they would come home with gossip and tell me about my guy, who by the way never came around. And I had nothing to think about but my guy and his wife and the look on his face and the things she had said to me, and me waiting to get tossed into the river. And feel my pain and it hurt to even move. And my pride rose.

When I was better enough to go back to work the first thing I did was walk straight up to him and ask him what he was going to do. Was he going to make a life with me like he had said he would? I was ready for it now. He looked sheepish and mumbled something about how he was married in the church and he had to stay with his real wife. I started to argue and then he looked up and said, “The thing is, she fought for me. She was willing to fight for me. She might go to jail! So she must really love me.”

I was stunned silent, and I walked to my station, and just stood there, sorting apples, like a robot. Who knows where the apples ended up, seriously. So there I am thinking to myself, are you kidding me? You just told me that you are happier with me. You want to be with me. You’re going to take care of me. We’re gonna start a family. And now you get all remorseful just because your wife beats me up? Really? I mean, really! Well, okay. You find it exciting and thrilling to have a woman fight for you? Okay! I can fight for you, too, if that’s what it takes. I mean, I was willing to back up, but not after this. God who sees all knows my heart was enraged!

So yeah, in answer to your question, yeah, everything in the police report is true. Yup. We fought and I won. And he just stood there like an idiot once again. Doing nothing. And now I might get deported, unless you can help me, and then he’ll probably just find somebody else at work and start over, because that’s what men do. They’re not like us. They don’t have soft hearts. I loved him with every fiber of my being. Even if he isn’t worth it, my heart still goes out to him. So I don’t want to lose this case. I don’t want to have a criminal record. I don’t want to get deported. I have to win this.

THE KIND OF PERSON

I wonder what the judges think when they hear the same private attorney give the same canned speech about how his client is “not the kind of person” we typically see in court. This client is different. Not like a criminal at all. Would never be expected to commit a crime. Never! Week after week, these unique non-criminal individuals take their seat in the defendant’s chair in the unlikely shape of a white, educated, middle-class man, usually a family father. A homeowner. A dog walker. A decent sort of fellow, all around. Not who we (the public) would expect to beat his partner or drive drunk. And so this attorney feels justified in asking the judge to set his client apart and give him, well, special treatment at sentencing. Because he is the kind of person who expects and deserves it, and he is paying through the nose for it. Specifically and coincidentally, across the board:

“This defendant, Your Honor, is a very special person, whom I am pleased to present to You today. He extremely remorseful for his actions. He realizes that he used poor judgment and made a mistake, and he is eager to pay for it and put it behind him. This situation was truly eye-opening for him, Your Honor. It was a wake-up call. It has had an extreme impact on him and his family. They were truly shocked – it was so out of character! Let me introduce him briefly, as I know the Court’s time is limited:”

(Here comes a spiel about his job, his home, his volunteer activities and even some hobbies. He may do some woodcarving, or enjoy long walks in the mountains. He may pitch in with money or time at the children’s school (always managing to have more than one child) and if he doesn’t play an instrument, he is sporty, and likely to enjoy pickup games of (fill in sport) at his local gym or park. He is active in professional organizations, has a lot of responsibility of work, and it is vital to his family that he can keep on his career path, as he is a breadwinner of some merit. He is a pillar of the community. Any character-building challenge he faces such as chronic high blood pressure, male pattern baldness, struggles with the sedentary nature of his job, or a dependent mother-in-law may be inserted here.)

“I have truly enjoyed getting to know this defendant during the course of our work together on this case, Your Honor. He has been a real pleasure to work with. He has shown up for every appointment on time. He has never missed a court appearance. He was prompt in getting his evaluation completed, and it shows that he needs minimal treatment, which he has already completed. He has taken this case very seriously.

“This defendant, Your Honor, is stepping up and taking full responsibility today, rather than fighting the case and going to trial. He brought me on board the very day after the incident. Given all the circumstances, the prosecutor has agreed to reduce the charges in exchange for my client’s guilty plea, and I ask that you accept the plea as it is written, particularly as to the joint sentencing recommendation. It was heavily negotiated and is agreed upon by all parties.

“This truly was a one-off, Your Honor. Without attempting to minimize anything, because my client is truly remorseful and has learned an important lesson here, this defendant is not the kind of person you typically see in your court. He is as surprised as anyone, and I feel confident in stating that You will not see him in your courtroom again. In fact, I feel very confident in stating this!” (At this point, the attorney nods at his client, and the client nods back).

“In considering the sentence, Your Honor, I wish to point out that my client has already faced severe consequences from this case. (Fill in the blank for the “he has been punished enough” justification – an angry spouse, a boss who found out, a suspended license, a no-contact order, fines and fees, a night in jail, having alcohol monitoring, or an evaluation and treatment). He is very embarrassed about what happened and he has already taken the steps he needs to make sure it never happens again. So we respectfully request that You take this into consideration.”

Ironically, the whole canned speech is made mostly to convince the paying client himself that he is getting a special deal. The courts where I work do not give any reductions in the charge or lower sentences, let alone free rides, to drunk drivers or domestic violence aggressors simply because they can afford a private attorney. There are state-mandated sentencing grids with set minimums and specific consequences across the board, and required monitoring and treatment. There are victim’s advocates involved. So the private lawyers are simply getting the same offers that the public defenders do, with a lot more fanfare. But private attorneys need to set themselves (and their clients) apart in order to to earn their keep.

I long for the day when one of these private attorneys breaks out of his role and refreshes the court with something sincere, along the following lines:

“In closing, by virtue of being able to hire me, a private attorney, my client is de facto special. He is not the kind of person to commit a crime and face the usual punishment for it. No, he is the kind of person who has likely gone through his whole life with his parents, teachers, and bosses smoothing his path and lightening his consequences, just as I endeavor to do today. It would be unfair now to suddenly treat him like everybody else in the courtroom. Therefore, even though I have simply gotten him the same deal that public defenders are offered for their indigent clients, let us close with a flourish and flare that make me look like I am not the kind of lawyer whose clients face the full consequences of their actions. Because that would hurt my client’s feelings and make him feel unsafe in his cushioned, protected world. And I was specifically hired to keep him feeling safe and entitled as he faces the heavy hand of the law, and the legal consequences of his actions, perhaps for the first time in his life. Thank you, Your Honor.”

GOD WILLING

People live in such different realities. Some of us believe that we are the absolute masters of our fate. We plan our lives, take the necessary actions, and as a direct and predictable result, we make things happen. There is nothing we cannot achieve if we put in the effort. Failure is a personal problem that we can avoid if we try hard and keep pushing ourselves. Others feel that we cannot change our destiny. It is written in the stars, and our fate is to a large degree determined and inevitable. We make our puny efforts, but have very little influence on the ultimate outcome of our lives. Many religious philosophies proclaim some version of “Man proposes, and God disposes.” The other side of the same coin is the more down-home and gender-inclusive saying: “The devil fools with the best-laid plans”.

The vast majority of the lawyers and doctors I interpret for lean heavily into the first camp. They are the directors of their fate, and have worked hard to come far. They expect life to go the way they mold it. They take great personal pride in where they have gotten, and where they are going. And without question, they can say what they are going to do next week, next month, and probably next year. They have plotted out their lives, even to saving for their children’s college (born and unborn) and preparing for their own eventual retirement. They are the masters of their own universe.

Most others, though – including the patients and families, witnesses, crime victims, and defendants for whom I interpret – have a widely different experience of life in a human body. Most were raised to believe in a very near and dear higher power that rules over us all, even to the hairs on our head, and this power must be appeased and acknowledged in our daily actions. This Almighty has the absolute power to reward and punish, in mysterious ways beyond our ken. So we must be duly humble about our place in the grand scheme of the universe. Call it God or Fate.

As our lives unfold in unexpected ways, we are given opportunities to garner extensive firsthand knowledge of just how puny and helpless each incarnated soul is in this fragile little snippet of flesh. Most of us find that we – and our loved ones – are hanging onto our lives by a single thread that can snap at any moment. We can get sick. We can become disabled. We can lose what made our lives meaningful, and be cast out to seek meaning anew. We can even get struck my lightning, if that is our fate. And of course, we will all die. But not everyone is comfortable with this “helpless” philosophy. Some cling hard to the idea that life is what we make of it, and we can do just about anything if we just try hard enough. These ones fearlessly continue carrying out their life plans with great determination and self-confidence, and consider the fatalists to be passive weaklings.

Something as simple as setting a medical appointment can reveal this philosophical divide and bring these diverging viewpoints into collision.

Doctor: So I’ll see you for follow-up next Tuesday.

Patient: Yes, if God is willing.

Doctor: But you WILL come, right? I need to remove the stitches!

Patient: God willing.

Doctor: I need to know that you are coming. You need follow-up!

Patient: I’ll come if God is willing.

Doctor, angrily: Well, I don’t see why God wouldn’t want you to come to your follow-up appointment next Tuesday!

Interpreter: Doctor, the interpreter would like to clear up this misunderstanding by clarifying that making any future plan without acknowledging that God is in charge is taboo, and considered tempting the fates to intervene and remind us that we are merely human. So please understand that the patient has every intention of coming, but considers her future to be in God’s hands.

The interpreter then back-interprets the same statement into Spanish, and the patient’s face lights up, and she says, “Yes! So it is! Man proposes and God disposes!”

Now, I have a very strong philosophy that when two individuals, whatever their power differentials on the surface, become deadlocked in a linguistic misunderstanding, it is not for me to merely clarify the underdog’s strange and mysterious philosophy to the apparent overlord. No. To quote another old adage, that train runs both ways! So I quickly tell the doctor that in order to clarify the linguistic misunderstanding, as I just explained the patient to him, I now need to explain the doctor to the patient, and with his permission I will tell her that the doctor thinks he knows where he is going to be next Tuesday. He thinks he is in charge of that. He shrugs a terse consent: “Go ahead, but make it quick!”

The patient is quite frankly amused to hear that this doctor thinks he knows absolutely what he is going to do next Tuesday, without considering God or Fate or even the devil. That is simply hilarious! She literally laughs in his face and slaps her knee. Ha ha ha! She clearly finds him so delightfully innocent. She points up to the sky and nods sagely at the doctor, kindly admonishing him: “The greatest Healer, above all doctors, and above us all, will decide if we meet next Tuesday! Only God willing!” She nods again, encouraging the doctor to stretch his narrow perspective and save himself future disappointment. We must be resigned to our fate!

The doctor is quite impatient as he receives this concluding bit of the patient’s philosophy. His hand is on the door. He is on a very tight schedule, and had expected to be with the next patient by now, and here we are exchanging ideas after he had neatly closed the session with a clean “see you next Tuesday” exit. He is visibly frustrated by this delay, as he is now 13 instead of 10 minutes late to his next patient. Time is money, and wasted time is wasted money. He has yet to truly fathom that the devil fools with the best-laid plans. Far from being resigned, he is frustrated!

The patient, meanwhile, is continuing to have a very different experience from the doctor. The patient is smiling as the doctor frowns. She is slow to gather her things and leave the exam room. She positively lingers. She has thoroughly enjoyed their extra three-minute conversation, in which she not only expressed her deeply held opinion, but was able to hear his surprising and misguided view of things. What a babe in arms! Truly, it is laughable. He thinks he knows where he will be next Tuesday! She walks out beaming and shaking her head with amusement. He is a good doctor and a good surgeon, but so simple-minded. What a childish philosophy. To think he is in charge of the future! Poor, misguided soul. We know better.