Category Archives: MEDICAL – WORK


I wish more people could hear the most frequent thing I hear immigrants of all ages and stations say, which is some version of “I want to work”. I can think of three distinct patients this week alone who had this on their minds, even with cancer spreading throughout their bodies. While doctors were thinking of palliative care and how to break bad news, these patients were thinking about work, needing to work, and wanting to work.

One sweet lady was past menopause, and had recently discovered that her symptoms were due to uterine cancer that had now spread to the small intestine and other surrounding tissues. The doctor carefully told her about her pathology results, plans for chemotherapy, and potential radiation. But her first question was whether she can work during chemotherapy. Her experience is mostly in working in the dirt around the roots, she explained, raking, digging, clearing the onion fields, and such. Her grandchildren were scolding her that she shouldn’t be doing that during chemo, because she could sicker. The doctor agreed. The patient was disappointed. She told the doctor she had been working steadily since she was ten, and she talked about how hard it would be to just sit around. “The time will hang so heavily on my hands, because these hands were made to work,” she told us, showing her calloused palms.

Another patient was telling us how much she loves her work sorting apples. She said it is so cheerful and she and her coworkers laugh and joke all day, even as they rush and hurry. She loves knowing all about the various species and classes of apples, and how to sort them so quickly. She loves reading the labels and thinking about all the places around the world that the apples are traveling. This patient is in such constant pain now that they are doing a procedure to numb the nerves to the major impacted organ. Her cancer is inoperable, but she really wants to know if she can be cleared to work. She wants to work, and she needs to work. When the doctor asked how he could help her, she asked for a doctor’s note so her boss would let her work. “He doesn’t think I am well enough, but I am,” she explained.

One young man has cancer in his jaw. His face is quite distorted and he is hard to understand. He had some of his teeth removed. He was using a wheelchair due to general weakness during his treatment. The doctors gently told him that the results confirmed that the cancer unfortunately had spread. There was nothing else they could do for him now beyond pain control. When asked if he had any questions, the patient wondered if there was any treatment that would let him get back to the farm, even one more season. He told the doctors that he thought he could work through the pain, if they could just help him get a bit stronger. “I work outside, so they won’t let me use the wheelchair there,” he explained. He knew he wouldn’t live long, but he just wanted to get back to work.

As an interpreter, the vast majority of my colleagues travel regularly to their home countries and other places. We travel to see, to enjoy, and to visit. As close as we are to the immigrant community, it is still hard for us to fully grasp their situation. We see it up close, we are with it, but we do not live it. It is still theoretical even to those of us who spend our days serving the immigrant community. Yet for our patients, the theory became practice. They have crossed borders and end up in high risk, low paid jobs in order to support their families. They face chemical exposure, harsh working conditions, and more. When they have accidents or develop illnesses, as they often do, their first concern is how to get back to work. My heart goes out to them.


I was ready to quit.  I really was.  I didn’t care if they had all those cameras and wanted to watch my every move.  I wasn’t doing anything wrong, so I really didn’t care about that.  But to call me to the mat every afternoon, to make it like a ritual to scold me and correct me, that was not okay.  Because these young parents had nothing to teach me about parenting.  I am just saying.  They had no clue.  They were more helpless than their baby.  About parenting.

So I told them one Friday, when they sat me down after work to tell me that according to the video it had taken me two minutes to get to their crying baby in the crib that afternoon, I said look, we need to part ways.  I respect others so that I may be respected, but you do not respect me.  You tell me I didn’t run to your baby when he first opened his mouth.  But there are good reasons for that.  Why don’t you ask me?  I could tell you if you want to know.

Guess what?  I am teaching the baby how to self-soothe.  I am teaching him patience.  I am teaching him tolerance.  I am teaching him to be a little uncomfortable, even for three minutes, so that someone else can do what they need to do.  As you could see in your video, I was going to the bathroom, and in case you don’t have a camera in the actual bathroom, I told them, I was washing my hands, too.  If you want to know what I am doing, ask me.  If you want to know why, ask me.

But I told them, I really did.  I told this young couple.  You hired me because I am a mother.  I have two teens.  They are both doing fine.  They are good people.  So if you want me to use my knowledge, my wisdom, my experience, you have to quit telling me exactly how to take care of your kids.  Or we can part ways, and no hard feelings.  Keep the cameras on, if you like.  I don’t care.  But I will not be scolded and shamed for doing what I know is right.  Your kids don’t need instant service.  They don’t need instant gratification.  I am not here to spoil your children.  I am here to help them have a good life.  I am helping to make them into decent adults.

And I know a lot of people with a lot of money want the servants to spoil the children, but hey, now!  I am not a servant.  I am a mother, and I am giving you the benefit of my experience.  I will not help you raise two selfish, self-centered, demanding and unhappy people.  You can do that without me.  If you want them to feel entitled and look down on people on me, and not want me to even go to the bathroom because they want me right now, then you don’t need my help.  And I am not going to help you.  Because I would be hurting them, as people.  Can you understand me?

But, I said to them, and believe me, their jaws were hanging open, if you want me to help you raise decent, hard-working, and thoughtful people, I can do that.  I already have accomplished that, both at home and at my other jobs.  I can do that without even trying.  It is easy for me.  I can do it in my sleep.  I can do it and even have time to go to the bathroom and wash my hands.  So you let me know by Monday, and if I don’t hear from you, then no hard feelings.  And I left.  I just walked out and didn’t say another word.

What happened?  Oh, they called me.  They called me.  The guy ended up saying he had never been so shocked in his life.  That he never thought I – well, what he really meant is that he never thought I was so smart, but you know rich people.  They just don’t think.  They don’t know how to talk to people.  So I forgave him for talking to me that way.  He never learned any better.  And to be fair, he  didn’t have me or anyone like me to raise him.  Poor little guy.

Now I’ve been with them two more years.  And his kids will be better off, I know that much.  And now he says he’s going to help my kids pay for college, so maybe what goes around will finally come around.  If not, I am still going to do what I know is right.  And I am honestly glad that I am not rich. Because no matter how much they demand and scold and bluster, I can see how scared they are.  How much they worry about every little thing.  It must be hard to feel that entitled and that vulnerable and puny, all at the same time.  Their kids will have money, but hopefully they will be better people.  And someday I will tell them, how I almost quit.  And we can laugh together, God willing.  Because they will know I am their equal.