Sunday, May 18, 2014

Monte Cassino

Today is the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Monte Cassino. The Polish Forces under General Władysław  Anders finally succeeded in taking the mountain topped by a monastery. One thousand fifty two Polish soldiers died in the battle.

My mother's step brother fought in that battle. He was not yet 16. He had been taken from his home together with his family in 1940 by the Soviets. His grandparents were simply killed. They were dropped off in a frozen forest. They asked, "Where do we live?" only to be told, "There are trees, you can build houses." They had brought no tools to cut down the trees.

They asked, "What do we eat?" The answer was similar, "There are rabbits." Yet somehow a few survived. His brother, who was 3 when he was taken, was "too young to live." His father also died before making it to freedom.

Yet my uncle and his mother, who married my widowed grandfather, did. And my uncle then joined the General Anders army, even though he was under aged. He stayed in the British army after the war and was in one of the last units to leave Palestine before it became Israel. He later was sent to Korea. Meanwhile his mother came to the US via Mexico.  He then left the British army to join the American army, spending additional time in Korea, and then going on to teach at the Monterey language school.

Still a young man, he used his GI bill benefits to complete his education and became an electrical engineer.

He and my mother were close until her untimely death. She always loved poppies. We had hundreds in our yard.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Slavery today, here in the US

As a physician, I can't even count all the times that I saw an injured worker who came in with two or more employer representatives. Most of the time, I am sure this is simply out of concern, but sometimes it may not be innocuous. Sometimes that injured worker is held as a slave and the others with him are there to make sure he doesn't tell anyone of the conditions he works under. This is a new realization for me.

Not long ago, I read the book, "The Slave Next Door," by Kevin Bales and Ron Soodalter, and began to realize that sometimes things aren't so innocuous, even here in the US. I had heard about the sex trafficking of minors, garment sweatshops in LA and tomato growers in Florida, but never thought that a slave might be sitting in front of me. I now have gained awareness of this situation, but still don't know how to approach such a patient. 
Clearly, one can't ask in front of the employers. One must make up a pretext for privacy and have a hospital employed interpreter if necessary. The employer supplied interpreter may be yet another guard. The reason for privacy could be the need to do a pelvic (for appropriate specialties) or rectal examination.  Then, I have sometimes asked, as I do when I suspect a battered wife, "Are you safe? Are you OK? Anything you want to tell me? Anything else you want me to help you with?" but have not yet gotten a response of someone asking for help in such a situation. (I have had battered women and teens tell me they need help.)

Yet, I know that one must be aware of a pathology before one can identify it, whether it is a disease of the body or of the culture. I can see my awareness growing, in that I now suspect it, even when simply reading the medical records where it is stated that "two employers and the employer's interpreter" came with the patient. It also gives me the greatest reason to need a hospital or clinic employed interpreter, or phone service.

It is necessary for physicians to become aware of the problem so that there is a chance of recognizing and addressing it.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Mother's Day

My mother was a very generous woman. I remember that she was always helping others. When I was small, she was very involved in resettlement of Displaced Persons. Today, I wrote up a memory. I don't remember the name of the other woman, nor all the details, so just made her a composite of several that I remember.
The Changing Room


It was a cold, dreary day when we picked up Mrs. Nowak. She was dressed in the only dress I had seen her wearing, a threadbare, pale green and tan plaid shirtwaist dress with long sleeves which hung loosely on her frame. I hadn’t seen her in any other dress since she arrived in Colorado during the summer. My mother greeted her in Polish. She greeted me in broken English. She wanted up to make us breakfast, but my mother insisted we should get going since we had a drive ahead of us. “We’ll eat when we get there.”

She relented and took out her coat. It, too, was threadbare, once red, now faded unevenly, with a black collar. It, like her dress, was probably worn when she got it second hand.

Her daughter was off at school and her husband at work or maybe sleeping since he worked two jobs. She usually worked nearly every day as well. But today was her day off. My mother wanted to take Mrs. Nowak to buy her some clothes, she knew Mrs. Nowak was proud and wouldn’t easily accept charity.

As we drove, my mother and Mrs. Nowak chatted. I wished I could understand, but could only catch a word here and there since I hardly knew any Polish. I mostly just watched the snow. Sometimes a big, fluffy flake would stick to the window in a way that I could see its’ structure, before merging with the others. I loved the trip to the big department stores in Denver. They had so much more than the stores in Boulder, which was still a small town then. Fancy clothes and toys, and this time of year, fantastical Christmas displays, often with moving parts, not just mannequins dressed in the clothes of the season. I was hoping for a new party dress in velvet, maybe dark blue this year. Even then I loved dark colors and jewel tones.

Finally we got to the department store parking lot and picked a spot as close as possible due to the weather. I wanted to go in the front door to see the displays, rather than the side door by the parking. The women relented. The display seemed so magical, with giant nutcracker’s opening and closing their mouths, and mannequins of children sitting under a giant Christmas tree opening packages, some as big as the children.

But we had not come to see the displays today. Instead we headed inside to the restaurant. Mrs. Nowak ate slowly, taking time with each bite. “I can’t eat fast anymore. I have trouble swallowing, still. It’s from the lye.”

“Take your time.” My mother slowed down her eating and looked at me, expecting me to do the same. “We came for the day.”

After we ate, my mother paid for the food and then we headed for the women’s department. Mrs. Nowak looked admiringly at the dresses, fingering them and walking past. My mother noticed a few that she looked at the longest and picked them out. Mrs. Nowak turned to her and said that she couldn’t afford any of them, but my mother persisted, “What harm can it be to try them on?”

“I guess it couldn’t do any harm.” Mrs. Nowak finally agreed. We went to the changing room, choosing the largest since there were three of us. There, Mrs. Nowak took off her coat, hanging it carefully on a hook. She then took off her dress carefully, leaving only her slip. Then I noticed it. She tried to hide it from me, but could not. There was a number tattooed on her left arm.