There are two things necessary to provide equitable opportunities for every member of our society: education and health care. But when you stop to think about it, health care is number one. If a person is sick, they cannot go to school; they cannot go to work; their relationships unravel; their quality of life suffers. This realization hit me at Thanksgiving a few years ago.
At the time, I was a recent graduate with a master’s degree in public administration. But my career path had taken an unexpected turn, and I was working as a self-employed jewelry designer. It was easy to lose sight of the goal that had led me to earn my M.P.A. in the first place — working for the greater good.
That all changed that Thanksgiving Day when I was reminded that I could provide a voice for people who often go unheard.
At almost every holiday gathering, there is usually at least one new face at my family’s dinner table. We love to celebrate with friends who would otherwise celebrate alone. That fateful Thanksgiving, my sister-in-law, a physician, had invited one of her renal patients to our Thanksgiving dinner. The young woman was small and quiet. She was delighted to learn that we all spoke Spanish because she had very limited English.
She was also slightly bloated. Over the course of dinner, I learned that she had gone into cardiac arrest twice because of kidney failure. Her status as an immigrant without documents prevented the county hospital from administering dialysis unless she was in critical condition. The result was that she could not get the regular treatments that would have prevented her from falling into critical condition in the first place. That Thanksgiving, this young woman had recently placed her two young sons up for adoption because she was discontinuing care and going back to Mexico to die. She received some care upon returning home, but passed away shortly after the new year.
As a person living with a chronic illness and chronic pain (I have a Chiari I malformation — a non-fatal congenital brain defect — and trigeminal neuralgia, a facial nerve disorder), I know first-hand how difficult it can be to get a diagnosis, let alone properly manage health conditions. However, I have never been faced with having to be at death’s door before I could receive care. Even when I did not have health insurance, I knew that I could go to a hospital and receive treatment for my pain without having to meet certain critical illness criteria.
But many people live with illness or pain because they have no place to turn. This situation is not limited to undocumented immigrants. It is the reality for many Coloradans who lack health insurance or adequate access to medical care.
I will keep these people in mind as I explore barriers that prevent access to quality medical care. And I hope to devote some of my time at CHI to address another issue about which I am passionate: mental health outcomes for the Latino community. It is my belief that once people have healthy bodies and minds, they will have the ability to pursue their goals. And we all benefit from a community of people who are happy, healthy, and thriving.
In Mexican culture, when one sneezes, the response is salud, or health. It is a wish for good health. And that is my wish for all: Salud!
This post is an introduction to CHI research analyst Emily Cervantes. Find her on Twitter @CHI_EmilyC
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