By Jessica Dominguez, MS4
All patient names and identifying information has been changed to uphold privacy.
“Another border jumper,” I heard them say.
When I go into a new patient’s room, I see them on their bed, dressed in their gown, either alone or with loved ones at their bedside. And in my mind I wonder,
‘How did they end up here?
Who are they outside of this hospital?
What do they do for a living?
Do they want us to contact someone for them?
How do they feel about being here?’
I remember waking up in a hospital room three years ago. Before then, I was just on my way to the gym when suddenly a pickup truck ran into my car. The next thing I remember was waking up alone in a dark hospital room. Five days later, I became aware that I had been in a motor vehicle accident. I suffered various injuries. Among those – fractured left ulnar bone, 2 subarachnoid hemorrhages, and a ligamentous injury of my neck. Though I was thankful to have had my family’s support during this time, I felt frustrated, upset that in a matter of seconds I had lost a sense of my independence. During this time period, I had many doctors appointments. I often wondered if the doctors I saw cared about who I was. I was only three months away from starting my first year of medical school when this happened. I found that when I would tell them, they would open up to me, and explain my conditions and treatment with further detail. I keep my experiences as a patient in the back of my mind as I interact with my patients.
I was working in trauma surgery when the call came in – “We have another border jumper. Jumped 30ft down from the wall.” I had heard of these traumas being common at our hospital. As an immigrant myself, I felt a special connection to this patient. As she was brought into the trauma bay, we quickly assessed her. She had suffered severe open bilateral calcaneal fractures. Through her silent tears, I could sense her fear. In our shared language of Spanish, I took the time to talk to her when things in the bay settled down. “Hola señora, cómo está? De dónde es?” She’s a young woman in her 30’s who fell from, not jumped, the border wall. She shared with me that she wanted to come to the U.S. with the hopes of working and earning money so that she may pay for the medical treatment her son needed back at home. She said she had never imagined something like this happening to her. We consulted the ortho team, who said that there was too much damage and that she would possibly need a below-the-knee amputation of her left leg. My heart felt for her.
She was then transferred to the floor where two members from Border Patrol sat outside her room. When I had time, I would go visit her and briefly talk with her. She was tearful that she could not communicate with her loved ones back home. Her mother and son must be worried about her. ‘Til this day, I still think of her and wonder if she ever got in touch with them, if she ended up getting the amputation, if she is safe or back at home with her loved ones.
As a third year medical student, I like to take the time to get to know my patients. I want to learn more about them, not just the medical aspect of them, but also about their life outside the hospital, about what is important to them, and how they feel. As providers, we are taking care of patients during some of their most difficult and critical times of their lives, when they are at their most vulnerable. During these times, I feel it is important for us to show that we also care about who they are as humans and appreciate who they are beyond their medical condition.
Jessica Dominguez is a 4th year medical student in PRIME pursuing Emergency Medicine and a Masters in Public Health. She’s passionate about community health and mentorship, and enjoys spending time with her family.