After I’d been a patient at the rehab hospital for several weeks, the faceless administration assigned me to the brain trauma floor. My stroke technically qualified as brain trauma, but I’d managed to survive the debacle with my cognitive abilities unscathed. Other patient’s serious injuries had forced them to accept a diminished level of mental competence.
My first roommate appeared to be in his late teens. One afternoon his family—mom, dad, and little sister—showed up for a visit. He greeted them with befuddled grunts. After his father slowly and loudly recited the litany of events leading to his hospitalization, he warmed up and began to mumble at them. I couldn’t help but overhear; I learned he belonged to a gang, and a rival gang member had shot him. The father assured his son: “But don’t be all worried. See, I fixed shit with the poh-lice.” During a lull in conversation, the father leisurely swiveled his head while he scrutinized his son’s surroundings. His eyes came to rest on me, where they remained. He grimaced as if someone had shoved a bar of soap under his nose, clucked his tongue and asked his son: “Was that dude shot? He be all messed up.”
Years later at the warehouse, I alone decided I needed surgery on my right hand. I figured there must exist a procedure that would relieve the tendons that forced my fingers to curl inward towards the palm. I especially hoped that surgery would render my thumb somewhere in the neighborhood of opposable—it would never regain the complete functionality I was used to. The doctors that breezed through the warehouse and half-assedly examined residents didn’t suggest anything that might nurture my independence. If residents developed autonomy, the administration would become hard-pressed to manipulate them. And then residents might start leaving, which meant an end to allotted government funds. In private, Mr. Gold often blustered that warehouses are first and foremost businesses.
A hand surgeon practiced in a labyrinth of offices and lab facilities that sprawled throughout a cavernous brick building, located on a college campus in downtown Chicago. I’d grown accustomed to tardy cripplevans and lengthy interviews with secretaries and interns before the doctor graced me with a brief and invariably overdue appearance. Following in the goosesteps of Nazi doctors, the dumbass members of the medical community that assumed the stroke had fried my thought processes decided it appropriate to display me to interns like I was a fucking example in a textbook. The MD with whom I’d scheduled the appointment finally waltzed into the examination room; five interns followed him while they conversed among themselves in Arabic. The interns regarded me as if I’d been an inanimate chart, then used shitty English to enthusiastically ask the doctor if I’d been shot. They each smirked and unleashed a bloodthirsty giggle while eagerly awaiting an answer. Like naïve tourist, they’d latched onto the clichéd, ridiculous notion that real gangsters—like Al Capone—still rule Chicago.* I’m not capriciously jumping to a conclusion. Countless times I’d heard similar words from immigrants who’d relocated to this city, vacationers who were visiting this city, and people I’d met while traveling who learned where I chose to reside. Clichés are circumscribed snapshots; idiots regularly co-opt them as all-encompassing points of reference.
Whether or not a doctor speaks English is no reflection of his or her expertise. But proper medical treatment is—or at least should be—based on clear communication between physician and patient. Doctors that practice in the United States are not like laborers or domestic servants; they need decent command of the English language in order to perform their job. State governments should not grant licenses to potential medical doctors who demonstrate crappy English skills while allowing Fischer-Price stereotypes of life in the United States to inform them. I don’t understand why sanctimonious do-gooders snivel that such a reasonable prerequisite violates human rights, nor can I grasp how it hinders an ostensibly intelligent candidate.
* To be fair: Gun-fueled gang violence forces a substantial number of young urban males that receive public aid into rehab hospitals and warehouses.