Moments Together by Mahima Sukumar

As a Health Access Liaison at Nationalities Service Center (NSC), I have the privilege of spending time with newly resettled refugee families in Philadelphia. Our moments together have shaped me, in and out of the office, even in the waiting room.

Bed in a Tunnel
His fingers tapped the edge of his seat of the waiting room. Thrum-Thrum-Thrum. Before him, there were two tall bottles of barium solution that were supposed to taste like mixed fruits. In preparing for his MRI, this patient had talked to many different medical professionals. He was told that the abdominal pain that had brought him into urgent care was potentially a larger problem and that more tests were needed. As his liaison, I helped him navigate the system by finding urgent care, getting there and helping him check in. Now, I was taking him through the gamut of exams.

Thrum-Thrum-Thrum. He fingers wouldn't go near the bottles. I pulled out my phone. With the interpreter on the phone, I asked, "Do you know what appendicitis is?". He shook his head no. I launched into a discussion of what the appendix was, why it gets inflamed, and what could potentially be the next step. I also took time to explain what an MRI was. How does one describe the MRI machine? As a bed that goes into a tunnel.

What is a mocha?
The youngest daughter was sprawled over her mother's lap in the waiting room having a comfortable nap. She had woken up early that morning to get into the medical transportation that brought her family to the hospital for her brother's tonsillectomy. As they waited for him to recover from surgery, I came to the hospital to aid them in leaving the hospital and reciting the follow-up instructions.

His father, in the long wait, turned to music for comfort during the long wait. He played prayer music in the waiting room. I sat next to his mother, getting ready to arrange their ride back home. She was getting tired and restless but stayed still so the youngest would continue sleeping. She offered me a cookie. I declined but offered to get her something to drink from the tray at the end of the surgical waiting room. There, I saw some coffee and hot cocoa packets. So, I made mixed those together with some milk for an instant mocha.

Finding the Words
My family of three had been called back to the doctor's office by the nurse. As a clinic liaison, I also arrange initial health screenings for refugees when they arrive in the United States. I worked on paperwork in the waiting room as I waited for my clients to finish their appointment. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw another client at the clinic pharmacy and waved.

He called me over and indicated that he didn't understand the instructions for taking his medication. He also said the pharmacist wouldn't explain it to him. Walking over to the counter, I found out that the pharmacist didn't have the resources to get an interpreter on the line. For the next hour, I waited with the patient after we request that a social worker at the clinic take the time to explain instructions.

I have gained a new lens through which to view health since the beginning of my service term. Through AmeriCorps' National Health Corps Philadelphia, I have worked to help newly arrived refugees and other members of the community gain access to different health services. From helping clients receive primary and specialty care, to aiding them in navigating the insurance landscape and the American healthcare system, the Health Access team strives to provide comprehensive support for our clients to lead healthier lives. Our interactions and services are molded by the knowledge that the client's perception of health is shaped by culture and past trauma. Managing health and being healthy is a process, and I am privileged to be with my clients in their journey.