During a late-night emergency room shift, I took care of a cranky but high-spirited woman with back pain. A CT scan revealed a new compression fracture, and despite my attempts to persuade her to stay pain management and physical therapy, she declared in a thick French accent that she was going home. She was elderly and had had multiple falls in the past year, but insisted on living in her own apartment and paying for home aide service.
I was about to finish explaining her discharge care when I noticed the tattoo. It was so faint that it looked grey, but there the numbers were, on the inside of her right arm.
To my knowledge, there is only one scenario in which an almost-ninety year old French Jewish woman would have such a unique tattoo: Auschwitz. In light of the political upheaval in the United States and, in fact, the world, our situation struck me as somewhat of a miracle: a Chinese-American female doctor treating a Holocaust survivor cared for by Haitian health aides, without regard for cost or resources.
Medicine is a rare neutral ground in which everyone—patients and providers—is entitled to dignity and respect. We do not deny care because we don’t agree with our patients’ politics or background; we should treat patients with the same level of care whether they are CEOs or immigrants who just landed at the airport. In the troubling current political environment, will we be able to say to future generations of doctors who treat the children of Syrian refugees, DACA Dreamers, or had two mothers or two fathers, we upheld our professional responsibility by taking civic responsibility? Will we be able to say, we were not complicit, but practiced advocacy to ensure better health for our patients?