A few days ago I was in the van carpooling with the Health Delivery, Inc. staff to the migrant clinic in Imlay City, and I overheard one of the WIC staffmembers talking about a patient who had 11 children and had recently gotten married. "Eleven children is a lot of children to have with no husband" I said. "Don't you know Emily, nobody gets married any more!" the staffmember told me, sounding a little annoyed at my judgmental comment. I felt ashamed of myself. The truth is, I was definitely judging this woman. "Who is paying to raise 11 children?" I had been wondering. Not really wondering--I was feeling put upon as a taxpayer, that almost certainly this single mother living in Saginaw, receiving health care at a free clinic, was not taking financial responsibility for her nearly dozen children. It is tough not to feel less than sympathetic for some of our patients. And that is sad--both for me and for them. I really try not to judge people, but I do it anyway, almost every day.
How can we, the privileged handful of MSU students who choose to come live in this extremely underserved community of Saginaw, MI, learn to relate to our patients? How can we bridge the gap between our wealthy, educated, socially high-status selves and our poor, uneducated, low-status patients?
The photos I posted are samples of what much of Saginaw looks like, especially the areas east of the river and around the hospital, where many of our patients live. We would never live there. We were in particular warned not to look for housing east of the river when we moved out here. So physically as soon as we arrive there is already a divide between "us" and "them."
When we travel abroad, we always stay with host families. The hope is that by living with people from the communities we are joining we will learn about how they live--their struggles, their language, their ideas of how life is and should be. Why don't we do that in the underserved communities back here in the United States? I do not understand how a woman who chooses to have eleven children with no income and no education and no second parent to help her...I do not understand how she thinks, but I should. How can we bridge this divide?