Sonrisa

by Tiffany Chen, MD Candidate 2019

Honorable Mention  2017 Gerald F. Berlin Creative Writing Award

Gracias por compartir su alma bella.
Thank you for sharing your beautiful soul.

I first met you as a patient, but we didn’t speak the same language.
When I asked you if you used alcohol, you answered with a big, crooked smile.
That smile pulled me into your story.
You couldn’t walk, so we drove you on our bus a few hundred feet back to your home.
We helped you up, and I sat with you. You said to me, ya no hay gente.
At first, I was confused about what that meant. No more people?
It was explained to me that you were trying to tell me you no longer felt like a person.
Inside yourself.
A piece of my heart crumbled. I had just met you, but I cried with you,
because that is the plight of elderly people even in my own life.
I understood.
For the short week I was with you, I visited you every day,
hoping some simple company might help brighten your soul.
One day, you laughed and said, ya no soy ni hombre ni mujer.
I am no longer man nor woman. But that is okay.
We laughed so hard, we cried again together.

Le prometi que le voy a llevar en mi corazon.
I promised her I would keep her in my heart.
Backstory: Back in the fall, the second year medical students had a two week experience called a Population Health Clerkship in which we were tasked with doing an interprofessional community health project alongside nursing students. I was fortunate to be part of a project in the Dominican Republic, where we were tasked with implementing a medical records project in the bateys (sugar plantations) to empower the community with their own health histories, and also to try and understand how best UMass could help the bateys in a long term, sustainable manner. Along the way, I met a wonderful elderly lady who I ended up visiting every day after our meeting. Her story was absolutely the highlight of my trip, bringing together my love of the elderly with my hope to do long term, sustainable global health work. Meeting her taught me that in order to help people in the community, I need to learn their stories.