It had been more than 24 hours since my wife Ellen had eaten or had anything to drink because she was awaiting a procedure at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis.
The nursing attendant, there to test her blood sugar, could empathize because he always fasts for Ramadan, even since leaving his native Somalia.
Asked what he liked to eat at the end of the fast, he smiled. “Fresh camel liver,” he said, “and camel milk.” He rubbed his hands together, as if savoring the meal.
Another nursing aide, also from Somalia, entered the room, there to take a blood sample to check Ellen’s hemoglobin. He noted that Ellen still could not drink water. “How dry I am,” he sang in a thick accent. “No-body knows, how dry I am.”
My wife and I laughed. These young men were making a stressful hospital visit almost a delight.
The second aide then began to sing an American classic. “Take me home, country roads…come on sing it with me…to the place, I belong, Minn-e-sota.”
“You don’t really want me to sing,” said Ellen. The aide, who calls himself “the happy guy,” laughed.
The second aide paused for a minute. “Does this mean I cannot sponsor my family to come here?”
I said that it did, most likely.
Tears welled in Ellen’s eyes. “I think I’m going to cry,” she said.
Ellen has been in the hospital numerous times since the start of the year. Each time, I note that perhaps half of the people who treat her, who essentially keep her alive, are immigrants, some of them very recent and some whose families will be banned under the new law.
They clean her room, change her sheets, bring her food and draw blood for tests. Her endocrinologist is an immigrant. Her night nurse is from Nigeria, another from Ethiopia. Many of her nurses or aides are Somali. Many of her specialists are from largely Muslim countries. They all treat her with compassion, tenderness, even love.
“This is discrimination,” said Ellen’s aide. “If I’m in the United States, I can’t bring my wife, I can’t bring my son? This only helps the terrorists. This is how they recruit young men, I know. 'See? Americans hate Muslims.'”
Then, sensing we were distraught, the nursing aide did a remarkable thing. He tried to comfort us. “It’s OK,” he said. “Don’t get upset. It’s only four years. Things will change.”
As he walked out of the room, the aide offered one more thought. “It’s in God’s hands,” he said. “We are all human beings. Trust in God.”
Jon Tevlin lives in Minneapolis. Follow him on Twitter at @Jontevlin.
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