Avoiding sickness as a immigrant

Anne To, Community News Reporter

I called my father over 50 times, and he never picked up. It was 90 degrees outside, and he was supposed to drive me home from high school.

I had no other choice but to take a two-hour walk under the scorching sun. 

I got to our home in Rosemead dehydrated, sweat dripping down my back and tears in my eyes, to find my father asleep on the couch. His phone rang on the table beside him.

It was a slow change, with my father becoming increasingly lethargic over time. Slowly, my father spent more time asleep than awake.

“Wherever he sat, wherever he stood, he would fall asleep. He even fell asleep on the toilet,” said my mother, Eda Toly.

When he was awake, you could hear him coughing and hacking loudly.

“He was coughing so much that mom wouldn’t let him sleep in the bed anymore,”  my brother, Steven To, said. The coughing “would keep him from sleeping at night.”

Insurance issues and distrust of western medicine

We could tell there was something seriously wrong with my father’s health, but he refused to see the doctors.

“We did not have Medicare at that time. We only had Obamacare,” said my mother.

My family was just one of many who did not have secure healthcare. In the 2018 California Health Interview Survey, approximately 10% of residents within the city of Rosemead reported not having health insurance. 

This is on the lower end when compared to neighboring cities like La Puente.

In addition to the insurance issue, there were cultural ones. My father’s mother also avoided going to the hospital and receiving western medicine. 

When I was in elementary school, my family experienced a home invasion on the night of Halloween. The assailants pulled my grandmother out of the shower, which resulted in a large gash on her knee.

The paramedics said she would need to get stitches at the hospital. She refused, and over the months, I watched her rub Chinese medicine over it instead. 

The scar on her knee is proof of her resilience and refusal.

Like his mother, my father rejected seeking medical help and believed that his lethargy was just from being tired. 

Getting help

Eventually, it got to the point that my mother told us to take him to the hospital whether he liked it or not.

Screenshot of a map.
AskCHIS-NE map of the uninsured people residing in the city of Rosemead. (Anne To)

The drive to the hospital was silent. My father fell asleep, of course, and I was so worried, I didn’t say a single word as my brother drove.

When we got to Garfield Medical Center, we sat for hours waiting in the emergency room until it was our turn. The doctor asked basic background questions, which led to my father being given a room.

“What’s wrong with my father? Will he be alright?” I asked the doctor.

“Your father will need to stay at the hospital,” the doctor replied. “We believe he may have Tuberculosis.”    

Hearing the diagnosis made my heart sink. Tuberculosis is a respiratory disease, and my father used to be a heavy smoker.

He would go through a pack every week, and had only quit a few years prior. I knew his lungs were already damaged from this, and I couldn’t help but think the worst.

For 10 days, my father was hospitalized, and with each visit, I saw rapid physical changes. 

My father’s protruding belly was gone. His cheeks were sunken into his face, and he looked like a skeleton of himself. 

When my father returned home from the hospital, his clothes hung loosely over his shoulders. It looked like they could swallow my father whole.

He was left too weak to go back into his plumbing business anymore, and his English was too poor for him to get any other form of work. 

He had tried to work at a warehouse but would come back mentally and physically exhausted at the end of the day. 

“I am old now, and after getting sick, I could no longer work as I used to before,” said my father.

This left my mother, a nail technician, to become the sole breadwinner of the household.

“When your father used to work, I only had to work four days out of the week,” said my mother. “Now I have to work six to seven days a week, and it is not always enough to make rent.” 

Since my father’s hospitalization, he has had other health problems that resulted in hospitalization. 

As the years passed, he is slowly recovering and is now practicing a healthy diet. He has begun reconnecting with old friends he lost contact with when he was sick.

As for me, for the first time in years, I feel I can start focusing on my studies and my health, and hopefully, earn the financial stability and good health my parents wish for me.

Updated Sept. 28 to remove the photo because of safety issues.