One of my goals for my time in Santiago was to see a variety of clinical settings, including both outpatient care and the private sector. It took me a few days to sort out how to even ask about these activities because, as it turns out, the clinics in the DR are referred to as “los consultorios” and the private hospitals are called “las clinicas.” So, after several attempts to ask if there were clinics (las clinicas) in the public hospital (the answer being no, which initially made me concerned that there was actually no outpatient care for uninsured patients, but actually meant that there were no private hospitals in the public hospital. Obviously!), I successfully arranged to accompany Dr. Medrano, my host, to his outpatient clinic in the private hospital, La Clinica Corominas.
This turned out to be an incredibly informative experience as the patients that Dr. Medrano saw seemed to be the demographic that I see most often in my clinic at Columbia. In fact, one elderly woman who came for her first visit accompanied by her daughter had just been sent back to the DR by one daughter who lives in the Bronx because behavioral problems related to her dementia were becoming to difficult to control. Dr. Medrano asked the daughter in his office, had she received a CT scan of her head? Lab tests? Where and when was this diagnosis of dementia established? The daughter knew her mother had been hospitalized several times in the US (St. Barnabas, perhaps?), but, unlike in the DR, she had not been sent home with her records so there was really no telling what kind of evaluation she had. This was an interesting flip side to the patients who I have seen in my clinic in Washington Heights, recently arrived from the DR. I have one patient who was diagnosed with colon cancer in the DR, treated with surgery and chemotherapy and then came to the US for further care. She arrived with a giant package of records and letters detailing her previous care. Her oncologist in New York was even able to get her pathology slides shipped from the DR for review. Practically speaking, this experience made me realize that, when my clinic patients tell me they are headed for a long stay in the DR, I need to print out their important medical history (medication lists, recent labs and studies) to facilitate their medical care if they need it while in the DR. But in a grander sense, seeing the struggle of this family with roots in both DR and New York City to find the best setting for their ailing mother, brought to light the incredibly complex relationship between NYC and the DR and the way this straddling of worlds plays out in the medical sector.
Another way in which I had the chance to glimpse more of these links between New York and the DR was through my extraordinary host family, the Vargas. I stayed in the home of Maggy Vargas and her two children, Miguel, a young lawyer and Leiny, an intern at the University hospital. They were incredibly generous hosts and best of all, welcomed me into their large extended family, most of whom still live in Santiago (though others live in Washington Heights, of course. Everyone seemed intimately acquainted with the Wendy’s on 165th and Broadway). The matriarch of the family, La Abuela, is 91 years old and spends her days napping and sitting in a rocking chair on the terrace of her 2nd floor apartment above the cafeteria owned by her family. She had twelve children, about half of whom I had the chance to meet, including Maggy (my host mother), Jacqueline (who owns a salon in Santiago), Tete (who I believe owns the cafeteria and lives in an apartment connected to her mother’s), Altagracia (who actually lived in New Jersey and New York for at least 15 years. Her daughter, Glory, was born in the US and lived their for her first 15 years but returned two years ago to Santiago, a difficult transition according to her aunts) and Eduardo, who remarkably received a kidney transplant at Columbia twelve years ago (I believe from Tete) and now travels twice a year to New York for his follow up appointments.