As a first-generation Latina, I'm used to having to translate for my Spanish-speaking family members when I accompany them to their doctors' appointments. In fact, I was the one who most often took my Abuela to the doctor. Despite writing down all of her medications, the dose she took, and why she took them on a piece of paper, my Abuela insisted on carrying all of her pills in a shopping bag when she went to see the doctor.
"Please, Abuelita, you don't have to bring them," I'd implore her.
"Maybe the doctor needs to see the pills," she'd reply.
The doctor never needed to see her pills, but her list of medications and medical history always came in handy.
This experience with my Abuela prepared me for when Mami got cancer. I kept a notebook with my mother's medicines, allergies, dates of chemotherapies, future appointments, and questions I had for her doctor. Even though my mom could normally make herself understood in English, it was more difficult when she was frustrated — as many of us are when it comes to our health — and it was harder for her to find the right words to express herself. This organized system helped us keep track of information for doctors, and eventually became what I like to call a medical résumé.
The résumé has her name, date of birth, and address. I list all her medical conditions, her medications and doses, and why she takes them, as well as all of her known allergies. I also include the dates she had medical procedures and any pertinent family history the doctor should know about. It saves us so much time. Instead of having to fill out those annoying intake forms, I just bring the medical résumé along, and write, "see attached."
Then I got sick myself — actually, I should say I got sicker. After living with a pituitary adenoma and its endocrinological side effects since I was a teenager, I was diagnosed with lupus, then four other autoimmune diseases. What can I say? I'm a bit of an overachiever. For the first time in my life, I had to keep track of my own appointments and medications as well as my relatives' appointments and medications. I ended up in a coma, and when I awoke, I could not walk, talk, or take care of myself. It took six years of inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation for me to recover, but I've never been the same. I fell back to the medical résumé I created for myself, as it was my way of taking ownership of my health history and narrative.
Recently, I again drafted medical résumés — this time for my godparents who don't speak English. This way they wouldn't have to carry around shopping bags full of their medications, like my Abuela did so many years ago. Being Latina means taking care of your relatives and having to translate for them. It's part of our culture. Creating medical résumés isn't a Latina thing, but it sure helps empower the people I love the most to feel better about the often dreaded patient-doctor relationship, helps them advocate for themselves in their own care, and creates a better communication with their medical providers.