I was walking out to the ER waiting room to check if there were any patients to see and I could hear one of the techs saying to a man in a power wheelchair, I can’t help you, you have to wait to see the social worker. I said brightly, here’s the social worker. She said great, you are here, this patient has a problem and only speaks Spanish. I said I speak Spanish and she said I love you.

I relish any opportunity to speak Spanish. The man in the wheelchair was from Mexico. He told me his story.  The state of Jalisco was where he was born. He crossed the border through the mountains and had an accident. He hurt his back and hips but made it to Los Angeles. Somehow he hooked up with a church. He got a power wheelchair, no mean feat because they costs thousands of dollars. He used it mostly when he traveled from place to place. Once he got where he was going he could walk slowly and with difficulty. The church paid for a ticket for him to come to Chicago. He came in a wheelchair accessible van. The man was coming to Chicago to live with someone. He didn’t know the person and then he lost the address to the house and had no phone number. This all sounded too weird. He showed me a paper with the name of a man who was affiliated with a church in Pilsen. I called the number but no one answered which wasn’t surprising because it was 10:45pm. I asked what his plan was. He had a flyer for cheap rooms in Pilsen. Tonight he would go to a shelter and the next day rent a room with the help of the church. Okay. I called 311 for the man. I explained that DHS would come and take him to a shelter. He said thank you.

Then he asked if I could help him plug in the battery on his power chair – he had already spied an electrical outlet in the waiting room. We went to the back of the room and I plugged the cord into the outlet. The battery, which was low on power, started charging. It would be fully charged by the time the DHS van arrived, it takes hours and hours, sometimes all day for them to pick up homeless patients.

He told me he had not eaten all day, tengo hambre, he said. No problem I said, let me go check the refrigerator. It was his lucky night, tons of sandwiches, juice, and milk. I took him 2 sandwiches, a carton of milk, and 2 juice cups. He thanked me for the food. I told him he was really courageous. He didn’t know 1 person in the United States, he was disabled and yet made it halfway across the country in a power wheelchair on the kindness of strangers. 

It was now 11pm. I said hasta luego, cuidate mucho.

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