Speaking the Language

by Jessica Morales, MD

The pager read “STAT” and I ran across the hall to the labor and delivery unit. They handed me a blue baby, limbs floppy as could be and not a sound coming out her mouth. As I felt the rate of my heart rise, I tried to stay calm. I placed the baby on the warmer and quickly began drying and stimulating. Respiratory therapy cleared the secretions in her nose and throat. I put my stethoscope on her tiny chest and listened carefully to count her heart beats, just barely above 100 per minute. The baby started grunting but the cyanosis persisted. We started CPAP and finally she squealed out a cry. Her skin flushed to a pink color and I felt a sense of relief. I turned around and saw the appropriately concerned faces of the family members, especially the mother. They were Spanish-speaking and had no clue what was going on. I approached them and in Spanish, introduced myself, “Hola, soy la doctora Morales.”  Without even beginning to explain what occurred, their worried gestures softened, and they reflected an immediate sense of trust in me, just for speaking their language. 

The baby was treated with antibiotics for about a week and every morning I would spend time with the family, answering questions and updating them about the plan. When the time came to discharge the baby, the mother asked to follow-up with me in clinic and wanted me to be her baby’s doctor. In clinic, for every well-child check, I saw her grow and get stronger as the months went by. Today she is a beautiful and healthy 1 year old and my relationship with her mother grew as well. She referred her family members to me and they have told me how appreciative they are that they can communicate their health concerns in their native language. I value more than ever learning Spanish because it allows me to serve others in a more holistic way.

Jessica Morales, MD, is from West Jordan, Utah. She completed her undergraduate degree at Utah State University and her medical degree at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Her medical interests include underserved populations, public health, preventative medicine, integrative medicine, community outreach, health policy and advocacy. She enjoys Latin dancing, weight lifting, yoga, hiking, cooking, and spending time with friends and family. She chose the University of Utah because of its innumerable academic and community resources, supportive faculty/residents, all while being back home in the Utah’s beautiful surroundings.

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