Medicine Observations Systems

On Who People Think You Are.

The author wearing a black face mask while holding a soft serve cone. The wall behind her features a cone that looks like a fish that has green soft serve in it.
A photo of yours truly wearing a mask. Photo credit to Amy L.

There were two patients in the hospital room. Both were elderly East Asian males, each reclining in his bed. The curtain that divided the room in half was pulled forward, offering the illusion of privacy. Sound still travels through cloth.

Outside the hospital room I rubbed sanitizer onto my hands. The only size of blue plastic gowns offered was extra-large. My arms swam through the enormous sleeves as I pulled the gown over my yellow sweatshirt. The only gloves available were size large, which I slid onto my hands before putting goggles on my face. I was already wearing an N95 mask. Only my black track pants and black sneakers emerged from my blue contact precautions.

My dad had alerted me that, overnight, he was moved from a private isolation room into a shared room. His roommate, though ethnically Chinese, spent much of his life in a different country in Asia. He spoke limited English. They quickly discerned that they both speak Chinese.

Within a few minutes, I pushed the curtain back so the divided room became whole. Chinese conversation flowed among the three of us, punctuated by occasional wet coughs rattling through the torsos of the two men.

If I looked right, I could see through the window in the door. Sometimes staff walked by, paused, and waved. One was a man in his fifties who, at one point, opened the door and said to me, “We’re thinking we might discharge him today.” He gave me a thumbs up sign and shut the door before I could respond. He wasn’t my father’s doctor.

Later, my father’s nurse walked in and asked who I was. “Oh,” she commented, “I thought you were the interpreter.”

The other man’s nurse walked in minutes after that and asked who I was. “Oh,” she said, “I thought you were a physical therapist.”

Later, in the hallway, the man who appeared to be in his fifties waved me down. He was wearing a long white coat and there was a red label on his ID badge that said “Doctor”. His eyes smiled at me as he asked, “How is your dad doing?”

I paused before asking, “May I ask who you think my dad is?”

“Mr. Other Guy,” he said effortlessly.

“That’s not my dad.”


“The other Asian man is my dad.”

“Oh.” He was anchored in awkwardness.

“Thanks for taking care of Mr. Other Guy,” I said before walking away, releasing the anchor. He waited a beat before veering off in the other direction.