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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Doctor/Nurse (11/02/06)

TITLE: The Cleaning Lady
By Suzanne R


(In an internet chat room with a nursing friend)

So you've met Tanya! Isn't she just gorgeous?

Tanya? She's a cleaner. Haven't noticed if she's pretty.


I hardly know her. When I mentioned your name, she got real chatty. But it was hard to follow her English.

As her former English teacher, thanks for the compliment.


How's she doing?

Dunno. Works hard. Got in trouble the other day though - was reading a Chinese patient's medical chart.

Well, d'oh. She's a doctor. She was probably helping the patient understand stuff.

She's a cleaner, not a doctor. Gotta go.

See ya.


I know my friend means no harm. But I'm sad. Tanya is a wonderful woman. Because of the language barrier, it seems that in this new life her value is hidden.

I still remember the day she approached me after class. "Teacher, my family move to Canada. Can you be my friend?"

Yeah - right. Like be a source of free English practice. Indeed, at first it seemed that way - she would call late at night when on night duty in the hospital. "You no home during daytime, but this late, you home for sure," she'd say with no apology. You had to admire her determination.

It paid off. We became friends. I DID enjoy her company. In a mixture of our two languages, we enjoyed long conversations. We even talked of eternity. She declared her intention of 'believing' once they arrived in Canada. Until then, she dared not, lest it adversely affect her position at work. We were the same age, her husband was sweet, and they had the most beautiful little girl, Alicia, who loved to dance and sing. It was for Alicia's sake that the family was emigrating.

"Big step back," Tanya explained. "Our qualifications not recognized. We start from ... itch. Um ... scratch. But for Alicia, sky is boundary. Limit. Sky is limit."

Not long before they left, I had the privilege ... and bad luck ... to experience Tanya's professional dedication. I simply had a fever and cough. Unfortunately, it happened to be during the crazy days of SARS, the potentially fatal illness which was a frightening problem at the time. So it was that on that fateful April day, Tanya escorted me, her 'foreign friend', to the 'SARS building' at the local hospital for an X-ray.

The first X-ray wasn't clear. It seems that foreigners ... some of us in particular ... have more 'adipose tissue' on our chests than local people. Another X-ray followed.

Tanya's face was somber. "You stay here until fever go. You have pneumonia. Maybe SARS, maybe not. Don't worry. I'm here."

And she was. For the sake of the public's health, I was branded a possible SARS case, hooked to three IVs, and locked away in an isolation room which stank of disinfectant and was regularly bathed in purple ultra-violet light. Most hospital staff kept their distance. When they had to enter the room, they wore four layers of protective clothing, even one day bringing in a camera wrapped in an isolation suit! Tanya, however, now that she was officially 'on duty' in the SARS building herself, had to go in and out of infectious wards to advise on cases.

Five days, our ordeal lasted. I was teary. We both were frightened. For each of those five long days, Tanya was either with me in person or on the phone. "Sit down," I'd implore. But no, while in her professional capacity, she would not sit. She stood, shoulders back, head high, professional even in her blue moon-man-like isolation suit.

The day I was officially declared to not have SARS (it was a different type of pneumonia), Tanya's eyes flashed rays of happiness that penetrated even the protective perspex mask. Together, we hurried to freedom.

Such a devoted doctor. Such a faithful friend.

A cleaner who can hardly make herself understood?


(Back in the chat room a week later)

Remember Tanya?

Who? Oh - the foreign cleaner.

Look out for her, will you.

Like how?

Like get to know her. Offer to do a 'simple English' Bible study with her. Find a Chinese church and take her family there.

It's kind of embarrassing to befriend a cleaning lady.

Tanya is a special person. A dedicated mother. An excellent doctor.

A cleaner.

Whatever. She's made in God's image.

You owe me big time.

LOL. You're wrong and you know it.

Gotta run. Got stuff to do.


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This article has been read 1176 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Jan Ackerson 11/09/06
The framework of the chat room really works on this piece! We knew someone in a similar situation, a Cambodian doctor who came here as a refugee and had to work for a while as an orderly. Good job, I felt as if I knew Tanya very well by the time I was done reading.
Amy Michelle Wiley 11/12/06
To be honest, I found this story a bit confusing because I was thinking the MC was a male who had a romantic attachment with Tanya. Then I started realizing who the author was ;-) and realized I had it all wrong and had to reread it, hehe! On the second read it was a touching story.
Joanne Sher 11/12/06
I was intrigued by the framing of this! A neat technique. A very engaging story.
Pat Guy 11/13/06
The format worked well and added dimension here. I loved the different layers of this - especially the humbleness of Tanya for her daughter.

Where I grew up during the Cuban Crisis in South Florida, I worked along side doctors, lawyers and such in the packing houses we had, to grade and pack up food. A humble way to start a new life of freedom.

Well done Suz! I love your stories that have that element of 'a slice of life' about them!
Val Clark11/16/06
Great format gets the message across concisely. Can relate to this also. We had a guy in our church who had been a Nuclear Physicist in Russia. Spoke great English. Came to Australia and worked as a lab assistant. Such a waste. But for him and his family the freedom in the west to worship and study what you wanted and be what you wanted made it all worthwhile. In the end, though, it's always good to have pointed out that we shouldn't treat people differently on the basis their employment, lowly or otherwise.

Bonnie Derksen11/19/06
I love the way you write. Because I'm a beginner MSN chatter it took me a little longer to read the conversations, however what you wrote in the middle was captivating and, as always with your writing style, I was intrigued by your point of view and perspective. Your Father's heart of love for all His children is so evident in your articles! This reading has blessed my heart today, Suzanne. Thank you.