September 11 Digital Archive

Selina Chan


Selina Chan



Media Type


Chinatown Interview: Interviewee

Selina Chan

Chinatown Interview: Interviewer

Lan Trinh

Chinatown Interview: Date


Chinatown Interview: Language


Chinatown Interview: Occupation

nurse St. Vincent's

Chinatown Interview: Interview (en)

Q: It is December 15. I am sitting with Selina Chan of St. Vincent's Hospital. If you can, just for the record, say your age and your full name, both in English and in Chinese.

Chan: My name is Selina Chan. I was born in 1950, okay, so I'm fifty-three years old. [Repeats in Chinese].

Q: You don't need to do everything in two languages, but I just wanted to get your Chinese name.

Chan: Sure.

Q: Can you tell me where you are from?

Chan: Original, I was born in Shanghai. Then I emigrate to Hong Kong. I was practically grow up in Hong Kong. Then I come to the United States in 1975.

Q: At what age did you go to Hong Kong?

Chan: At my age nine. Nine years. So I was born after that Communist party coming to China. So we didn't have a difficulty time to go to the Hong Kong at that time. So because my father was in Hong Kong so luckily we can apply the visa and went to the Hong Kong at that time.

Q: So in 1959 you legally went to Hong Kong?

Chan: Legally leave China. It's not legally enter to the Hong Kong. It looks like the old history about the boat men, I go for the same thing at that time. I legally leave Shanghai, go to Macao, and take the boats, and escape to the Hong Kong.

Q: And why was your father already living in Hong Kong at the time?

Chan: He's a sailor.

Q: A sailor?

Chan: Yeah. He working in the ship. So that's why, when the time happening, so he was actually down in the Hong Kong side. America. So he never went to the China. I was born after then, the Communist party.

Q: So 1949. It was already ten years since the Communist take over. So what was your life like in China? Do you remember?

Chan: Yeah, I do remember. Well, you know that childhood life is always memorable. And actually, I was in China, we have not really that bad because we do have getting the money and the things sent back from Hong Kong. So we really should say that we do live quite comfortably. Nothing look like what we read as life in China.

Q: So your father was always traveling. He was not in Shanghai much.

Chan: No.

Q: And why did he not want to return to Shanghai but wanted to take the family out of Shanghai?

Chan: Well, the main thing is that he was working with the Holland Shipping Company, okay? So if he leave the job, and he went to the Shanghai, it would be not easy for him to get a job. That's first of all. Second of all, you know, it would be much, because our other family member look like my cousin, my aunt, my uncle, they all immigrate to go to the Hong Kong. So that's why decided we leave the Shanghai and go to Hong Kong.

Q: So it was not because of political reasons?

Chan: No, no, no, no. Nothing at all like that.

Q: So your family didn't go through a lot of hardship after 1949?

Chan: No. Yeah. We should say we are very lucky on it.

Q: So then your entire family - that means, you, your mother, and all your siblings, went to Hong Kong?

Chan: I only have my mother and me, only. So after we went to the Hong Kong my mother give birth to my brother. So it was only two of us.

Q: So you went by boat.

Chan: Yes.

Q: Tell me about that journey. Did you pay somebody - how is that done?

Chan: Well, actually, it's - we went to the journey twice. The first time we went to the boat, was hiding underneath of the boat, and turn around the captain, he is a drug addict, so he keep on busy taking the drug and not sailing the boat. So we were caught by the police, actually. I went to the Macao, we stay in the jail for overnight. So next day my father come over to Macao, get us out. So the second time we pay even higher price to get a more reliable captain to escape to the Hong Kong. So I always remember where we have the whole boat, everybody was stuck in the bottom of the ship, so a lot of people was throw up and vomiting, sea sick. So I was only nine years old, and my mother was six months pregnant. She have really difficulty time to walk. I was guiding my mother. And we need to climb the mountain from one side of the mountain, climb the mountain and go into the other side, get into the second boat, and we went to the Hong Kong.

Q: This is in Macao, you're talking about. Now how many people were on this boat, about?

Chan: Is about hundred peoples. Is about hundred peoples. So when we went to the Hong Kong, we were stopped by the police. Okay, actually, the people is grouping us together, me and my mother and two other old couple. We are grouped together. So four of us. So when the police stop us, the police usually would go to the youngest one to ask where you come from. So I was just nine years old. I just can able to answer, say, 'Well, I come from Hong Kong.' So they said, 'Well, where you going?' I say, 'Well, we going to have lunch with my grandparents.' So the police let us go. This is way back to 1959. So we could able safely to get to my father's place.

Q: But you only spoke Shanghai-ese at the time.

Chan: Well, I stay in the Macao for a month to wait for the opportunity to go to Hong Kong. So I pick up the language in Macao for Cantonese.

Q: Do you remember how much you paid for the journey from Shanghai to Macao and then Macao to Hong Kong?

Chan: Yeah, I think at that time we pay close to $3,000. That's 1959. It's quite a lot of money.

Q: Three thousand U.S. dollars?

Chan: No, no, no. Hong Kong money. But still is quite a lot. This is 1959.

Q: So you were sneaking out, basically. It's not legal.

Chan: Right.

Q: But then once you got to Hong Kong, then your father already had a house there?

Chan: Apartment. For there, for us.

Q: And what status did you have there?

Chan: Well, it's still illegal. But later on, because after you live in Hong Kong certain amount of year, you can apply for the residency in Hong Kong. So I do basically have my school training - education - in Hong Kong. Until the high school. Then I went to the nursing school in Hong Kong.

Q: So your father continued to work as a sailor. Often out of Hong Kong.

Chan: Yes.

Q: And you lived with your mother and then, soon, a younger brother.

Chan: Yes.

Q: And what about the rest of your extended family? Where did they go?

Chan: I don't know. We have a lot of cousins that live in Hong Kong also. But I still have a cousin in Shanghai, and also my grandparents in Ningpo. That's my mother's side. So we still went back to China to visits.

Q: Did you understand what was happening at the time? Were you afraid?

Chan: No. Not really. Maybe it's my personality. I'm always looking to have a new adventure, and to see what's going on, on the other side of the world. So to me it look like - it happen very naturally. It's not that much scaring going on. Even the captain of the ship, he say, 'For a young girl look like this, you are very brave. You are not scared at all.' Because a lot of people were so scared in the boats. And I did nothing. And actually, when the time we climb the mountain, I lost my mother. Because she was pregnant, she's difficulty to walk. So they are really rush us, so I have to follow the crowd, move very fast, then turn around - I cannot find my ma. So I'm able to go back and find my mother, until my mother go to the other side of the island.

Q: This is in Macao. When you first land, and your boat land on one side and you have to get on the other side.

Chan: Right. Right.

Q: So what do you think give to you all this strength for a young person?

Chan: Well, I think it's the same thing. I will say that I always like to see - I always like to take advantage, to see what is the new things outside the world. That's why I want to see - when I was in Shanghai, I'm always dream, how is my father's life in Hong Kong? Okay. I remember when we took the train to go to Canton, then we need to take the other train to go to the Macao. And my father saw the way my mother walk, and he told me, he said, 'I don't think both of you can get to Hong Kong very safely. I'd better buy the return ticket to go back to Shanghai.' I told my father, I said, 'No. No matter what happened, I want to go to Hong Kong. Take a look on Hong Kong, what's it look like. And finish my dream.' So my father say, 'I'll wait until you sleep at the night time, I tie you up, put you in the train.' I say, 'Fine. I'm not going to sleep the whole night.' I didn't. I sit there whole night, wait for the next day to get the other train to go to the Macao. And it's personality, I should say that.

Q: Now why did your father not go back to Shanghai and get you? Was that possible at the time?

Chan: Because if he go back to Shanghai - he did go, because it's too many hours for the train - so he did went to the Canton to get us. And he went to the Macao for us together. He make all the arrangements, put us up in the hotel in the Macao, then he went back to Hong Kong.

Q: So in 1959 in Hong Kong there were lots of Shanghai-ese at that time.

Chan: Yes.

Q: Lots of people from China.

Chan: Yes.

Q: Pretty much everybody illegally.

Chan: Yes.

Q: So are you able to go to school?

Chan: Yes, I did went to the school. But in the beginning always have hard time, because my Cantonese is not that great. And also I don't know English at all, so I do have a difficulty time for a couple - one years. The second year I'm doing very well already.

Q: And what school did you go to?

Chan: It's only very small private school. It’s in Hong Kong. Is very easy to get in, a one flight school, those kind of set up. It's not a big school system like now.

Q: Was it a bilingual school?

Chan: They have English class, but it's not that much. Most of the subject is in Chinese. Or in Cantonese.

Q: So you learn English as a second language, from a language course, basically.

Chan: Right. It's very little.

Q: And where in Hong Kong did you and your mother live?

Chan: We live in the Kowloon near Hunghom.

Q: Hunghom?

Chan: - yeah, near the trains - but later on we moved to the Kwung Tong.

Q: And how often did you see your father?

Chan: He came back home every three months, when the ship is arrive in Hong Kong. And he's still working for the ship company.

Q: So your father financially supported the family?

Chan: Yes.

Q: Your mother worked?

Chan: No. With my mother's physical condition not that great. So he most of the time, it look like, every month he have money - she stay in the hospital. She doesn't feel well. So I'm home taking care of my brother, and sometimes we have housekeeper, some time we don't.

Q: So what was your life like? Did you feel welcome in Hong Kong? Did you like it?

Chan: Yeah. I do.

Q: You didn't have problem adjusting?

Chan: No. I'm the person is very easy to fit into new surroundings. So I don't have no difficulty time at all.

Q: Okay. So you are obviously a nurse today. When was the first time in your life that you think you might want to go into medicine?

Chan: Well, way back to when my mother was in the hospital. She do get mistreated by the nursing staff, okay? I did told her at that time - I was in the senior high school - I said, 'Look, don't think you are big shot, can treat a patient like that. Give me couple of years. When I come back I would going to show you what is a good nurse about.' So that's what I make up my mind I want to become going into nursing school.

Q: Do you think somewhere in you, you wanted to help your mother?

Chan: Yes. I did. But unfortunately my mother pass away.

Q: Before you graduate, finished? So you went to nursing school in Hong Kong.

Chan: Yes.

Q: And did you like it right away?

Chan: Well, not really you like it right away. I always remember, because my last name is Chan, every single time, alphabetically - A,B,C - I'm always on the first one in the class. So whenever is new opportunity and new war and new place you need to go, I'm the first one to go. So we went to the nursing school what we call Nethersole - in Hong Kong. So at the time, I was asked PTS, that means first newcomer, after three months they sent me to the GYN unit and after then they sent me on the night shift in the pediatric unit. The only thing we know is wash and change the diaper, and feed the baby. Then after the pediatric unit they sent me to the operating room right away. I went into the operating room, I was completely shocked. I don't know nothing was going on, even that they said, 'Oh, this is appendix surgery.' I would just look at patient's body - where is the appendix? Because we haven't gone into anatomy yet. I don't know what's going on. We do, in the beginning, do have a hard time. So I really think, is that really the job for me? But I did promise my mom I want to be a nurse. To serve the other people. So I did go through. It's not that easy, but you get it over.

Q: You didn't want to be a doctor?

Chan: When I come to the United States I do have a couple opportunities. They do offer me scholarships and everything, go to the medical school. The thing is, when I come to the United States, I make sure my father quit the job, stay home. I need to send the money back to my father and my brother. So economically I cannot afford. Even I can get a scholarship for myself, then what happen to my father and my brother? They cannot just starve to death waiting for me to finish my medical degree. So sometimes you have to see the balance. So it's okay, you know? The nursing is the same thing as the way to helping the other people, the same as medical doctors.

Q: Now, why did you decide to come to America - in '75, you said?

Chan: Yes. So the main reason we decided to come to the America was because my uncle was in the America. And then the other thing, even there I did not go for the hard time in a Communist country. There was some talking about the Hong Kong would go back to Communist. You heard it, the rumor was going on. And then my uncle, in the United States, he get a doctor to sponsor me to come over. So I say, okay, give myself a try. And I decided to come over.

Q: But Hong Kong would not be handed over to China until 1997. You had twenty-two years -

Chan: Right. But nobody can know what's going on. The other way is thinking about it. At that time they really want to send me to London, to go to nursing school. For the further education. But I saw the way there - London - English people treating the - they don't believe equal rights. I'm the kind of person who believe the equal right. So in the British system, looks like the bottom person talk to the nurse, if you are the ward assistant you doesn't talk to the nursing students. That's not my idea of the life. Instead of going to London I think my personality will be much suitable for the America. So I make up my mind I want to come to America.

Q: Where did you get this impression about English people? You study under Brits in Hong Kong?

Chan: Our nursing school have followed the British system. That's giving a little thinking about it, the way the British handling the job.

Q: Very proper.

Chan: Yeah.

Q: So who decided that you should come alone and that your father and your brother should stay behind?

Chan: Because, main thing, I was apply for the professional visa. It is not a family visa. So my father and my brother cannot come along. So my uncle is only the new immigrant, he cannot apply my father to come. And also my father was getting old. He's sixty years old already at that time, so maybe much better, easy, for him to stay in Hong Kong. I don't want him to go to the ship to work anymore, because you never stay home and you don't know what's going on. So

I decided to come to the United States, then I ask my father to stay home to take care of my brother.

Q: So '75, you came to where in America?

Chan: New York.

Q: This is where your uncle was?

Chan: Yes. So I never left the New York [laughs].

Q: What was your first impression of New York City?

Chan: Funny thing is, when I first time get to the JFK, my flight was five o'clock in the early morning. So our flight is one hour early, and my uncle, they thought the flight would be one hour delayed. They did not come to the airport to pick me up. Everybody left - except me. Also, I have two luggage before I get into the plane. So one of my friends work in the airport, so he told me, 'Okay, let me help you to put in luggage trunk.' So when I get to the JFK I lost the two luggage. And inside the luggage is a lot of things some of my friends ask me to bring over to United States for they family member. So to me, if I lost my own belonging, it doesn't matter. But lost someone else belonging, I'm quite nervous. So I was quite nervous at that time. And the whole airport is completely empty. Only I saw a black porter clean up in the JFK airport. I was getting very nervous. But good thing I do have some currency change, so I do able to ask the porter, 'Is there anyway I can find a phone?' So he do pointed to me where's the phone, so I made the phone call to my uncle. So they said it would takes them half hour to get to pick me up. So I stay in the airport for an hour, close to an hour, by myself. I was very nervous. I said, 'Gee, that is America?' You saw the face - like, I never saw that in Hong Kong. And I lost my luggage, cannot see my family member, and so big, the place is so big and so huge. I was sitting there, and doesn't no nobody. Alone. Quite nervous though.

Q: Did you speak English at the time?

Chan: A little, yeah. But just very nervous.

Q: So you were twenty-five at that time.

Chan: Yes.

Q: Were you done with school?

Chan: Yes, I did.

Q: But in America you need another certificate.

Chan: Right.

Q: Okay. So you sat at the airport. Before coming here, what did you think America would be like?

Chan: I'm type of person doesn't think that much. Just do it. You know? Sometime, if you want to think about every single details, what's your plan, sometimes the life is not exactly what you plan for. If you set up your mind, I'm going to go and get it, you actually will be much better get a result instead of have a plan and then there will be a lot of disappointment come take place. I just believe one thing - I want to go to United States, I want to work hard, to get my life straight together in America, put my feet on the ground.

Q: When you came, did you think you would stay here? Or did you plan to get education and work experience to go back to Hong Kong?

Chan: I do was thinking to go back to Hong Kong. Maybe ten years later, how to see as everything's going on there. I may go back to Hong Kong at that time. That's only original my thinking - just want to come to the United States to see what's happening.

Q: But you never moved back.

Chan: No.

Q: And in all this time, did you go back to Shanghai at all?

Chan: Yes, I did.

Q: When was that?

Chan: Couple years ago. I think it was the first time make up my mind I want to go back to Hong Kong. And Shanghai. I did went to Hong Kong quite a lot, but Shanghai I didn't go back for a long time. I went to travel to Russia. So some people look at me, 'Oh, you're Chinese. How's China look like?' I say, 'I ask myself. This is very good question. You ask me. I really doesn't know what China look like now - now that they - ' So after I come back from Russia I say, 'Look, I better go back to China. To take a good look before I went to the other country. So at least I know what is my own country looks like.' So next year I went back to Shanghai, and Beijing, Hangzhou, and Canton. I made a tour for three weeks, to take a good look on China. This is 1984.

Q: So thirty-four years after you left. Oh, I'm sorry, you left in 1959. That's not right.

Chan: Fifty-nine. It's about twenty-five years.

Q: What did you feel going back?

Chan: It feels - no matter what happened, still is your home town. You really feel very touching. I went back to see the place where I was born, where I was grow up, and, you see, I have my aunts still in Shanghai, so they come to the hotel to visit me. You know? And the other thing, at that time, China is not as open as now. They don't even have a public bathroom set up. That's the thing I really doesn't get used to. I went to my aunt's house, I can't get used to the bathroom system. I have to rush back to the hotel. But I still really feel like I'm very, very welcome in your own home town. It's a feeling nobody can take away from.

Q: Did you feel that way in Hong Kong?

Chan: Yes.

Q: And what about here?

Chan: In here - because, main thing, I work lot of time with American agency. I really feel like, no matter what happen, discrimination is there. Usually - I do remember I work for the ILGWU (International Ladies Garment Workers Union) union health center. They have a lot of multi-culture people. Even then I have ninety physicians under me. They will take a look and look at me and say, 'You don't look like an ordinary Chinese.' I turn around, ask them, 'What is the ordinary Chinese mean to you? Do they have a four letter in front of their forehead? Suppose whatever you say I need to say yes to you?' You know? I say, 'I'm sorry. This is not the way it's supposed to be.'

Q: This is in the seventies and the eighties? When did you experience this?

Chan: This is the seventies. The end of the seventies. Okay. They still thought, Chinese people are more humble. And whatever they say, we only say 'yes'. Either they are right or not. I'm sorry. It is not the way it is. I more believe equal. If you give me some guideline to do, it's not right. I have my right to speak up and to defend myself at the same. You are a professional - I'm a professional also. Okay. So why should you're on top of me? I need to follow whatever your guideline, and it's not right. That's what I believe.

Q: So did you encounter that very often, or was that once in a while you feel that way of these kind of comments thrown at you?

Chan: I should say that in the beginning, first couple of year. Then after a while, they know me. They will not do it to me anymore.

Q: Do you think because there were not as many Asians here at that time? In nursing?

Chan: Yes.

Q: And maybe in nursing there's not as many Asians -

Chan: It's not as many Asian and it's not as many people who are Chinese people will speak up for themselves. To defense on them. So it's a quite - from nowadays, until that time, it's a completely different pictures.

Q: Did it ever make you feel you wanted to go back to Hong Kong to be amongst Chinese?

Chan: Well, I don't think so. Because I may have been lucky that the other Chinese people. I could speak English. So, yes, the life if I go back to Hong Kong it will be much easier than here. But at least in here, I can protest some of the Chinese. I could speak up for them, and fight for some of the benefit for them. So if everybody selfish, so nobody will change the whole life.

Q: So how many years were you in school in New York?

Chan: I was - the main thing is, I have to send the money back to Hong Kong to support my father. I just go the evening time or the weekend time. I waited, did not go to the official school to get the training or anything done. Well, in the beginning, you say now the new immigrant is not easy. The old time we are not that easy. I work in the garment factory, I work as housekeeper, you know? Wherever I can put hands on to make moneys, I do that. As long as I don't do any robbery, any illegal things, I'm so proud of myself. Because whatever the money I make, I use my own hands to make the money and support my father and my brother.

Q: And who did you live with in New York?

Chan: I did get myself a apartment, to live by myself. Down in the Queens.

Q: Where you still are today.

Chan: No. I do move couple times away.

Q: And today, where do you live?

Chan: I live in Queens. Main Street.

Q: Oh, Flushing.

Chan: In Flushing.

Q: A big Chinese community.

Chan: Yes. Yes.

Q: And then at one point did you join St. Vincent's in Chinatown?

Chan: I was working for the ILGWU union health center as a clinical director for sixteen and a half year. Because my CEO, he's a Jewish - he treat me very, very good, look like my father. And he teach me a lot. And when the time we changed and the CEO comes in, the whole policy changed. So he did tell me that. He say, 'Chan, I don't think will be a comfortable surrounding for you to work.' At that time he was sitting in one of the nursing homes, on the board, he say, 'Chan, maybe think about nursing home.' I say, 'Nursing home never is my cup of tea. I like a fast movement, I like the outpatient, I like the emergency room. It's not a nursing home for me.' He said, 'Chan, don't say the thing too fast. Give yourself a good opportunity to think about it.' So then, later on, when I saw the thing is not moving as the same way I was expecting, so I figure, 'Maybe is a right time for me to move.' But the nursing home was in the Bronx at that time. I was living in Brooklyn. My father was staying with me. He's eighty years old, already. So it's not real easy for him to move, to adjust to a new surrounding. Then I went to take my driving license - fortunately I pass my driving license - then I told him, 'Now I could take the job.' Because otherwise it takes me three hours to commute. I'll always remember, I bought a car the night before, the next day I went to the new job. I drive for one and a half hour, and then I cannot find the nursing home. I go for all the difficulty time on the driving. But I learn a lot in the nursing home. It's a Jewish nursing home - I'm the only Chinese people there. Then the only problem is, my personality, I'm more involved with the patients' care. Ten o'clock every night, I did not get home until eleven. And six o'clock, turn around, have to go to work again. I was so tired. I bump into couple car accidents.


So I decide maybe it's not the thing for me. And at the time, St. Vincent's has a job opening. My friend was retired and she wanted me to take over. And I went over to take the job in St. Vincent's. It was a very funny interview. I even told the director and the V.P. in St. Vincent, I'm not St. Vincent's style, because I'm more aggressive. I said, 'If you cannot take my attitude I think we should stop the interview.' Turned out they all agreed on it. Actually they made the arrangement before they said yes, I'm taking the job. I even take a salary cut, I take a job title cut. In the nursing home I was associate nursing director. It’s a 524 bed and also they promise me, the nursing director, as soon as she retired I'd be the nursing director. And is always in my dream, I want to set up a Chinese nursing home. To help the Asian community. So at that time I was very tired, and, you know, my health come first. So I do decided to leave the nursing home and come to St. Vincent's. But still, in the nursing home, they told me one thing: 'Selina, you remember, if it's money we can make out all the money you want.' I said, 'No, it's not the money. It is really my interests are still in the Chinese community, and also our patient set up.' And he told me one thing - 'If the thing doesn't work out, you know it's only one phone call away, you could get a job next day.' I said, 'Thank you for offering. I will remember.' But I did not went back yet. [Laughs] I went back for visit, I never went back to work.

Q: Was part of the appeal to work at St. Vincent's because of this location in Chinatown?

Chan: Yes. And also, you feel like, no matter what happens, I'm a Chinese. Deep in my heart I'm so proud of myself as a Chinese. I want to get back to Chinese community what I learned. Yeah, maybe I cannot do so much, but at least even I can serve. I can help one or two people I feel very happy.

Q: Ok, I’m going to step in another direction for a little bit. It sounds like you were studying and working a lot, for a long time. Did you have time for romance? Did you marry?

Chan: No. I'm still single. That's the big problem. Actually, one time I was working in the unions, the unions always pay lower, and my brother needed to go to college and I need the money to support. I've always had two job. I work for the union Monday through Friday. On Saturday and Sunday I'm doing private duty nurse. Some of the patients that they like me so much I even work twenty-four hours a day. Looks like I'm working nine days a week, you know? So I really doesn't have no life for my private life.

Q: So you pretty much have devoted your lifetime to nursing.

Chan: Yes, I did. I did. Sometimes you feel good, if some of the patients give the remark, you really feel, 'boy, I make some people change'. I even have one private patient, is a Jewish man, he have a gunshot wound. When the first time I got this patient he really is from neck down completely paralyzed. Until the end, he is driving the van. Even he's still paralyzed but he could drive the van. I took him around, I took him to the theater, I took him to the movie, I took him to the diner, and we even went to travelling. So even himself, he said, 'You look my own family. Without you I cannot travel so much.' I even took him to his son's graduate from medical school, in Harvard, from Boston. I fly with him, and do everything. You feel very good about it, you know. Sometimes the reward is quite different. It's not that money can buy.

Q: Do you think if your mother was still alive to see your work, what would she say?

Chan: She would be so proud of me, you know. Because even, now I'm working St. Vincent, we understand Chinese. Our education level sometimes quite different. We doesn't have that much medical knowledge such as popular people in America. So some of the patients have a lot of difficulty time. I will do my best to help them. If you can help couple people, you really feel good.

Q: Okay. I'm going to jump ahead to September 11th. [quick discussion of length of tape left. NEED EDIT OUT]

Now give me an idea of the scope of St. Vincent's in Chinatown, what it is able to handle before September 11th. Give me the kind of - is it mostly an outpatient facility?

Chan: St. Vincent's Chinatown clinic was set up since 1976. At that time because of the new bride from China to come to the United States, and they don't have no health insurance so St. Vincent's come to what they needed for the OB Department. We set up a clinic in Chinatown to help the new immigrant mother-to-be. So that's our first beginning of the clinic in Chinatown. We're in the Park Row. We actually bought in the church, one of the small room in the back. And then after the mother was give birth to the baby, is a demand of the pediatric units. So we open up pediatric units and we move to the East Broadway. Then after the baby is growing up and the mother become older, then is a demand for us to open a general medical practice, and we move to our new location on the Canal Street and Elizabeth. So the St. Vincent history was changed. St. Vincent usually give quality care. They not really as high profile. They put a down, low profile, we don't have no advertising in Chinatown. Only by the patients' mouth. So a lot of people in Chinatown doesn't know St. Vincent's that much. I remember at the 9/11 time I went to - because my god sister went to China for the visit. She contacting a big tour, leading them to the Beijing to visit the Beijing family. So I was staying in Long Island with my godmother. So I drove into work on that morning. And the traffic was so heavy. I was driving the car, I keep on hear the ambulance and police car -

Q: What time was this?

Chan: This was around ten minutes after nine, around that time. I was wondering, even before I get to the city already it's so crowded. What's going on? Nobody know. And you turn on the radio and you heard, oh, the plane was crashed to the World Trade Center. So I was in the BQE (Brooklyn Queens Expressway), so I could see the World Trade Center. And I do see World Trade Center One was on smoke. And then suddenly I saw the other plane, was hit into the other buildings. You know, your tears is so really come down from you. We grow up in the New York even then. I was not born in America, but World Trade Center is our trademark of New York. You know the feelings. It is look like they are part of my family member. And you know the World Trade Center have so many people live there. You completely have your tears coming down. And driving with the car, my hand was shaking, you know, you don't know what you're going to do anymore. So then later on I saw the building was collapse. So fortunately I could able drove the car and park the car right in front in the Brooklyn side near Manhattan Bridge. So I just park the car anyplace I could. I walk to the bridge. Walk past the bridge and come over to the city. So I bump into a lot of people, and the police, they kept on telling me, 'You should go to the other direction.' I said, 'No, no, no, I work in the hospital. I have clinic in Chinatown. I have to report to St. Vincent's. I will go to that direction.' So I went through the bridge, I went through to make sure that all the pregnant mother is okay, my staff is okay. Then I have a staff meeting. I left half the staff make sure the patient would be safety to go home, someone to pick them up and some transportation to go home. Then I took half of the staff, we walk to the St. Vincent's to help. But it's a very, very touching moment when we go to the St. Vincent area. Because we did not have any telephone can communicate with the hospital. We have no way to know what's going on. So we walk down to St. Vincent, about five or six block. We saw the people wait on the line, everybody say they want to volunteer, even they say, 'Take my blood, take my blood. I'm the O plus.' You really, you in your heart, you cry for them. Who say that in New York we don't help each other? This is moment you feel our New York, how we really come together. We help each other. You know? And they want to help. When we passed the line, some people was yelling to me, 'How come we are waiting on the line now but they can go before us?' We have to show the I.D. So we were at the hospital, we want to go in to help. And the other thing was so sad. When I went down to the emergency room, our whole hospital, we have every single doctor, nurse, even the nurses’ aid, we have stretchers, wheelchair, everything - standing there. The police blocked the whole Sixth Avenue and Seventh Avenue just for ambulance. But no ambulance arrive. One ambulance came, everybody was so happy. We are clapping the hands, welcome to the ambulance. It's not we want to see the people's injury. It's the thing is that we feel one or two life still alive, we can help.

Q: Why was the ambulance not coming in?

Chan: Because is no life. No real live people they need to rush to the hospital. When they dig out the person it's already too late. That's what the sad part is. So when the ambulance get to the hospital that mean we still have a life, have a chance.

Q: Today the whole St. Vincent's is located on 25 Elizabeth Street, right?

Chan: No, this is only the clinic. Our hospital still located on the Seventh Avenue, on the 12th Street.

Q: Okay, so that area was not closed off, like Chinatown was on that day.

Chan: Right. But the main thing, we had a trauma center. We had the only trauma center in lower Manhattan at that time. So all the trauma case we are capable to handle. That's why all the critical trauma case have to go to St. Vincent's.

Q: The one on 12th Street.

Chan: Yes. You know, and it's so touching, at that day we have a lot of physician report to us from the other hospital as well, from some of the private practice, every single St. Vincent's hospital, even where they are, they report to duty, the staff is the same. Also the other nursing staff, in the other hospital, they're off the duty, they will come in to volunteer. So there is not really not much work for us to do. And I do also remember we set up a family center, let the family member to find the loved one in the World Trade Center. Are they located in the hospital, or even where they are. And I was volunteer there, and you heard so many sad story about it. Your heart cry for it. Emotionally very difficult to deal with. Because you feel like you are part of them. It's very difficulty time.

Q: Did you try to come down to the clinic in Chinatown that day?

Chang: I was in the clinic that day.

Q: You were in the clinic.

Change: Yeah. Our clinic was actually - I have other clinic near the World Trade Center, Ground Zero, in St. Margaret House, okay. After 9/11 there is no way you can go to St. Margaret House. Even the St. Margaret House, the clinic was closed. But I know that St.. Margaret House was not evacuated. They have a lot of senior citizens live there. So I did went to the Fifth Precinct and asked the police. I say, 'I have a clinic down in St. Margaret House. We have 290 some senior citizens that live in St. Margaret House. I just want to go down, take a look. Is any way police can give me a lift, go down to St. Margaret?' They did. So that's happening the day after. So I could able to go down to St. Margaret House. St. Margaret House, that night they don't have electricity, they don't have water, so later on they do bring emergency generator, get power back, and then they used the bottled water to give to rest of them. So I would stay in the St. Margaret House for couple days. I sleep over also. Because in case any resident gets sick, I could able to help. And also the St. Margaret House, the staff is too exhausted. At least I will stay over night, give them a break. They can get some sleep in the night time, I will take over the night shift. So, because I think in the hospital we do have a lot of volunteer and other people, but St. Margaret would be in a place where they need me. So I did went to the St. Margaret.

Q: Is there anything in your personal background or professional training that could have prepared you for such a day, such a catastrophe?

Chan: Well, only thing can put it this way. I was nursing director in a nursing home. By state requirement we do need to do a lot of preparation for emergency. It's the same thing at St. Vincent's. We need to do a lot of emergency preparation twice a year. I remember once, in the nursing home, it happens that we have a major - the pipe broken down. Complete water bust in to go to one of the patients' units. I was called two o'clock in the morning, so I drove in the car to the nursing home. We have to emergency evacuate all the residents, move the residents from one unit to the other, to the auditorium, we have to close down every single thing, make sure all the electrician don't have electric shock from the water. So I think that experience can let me to have some of idea how to handle emergency most of the time. And also I'm the in service director, to teach the nursing. So I always remember when I'm teaching my nursing staff, I always say one thing, 'When the emergency thing happen, the worst thing is panic. No matter what happened, you give one minute yourself. Take a deep breath and think about what I will do next. And it will be much better benefit than you panic.' So as instructor I can tell the staff to do it. So I always remember myself what to do. You know? I think that were helping me.

Q: So what was this area like in Chinatown? I want to focus on St. Vincent's on Elizabeth Street for a little while. Because much of Chinatown was closed off. But smoke was very heavy here. Was there a lot of people running into the clinic, not knowing what to do? What was the scene like?

Chan: Well, our building is a commercial building, so really it doesn't have a big sign. The people did not want it to. But the people was in St. Margaret's House, because St. Margaret's was so close to Ground Zero. They have actually excellent, excellent picture in St. Margaret's House. You will see that all the dirt, the smoke, all the things coming down, to the World Trade Center go down to the Fulton Street. Even their glass roof is completely covered by all the dust. And the way the people comes in, the way they are panicking and yelling, it's such a tremendous scene. It is very tragedy, I would say. But only thing is, you do feel our New York. We go through, we work together, we help together, and I was - you know, every single time can remember when you was in the family center, we have so much young people and comes in, offer you the food, offer you the drink, offer you the comfort. And, you know, why we say that our young generation is not like our old generation? I don't think so. And then 9/11 time, you really think the new generation, they do have a heart to help each other. I was so proud of them. Really so proud.

Q: Did you surprise yourself in any way of how you handled things that day?

Chan: I think in my professional attitude I'm not really surprising at all. If I could participate, I could do it, why not? Okay. Everybody have to help.

Q: How is St. Vincent's funded? Is this a private or -

Chan: It's a Catholic organization. It's funded by Catholic Charities. In the 9/11 time we do discharge most of the patients in the hospital. We evacuate the whole hospital for the 9/11 victim to go in for admission, and also we do empty a couple of floor for the policemen and fire department people. You know, have some bed to take a rest, or take a shower. It was - our whole hospital, we really put in for the 9/11 time. We are very well prepared for the things for the - there still is so many sad - a lot of our staff after that do need some of emotional counseling, because we saw a lot of tragedy thing happen. We saw a lot of - we heard a lot of sad story.

Q: Is there any one particular patient that has left a deep impression on you?

Chan: I would say there is - when I'm in the family center I met a couple of family member, they comes in, they were even crying. There is a young gentleman, he say his father was wheelchair bound. He went into the meeting in the Windows of the World on that morning, with his girlfriend. And since then they never heard from him. And I heard the other story - a tourist guy comes in with the whole family, supposed to go up to the World Trade Center Observation Deck. So they were not being open until nine o'clock. So they daughter says she is hungry so he went to buy some breakfast for them. And the time he come back, he cannot get in anymore. So he never find his wife and his daughter. And we heard so many story. They say - someone told me they just spoke to his husband before the building collapse. So I guess the husband call them, say he's on his way to come get to the elevator, get out the building. And next thing they heard is the building collapse. You know, you heard so many tragedy going on, and this never ending. Never ending. If you want to ask the story you just go on and on and on. And so many.

Q: And how long did you stay at the hospital?

Chan: We stayed there at least until the hospital say we have too many volunteer, we have to take shifts. Because we don't have a space for the volunteers to sleep, we don't even have a space for the volunteer to go to the bathroom. So that means so many volunteers. The food is not the problem, because we are getting a lot of donation comes in. So they tell us to go home, leave the cell phone number or the beeper number, and the can reach us. So I think we left 11 o'clock, the night time.

Q: Of that day.

Chan: Of that day. And some staff left around nine o'clock, some left around seven o'clock. But we are standby. And next day I was in the hospital nine o'clock, and then because we still able to reach all the patient in the clinic, we call the patient and told the patient, 'Don't come in, because the building was closed.' We don't want the patient to come in to the Chinatown and find out the building is closed. Have to guide the patient what to do. If they are sick they can go to the St. Vincent Hospital in the main campus. And after then, I do went back to the clinic. The clinic, I cannot get into. So I went to the police station. I went to the St. Margaret House.


Q: Obviously September 11th was very tough for many people. Even though you personally were not at the World Trade Center, as a nurse, did you receive any therapy or counseling afterwards based on what you saw?

Chan: Actually, I set a couple of counseling meetings for the people who go through the 9/11. 'Specially the people in St. Margaret House. The elderly patients, their window is facing World Trade Center. They see the whole thing actually happen. I remember one of the residents told me, she say that she lost her taste in her mouth. She cannot sleep and she cannot eat for a week. You know, they really doesn't think about the traumatized by the 9/11, they saw it as something wrong. But I do set up a couple of workshop, I do have a psychiatrist went to the St. Margaret House, we give workshop in English, Chinese, and the Spanish as well. And give them the opportunity to speak up and talk what in their mind. So some of the older even say they cannot look at the window anymore, because every morning, the first thing they get up, they look at the window, they saw the World Trade Center was stooding there. Now, they said, when they open the window, the two buildings gone. It looks like something they lost. The symbol they lost. And it is a tough time. So we did a lot of counseling. Because the main thing, I was sick for a week for the whole counseling, the workshop. So I'm one of the participants in here. This looks like sort of like one of my program. I'm saying, well, it's the other residents we do go for.

Q: Would you say that most of the patients at St. Vincent's here in Chinatown are Chinese?

Chan: Yes. We should say that it's close to 95% is Chinese. Lately we do have some Russian, Spanish, Irish, and Italian patients that come as well.

Q: Give me a kind of idea of what type of Chinese make up your patients. Are they recent immigrants, a combination of all people with or without health insurance -

Chan: We do have - because the new immigrant change - we do have a lot of new immigrant. We close to have 60% is a new immigrant, okay? And we do have some of old immigrant as well. And because we are the clinic in Chinatown for twenty-six years now, we do have actually third generation. The grandma was give birth to the daughter in here, now the daughters give birth to the babies in our clinic, in the hospital as well. So a lot of it look like family types, and actually a lot of it is a patient by the word of mouth. Before we all know our communities. A lot of people from Canton, China side on Hong Kong. Now is a lot of Fujianese. So a lot of patients is Fujianese now. So in the beginning our language in the clinic is Cantonese, and Toishan. Funny thing, I learn Toishan in America. I remember always my first working experience in Chinatown. I'm Shanghainese myself. I speak Shanghainese, I speak Mandarin, I speak Cantonese. I have a Toishanese patient come to me and say, "You doesn't speak Chinese." I say, "Look at her. What do you mean, I don't speak Chinese? I speak three dialects." And they told me, oh no, no, no - your Chinese is not Chinese. Toishanese is Chinese. So, "Okay, give me six months. I'm going to learn Toishanese." I did. So nowaday is no more Toishanese used in New York. Then you need to learn Mandarin, and Fujianese. So now the clinic, we spend most of the time speaking the Mandarin now. That is the change of the new immigration population.

Q: And do you accept patients without health insurance?

Chan: Yes, we do. Because we are Catholic charity hospital. We usually charge a small amount, according to the income or the percentage. We charge very low fee for the patients if you really need the surgery, or you need some help, we always have charity money to help. You know, we cannot do one hundred percent, but at least we will try out best to do seventy or eighty percent. We do have some patients have a severe illness take place. We do help them have a surgery done, have everything done, okay? And we also have what we call the Immigration Program. We helping the illegal immigrant who have AIDS, we do help him tremendously, you know.

Q: Did September 11th result in any policy or structural changes at the hospital?

Chan: I think the only thing we would say we do change is a lot of thing we get more involved with emergency preparation. Hospital is more suitable for those kind of tragedies, the thing happening. And also we set up a command system in the hospital in case anything happen, we always will commanding to other satellite clinic, how to guide them, what to do. And also we are under the construction of to be built a new emergency room in St. Vincent. The emergency room actually was have idea by former mayor Guiliani. We were going to call Rudolph Guiliani Emergency Room, and we will be very well prepared with chemistry attack, with all kinds of attack on New York City. So now is the construction will take place, is going on. Hopefully we can be finished on the 2005. And we will be very, very well prepared for any kind of emergency.

Q: Anthrax or -

Chan: Yes.

Q: I'm going to move forward to 2003 - this year. There is yet another medical emergency - SARS. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. Being that this is Chinatown, where lots of travels or family from China, from Asia, to this area, how was the clinic handling SARS?

Chan: We do have a lot of patients is getting very panicked, okay? But some of the patient is very good. We even told the patient, "You was recently traveling from China. You have a temperature, high temperature, and you was coughing." We would guide the patient to go to the emergency room because we have an isolation set up.

[Interview interrupted by a knock on door. A short, whispered conversation. NEEC TO EDIT OUT]

Q: Sorry, we're going to back up. You were talking about SARS, if a patient came in with a high fever.

Chan: Right. We would right away put the patient on the mask. Guide the patient to our negative pressure room. In our clinic we do have isolation negative pressure so the air would not bring back to the clinic. Then we will examine the patient. If it really is a suspicion case we, right away, we would put the patient in the ambulance or the taxi cab driver and put the patient to the emergency room right away. We would get the last contacts for the patient, to contact the other peoples. So as soon as the patient left, we would clean up the room, clean up everything, by the bleach. Just get a last chance. And the patients are very well educated about what SARS look like. You don't have to be panicked. It's not look like anybody must have SARS when they come from China. It sometime could be happens when you come back from China you a little bit too overtired from traveling day and night, up in day, change, sometimes it could happen you catch a little minor cold. Because at that time still is a couple thing that happen. Is the hay fever time, and it's allergy time, and also is cold, a lot of people get cold at that time. So it's a very similar diagnosis to SARS. We don't have really be so panicked. I always remember a story. I get a call from the bank. The teller is getting panicked. They touched the money. They'll say "The patient touched the money. And the teller did get money in contact with the SARS." So we have to educate them. It's not really that kind of cause infection. For the droplet to cause infection, because droplet could be dead within couple hours. So would not look like stay in the money would cause infection to the teller in the bank.

Q: When were you first aware of SARS?

Chan: Well, because I read Chinese paper. Every day. So as soon as we heard of things happening in Hong Kong, and in the China, what happening, we know that because we do have a lot of people traveling from Hong Kong, for this kind of thing we have to do some preparation. So actually, we are before the travel alert come on the place. We just alert the patient, if you have high fever, coughing, and recent traveling call us right away, okay? Then, later on, the Department of Health came down with guidelines, so we all put up the signs and get everything done.

Q: And how many cases did you handle?

Chan: Luckily I think we don't have any case. It was very lucky for our part. And we have only - we see a couple of patients call. We do guide the patient to go to emergency room. And we ask the patient, "Are you going to the emergency room?" Then we call the emergency room, let the emergency room well prepare - the patient will arrival, don't let the patient wait for the emergency room, direct guide them to the isolation room. And a couple of the patient was stay in the hospital in the isolation room until our specimen of the saliva come back and the x-ray film is confirm they are not a SARS patient. So, and we did not have any panic case. None.

Q: And Chinatown was considerably quieter during that time. I remember coming, seeing the streets were not as crowded as it normally was. As a clinic, as a hospital, did you distribute information to try to educate people, to try to calm people down?

Chan: Yes. We did. A lot of patient, we usually have a phone system. They will call us and we will call the patient. Because we do the follow up. We build a different relationship. They look like a family member. Anything they have something go wrong, they would call us. So even they would, "Oh, I heard about the SARS. What you suggest I going to do?" So we told them in the phone. And some of them even, when the patient comes in, "Well, my kid go to school. Someone at school may have the coughing. I cannot get a mask." I do order a lot of mask and sometime we do give to the patient - "Take some mask home for the kids to use in the school, public, whatever." Then they feel like, it's not for them to use. Sometimes the kids have a cough. Okay. So it would be much better to protect them causing infection to the other family members.

Q: Are you at any time concerned that you might be jeopardizing your own health?

Chan: That was never in my mind. I remember one incident happened when I was in the Union. I was on the twenty-second. We have a patient completely collapsed in the elevator. One of the staff was with the patient in the elevator so she know I'm on twenty-second floor. Right away she pushed the elevator to twenty-second floor. And right away she yell, "Selina, I have patient collapse in the elevator." I went in the elevator. I didn't give it second thought, I did mouth to mouth resuscitation on the patient, okay? We did the CPR for the patient until the ambulance arrival. So after then the people - the doctor, even, ask me, "Do you want to take the patient's blood for the AIDS, or the hepatitis?" I said, "Look, I already did it already. I also helped the patient. Saved the patient. At least the patient did not die on my hands." Later on the patient die, but not then. As long as patient get safety to go to hospital, get all the treatment. If I pick my profession as a nurse, just want to help the people, I don't think to jeopardize my life or not is not a question that would be in my mind. Sure, I need to protect myself. But sometimes, when emergency things happen, you cannot think that much.

Q: Having worked in Chinatown as long as you have, do you think there is enough medical facilities in Chinatown to meet the needs?

Chan: I wish to have room expanding, okay? I think the major problem in Chinatown now, we do have a lot of private physician, have a specialty, but a lot of look like Medicaid, HMO, Family Health Plus, because the reimbursement rate is so low a lot of private of doctors is not accepting. And now if the low income family, they need to go to see a specialty, where are they going to turn? For asking for help? I think we do have tremendous room in Chinatown to open up some of the specialty that will accept low income insurance. To help the low income and a new immigrant community people. I always believe we still have room. And also I do believe the other thing - competition make it good. Make good for us to give for a community better service. And let a patient be more aware to have a one more selection of the hospital to go and the doctor to choice. And it make us all growing together.

Q: When do you think you will retire?

Chan: I really want to - it's always my goal - I want to have, either have assisted living or a nursing home in lower Manhattan for Asian, Chinese. I still will try, if even I'm going to retire in my age, I still want to give some of my time to the community to help as a volunteer.

Q: It's obvious that you have given a lot of your time and your life to nursing, and to the community. Any regrets that you didn't set aside time to start your own family?

Chan: Well, sure, sometimes when you go home you feel lonely. You will say that this isn't right. But you cannot look back. If you look back - I'm not fortune teller. If I know this kind of thing or that kind of thing happens, I wouldn't do that. But it's not right. If you live in the past world, you never will be happy. Okay? You always looking forward, in the future. Yes, I picked that movement, my fate came out that way already. I cannot change back. Just looking forward. If I can help some community people, help some Chinese, I'm happy. That's it. The most important thing, you feel yourself - I happy. I valuable to yourself. I'm not looking for something in return. No. If you give, you give. That's it.

Q: Would it be safe to say you probably will stay in New York for the rest of your days?

Chan: I will stay in New York, maybe. You know, if I really become I'm so old, I may go back to China or Hong Kong. Because it would be stay with more our same culture people that were helping, if my health is not there. Great, for myself to handle myself in New York. And sometime maybe it's time for me to go back to China. No matter what happen, my roots still in China. We still believe sometime will be better to go back to China to wait for the end of your life. You know, just is the thinking.

Q: Do you think only Chinese people feel that way? You have been away since you were nine. That's most of your life. And yet you think you might want to end up where you started.

Chan: Yeah. Sometimes you feel like it, you know? You do feel like it. I think it's not only Chinese. Some of the other American people have the same kind of feelings. Talking to them, that's how the way they feel. You know, this is only a trip. Every time when the car go by and the thing change, sometimes you will always change your mind, you know? You could not say it's definitely that's the way I want to do in my life. In the meantime it's how I feel when you went back to China, you saw the way the China was change. You just be so proud of Chinese, the way we catch up for them nowadays.

Q: We have talked about many things. Is there anything you want to share that I have not asked you?

Chan: I don't think so. You ask quite very well. And also I only believe the other thing. There's maybe one thing I need to say. In our Chinese community - I know maybe the other communities the same - we really need to encourage the young people to come back to the community. A lot of young people get a good education, high education, they move to the American community. They don't come back. So we need a new blood in this community. When the time is the old generation retires, with a new generation to help this community, to build the community, to guide the community. So I think that would be my thinking I really like to see. So that's why I must volunteer myself in what we call the Chinese-American Social Service and Health. We try to do some scholarships for the new generation to study social work -- bilingual social work. That what we really need tremendous in Chinatown. To come back to Chinatown, to help the Chinese.

Q: This project will be on the Internet for ten years, and then the Library of Congress, so hopefully some young people will hear, perhaps, your story, and be inspired, and then come back. Thank you very much for your time.

Chan: Thank you for the invite.

Q: This is Lan Trinh for the MoCA Documentation Project, and I've been speaking with Selina Chan of St. Vincent's in Chinatown. Thank you very much.

Chan: Thank you.


Chinatown Interview: Interview (zh)

<p> 問﹕今天是12月15日。我在St.Vincent's Hospital採訪陳熬娣。請用中英文講一下您的姓名和年齡。</p>

所以我只好跟著人群走﹐走得非常快﹐後來我一回頭 - 我已經找不著我母親了。我又不能再回去找我母親﹐我是後來在那個島的另一面才又見著她的。</p>
<p>陳﹕是的﹐離車站比較近 - 但後來我們就搬到觀塘去了。</p>
<p>陳﹕一開始的時候還不是。我記得﹐因為我姓“陳﹐”按照字母ABC順序排列﹐我總是排在班裡的第一個。所以﹐每次一有什麼新的機會﹐或者開始打仗需要派護士上前線﹐或需要去什麼地方﹐我總是排在第一個。我們管我們上的那所香港護士學校叫“Nethersole”。當時﹐他們叫我PTS﹐意思是新來的人。三個月後﹐他們把我安排到GYN組。在此之後﹐他們讓我去兒科上夜班。我們只是做些洗尿布﹑換尿布和喂嬰兒的事情。在兒科之後﹐我又被調到手術室。當我第一次進入手術室的時候﹐我完全地驚呆了﹐都不知道是怎麼會事﹐儘管他們跟我講﹐“這是個盲腸炎的手術。”我看了一下病人 - 盲腸在哪裡﹖因為我當時還沒有上解剖課﹐我不知道是怎樣的情形。在開始的時候﹐我們的確很不適應。然後我就問我自己﹐這份工作到底適不適合我﹖<br>

<p>陳﹕我這個人平時考慮的不多﹐只是付諸於行動。有時﹐如果想得太具體﹐計劃得太詳盡﹐反而會發現實際生活同計劃中的並不一樣。你一旦有了一個目標﹐專著地去盡力爭取實現自己的目標﹐反而會收到好的的效果。相反﹐你如果只是在精心計劃﹐你會有很多失望的。我只是相信一件事 - 我要來美國﹐我要努力工作﹐在美國調整好我的生活﹐扎扎實實地做事情。</p>
<p>陳﹕我的確有想過回香港。也許再過十年﹐我想看一下那邊發展得怎麼樣。當時﹐我有過回香港的想法。但那只是我開始時候的想法 - 只是想來美國看看這邊的情況。</p>

<p>陳﹕在這裡﹐主要是因為我大多時候是給美國機構工作。不論條件怎麼樣﹐我總是感覺到受歧視。通常 - 我記得我在ILGWU(International Ladies Garment Workers Union)工會康復中心工作的時候﹐<br>

<p>問﹕您是不是後來又在唐人街的St. Vincent's工作﹖</p>
<p>陳﹕我在ILGWU的工會康復中心做了十六年半的臨床主任﹐因為我的CEO﹐是個猶太人﹐對我非常非常好﹐就像我的親父親一樣﹐教了我很多東西。後來人員有了變動﹐新的CEO接任後﹐整個兒的政策都變了。所以﹐他的確有跟我講﹐他說﹐“陳﹐我覺得你不會太適應這個工作環境。”在那時﹐他是一家療養院的董事會成員﹐他說﹐“陳﹐也許你可以考慮在療養院工作。”我說﹐“療養院不是我的專長。我喜歡快節奏﹐我喜歡門診﹐我喜歡急診室。療養院不適合我。”他說﹐“陳﹐不要太早下結論。你先考慮一下。”後來﹐我發覺事情並不像我想象的那樣﹐我就想﹐“也許現在是我換工作的時候了。”但當時那個療養院是在布朗士區﹐我住在布魯克林區。我父親當時和我住在一起﹐他已經八十多歲了。所以﹐搬家對他來講不太容易﹐還要再適應新的環境。於是﹐我就考了駕駛執照 - 幸好我通過了考試 - 我就跟他講﹐“現在我能夠去那裡上班了。”否則的話﹐我上下班要花三個小時。我還記得﹐我頭一天晚上買的車﹐轉天就上班了。我開車開了有一個半小時﹐但找不到療養院。我平時開車比較辛苦﹐但我在療養院學了不少東西。那是家猶太人的療養院 - 就我一個中國人。但唯一的問題是我的性格﹐我更加喜歡做病人護理。每天晚上十點下班﹐十一點到家。轉天早晨六點又要工作。我非常勞累﹐還出了幾次車禍。</p>
<p>因此﹐我認為這份工也許不適合我。當時﹐St. Vincent's在招人。我那裡有個朋友要退休﹐想讓我接手。我就去了St. Vincent's。<br>

那次面試很有意思。我甚至跟St. Vincent's的主任和副院長講我可能不會適應St. Vincent's的環境﹐因為我比較有闖勁。我說﹐“如果你們接受不了我的態度﹐我們就沒有必要再繼續面試了。”結果他們同意要我了。實際上﹐在同意之前﹐他們已經做了些安排﹐已經準備好讓我接手了。於是﹐我欣然接受了這份工﹐儘管我的工資沒有以前高﹐頭銜也降了。在療養院我是護士長助理。這裡有524個床位﹐而且他們許諾現任護士長退休後我可以接任。我總是有個夢想﹐想以後開一家中國人的療養院﹐幫助亞洲人團體。而且﹐那個時候我已經很疲勞了﹐健康第一嘛。所以﹐我決定離開療養院去St. Vincent's工作。然而﹐療養院的那些人還跟我講﹐“Selina﹐記住﹐如果是因為錢的問題﹐我們可以把工資漲上去。”我說﹐“不是錢的問題。我的興趣還是中國人的團體﹐中國病人。”他們還是跟我講﹐“那邊如果干得不開心﹐給我們打個電話﹐轉天你就可以過來上班。”我說﹐“多謝你們的一番心意﹐我會記住的。”但我一直沒有回去。(笑) 我有回去看望過﹐但沒有回去工作。</p>
<p>問﹕您決定來St. Vincent's工作是不是考慮到地點在唐人街﹖</p>
<p>陳﹕她會為我感到自豪的。我現在在St. Vincent's工作﹐我懂中文。我們中國病人的教育程度普遍比較低﹐不像那些美國人有些基礎的醫學知識。所以﹐有些病人和我們溝通有困難。我都會盡力幫助他們。如果你幫助了一些人﹐你會覺得很開心的。</p>
<p>問﹕好的。我現在要談一下911。您能否給我們簡短地介紹一下唐人街St. Vincent's的情況﹖在911之前﹐你們主要治療哪些病人﹖是不是大多數的病人都是門診﹖</p>
<p>陳﹕St. Vincent's在唐人街的診所是在1976年成立的。在那個時候﹐有很多中國女孩子嫁到美國來﹐她們沒有醫療保險。所以﹐為照顧這些人的需要﹐St. Vincent's設立了產科。我們在唐人街開了診所來幫助那些新來的孕婦移民。那是我們在唐人街的診所的雛形﹐我們在Park Row。我們實際上是在一家教堂的後面買了一個小房間。<br>

在那些嬰兒出生後﹐又有了設立兒科的需要。所以﹐我們又設立了兒科﹐搬到了東百老匯。後來﹐那些嬰兒逐漸長大﹐他們的母親的年紀也大了﹐又有了設立綜合醫院的需要﹐我們就又搬到新的地址﹐在Canal Street和Elizabeth的交口處。所以﹐St. Vincent's的歷史就改變了。St. Vincent's的醫療水平高﹐但他們比較低調﹐沒有在唐人街登廣告﹐只是病人之間的推薦。所以﹐唐人街很多人都不大知道St. Vincent's。在911的時候我的教姐在中國旅遊。她在那邊轉了一大圈兒﹐最後還要去北京看望在那兒的親戚。所以﹐當時我和她的母親一起住在長島。所以﹐我那天早上是開車上班的﹐路上有很多車。我在車上聽到很多救護車和警車的聲音。</p>
<p>陳﹕九點十分左右。甚至在我到市區之前﹐路上已經是很擁擠了。到底是怎麼回事﹖誰也不知道。打開收音機後﹐聽到有飛機撞到世貿中心。因為我當時在BQE(布魯克林區和皇后區的高速公路)上﹐我能看到世貿中心。我看到姊妹塔中的一座已在冒煙。然後突然間﹐我看到另外一架飛機又撞上了另一座。當時﹐我的眼淚都流了下來。我年輕的時候就來到了紐約。儘管我不是在美國出生的﹐世貿中心是紐約的標誌。人都是有感情的﹐它就像我的家人一樣。想到有很多人在世貿中心工作﹐我的眼淚立刻流了下來。在開車的時候﹐我的手都在顫抖﹐整個人都好像不知道要做什麼。後來﹐我看到整座樓都倒了。幸好我還可以把車停到曼哈頓橋布魯克林區一邊。我找了一個地方停車﹐走上布魯克林橋。我過了橋到了曼哈頓。我看到很多人﹐還有警察﹐他們都跟我講﹐“你應該向另外一個方向走。”我說﹐“不﹐不﹐我在醫院工作。我在唐人街有診所。我必須去St. Vincent's報到。我是去那個方向。”於是﹐我過了橋到了醫院﹐料理了一下事情﹐確保所有的孕婦都沒有問題﹐我的員工也沒有問題。然後﹐我們又開了個員工會議。<br>

我讓一半的人留下﹐確保病人能夠安全到家﹐或者有人來接他們﹐或能夠坐車回家。然後﹐我帶著另外一半員工去St. Vincent's幫忙。當我們到St. Vincent's附近的時候﹐那是個非常非常感人的情景。因為我們不能打電話同醫院聯繫﹐我們不知道那邊的情況怎麼樣。於是﹐我們步行到St. Vincent's﹐走了差不多有五六個街口。我們看到一些人在排隊﹐大家都在自告奮勇﹐有的人甚至說﹐“抽我的血﹐抽我的血﹐我是O+型血。”你的確感到你的心在為他們痛哭流淚。是誰說在紐約人們不互相幫助﹖在那個時刻﹐你感到我們是團結在一起的。我們互相幫助。他們的確是想幫忙。當我們走過那些排隊的人群的時候﹐有些人大聲地向我喊﹐“為什麼我們都排隊﹐他們卻在我們的前面﹖”我們祇得向他們出示ID。我們到了醫院﹐想進去幫忙。還有一些傷心的事情。當我們到急診室的時候﹐看到整個醫院的員工全部在場﹐包括每一個醫生﹐護士﹐甚至護士助理。我們的擔架﹑輪椅﹐以及所有的器械都在那裡。警察把第六大道和第七大道全部戒嚴供救護車使用。但是﹐沒有一輛救護車到。後來有一輛救護車趕到﹐大家都非常高興。我們在鼓掌﹐歡迎救護車的到來。倒不是我們希望有人受傷﹐而是我們感到還有人活著﹐我們能夠幫忙。</p>
<p>問﹕現在﹐整個兒St. Vincent's都在25 Elizabeth Street﹐對嗎﹖</p>
陳﹕是的。但問題是我們有一個外傷中心。當時我們是曼哈頓下城的唯一一間外傷中心。所以﹐我們能夠處理所有的外傷病人。這就是為什麼所有的重大外傷病人都要送到St. Vincent's。</p>
<p>陳﹕是的。還令人感動的是那天有很多其他醫院的醫生﹑私人醫生到我們這裡報到﹐包括St. Vincent's其他地方的員工﹐無論他們在哪裡。還有其他醫院的護士﹐即使她們不上班﹐都來這裡自願來幫助。所以﹐我們沒有太多的事情做。而且﹐我還記得我們設立了一個家庭中心﹐讓那些家屬找到在世貿中心的親人﹐無論他們是在醫院﹐還是在現場。我也自願參加了﹐聽到很多傷心的故事。你的心都在為他們痛哭。情緒很難控制﹐因為你感覺是他們中的一份子。那個時刻的確很不容易。</p>
<p>陳﹕是的。我們有另外一間診所在世貿中心附近﹐Ground Zero﹐在St. Margaret House。在911之後﹐沒有辦法再去St. Margaret House。甚至在St. Margaret House的門診所也關閉了。但是我知道St. Margaret House的病人還沒有被疏散。有很多老人住在那裡。所以﹐我到了Fifth Precinct問那裡的警察。我說﹐“我的門診所在St. Margaret House。我只是想過去看一下。你們能不能帶我過去﹐去St. Margaret﹖”他們就帶我去了。這是轉天的事情。我到了St. Margaret House﹐那天晚上那裡沒電沒水。後來﹐他們找來一臺應急發電機﹐恢復了供電﹐<br>

然後分發了一些瓶裝水。因此﹐我得以又在St. Margaret House待了幾天。我也是在那邊睡的。因為如果有人生病﹐我也能夠幫上忙。而且﹐St. Margaret House的醫護人員都已經很疲勞了。至少我在那裡過夜可以讓他們休息一下。他們可以在晚上睡些覺﹐我接替了夜班。因為我的醫院裡有很多的志願者和醫護人員﹐St. Margaret那裡缺少人手。所以﹐我去了St. Margaret。</p>
<p>陳﹕這麼跟你說吧﹐我曾當過療養院的護士長。州裡有規定要求我們為一些突發事件做些應急的準備。在St. Vincent's也是一樣的。我們要做很多的應急準備﹐每年還要演習兩次。我記得有一次療養院的一個管道破裂了﹐很多水沖到一間病房。在早晨兩點鐘﹐我被叫起來。於是﹐我開車到了療養院。我們必須疏散所有的病人﹐把他們轉移到其他病房或大禮堂。我們必須關掉所有的電源﹐確保電工不會因為碰到水而觸電。所以﹐我從那次經歷中學到在大多時候如何應付緊急情況。而且﹐我還擔任過醫務指導員教授護理。所以﹐我總是記得在我給醫務人員講課的時候﹐我反復強調一件事情﹐“發生緊急情況後﹐最糟糕的事情就是慌亂。無論發生什麼事情﹐要給自己一分鐘的時間﹐深吸一口氣﹐考慮下一步要做什麼。這樣比你們慌亂要更有好處。”作為指導員﹐我能夠教我的員工做這些﹐所以﹐我總是能夠自己記住應該怎樣做。我認為這些對我都有幫助。</p>
<p>問﹕那是唐人街的那個地方﹖我想再集中談一下Elizabeth Street的St. Vincent's的情況。因為唐人街的很多地方都被戒嚴了﹐煙也比較濃﹐有沒有很多人跑到診所不知道該做什麼﹖當時的情景如何﹖</p>
陳﹕我們的樓是寫字樓﹐所以診所的標誌不是很明顯。別人不想讓它太明顯。但有人在St. Margaret House﹐因為那裡離Ground Zero很近。在St. Margaret House能夠看得很清楚。你會看到所有的灰塵﹑煙和落下來的東西﹐以及世貿中心倒在Fulton Street上。即使世貿中心的玻璃屋頂都蓋滿了灰塵。還有人們進來時的樣子﹐都在驚慌叫喊﹐的確是很可怕的場景﹐非常恐怖。但唯一的是﹐我們與紐約同呼吸共患難。我們一起經歷過﹐一起工作﹐互相幫助。我仍然能夠清楚記得在家庭中心有很多的年輕人進來提供給我們食物﹑飲料和其他便利。為什麼有人說年輕一代不像我們年老的一代人﹖我不這樣認為。在911的時候﹐你真地會感覺到年輕人的確會彼此幫助。我為他們感到驕傲﹐真的很驕傲。</p>
<p>問﹕St. Vincent's是怎樣建立的﹖是私立還是 - ﹖</p>
陳﹕有。在家庭中心我見到一些受害者的家屬哭著進來。其中有一個小伙子說他父親長年坐輪椅。他那天早晨和他的女朋友一起去Windows of the World﹐後來就再也沒有聽到他的消息。另外一個故事是一個遊客和他的全家人要去世貿中心觀望臺﹐但那裡九點之後才開門。他的女兒說肚子餓﹐所以﹐他出去為他們買早餐。當他回去的時候﹐他已經進不去了。所以他再也沒有見到他的太太和女兒。我們聽到了很多的故事。一位女士跟我講﹐她在大樓倒之前還和她先生通過電話。我猜想是她先生打電話給她﹐說他要坐電梯下樓﹐然後大樓就倒了。我們聽了這麼多的不幸﹐沒完沒了。如果你問我故事﹐我會一直講下去﹐因為有很多很多。</p>
<p>陳﹕在當天。有些人九點左右走的﹐有些人七點左右就走了。但我們又待了一段時間。第二天﹐我九點鐘到了醫院。因為我們仍然能夠和診所的病人聯繫﹐我們就打電話給他們﹐跟他們講﹐“不要過來﹐因為樓已經被封了。”我們不想讓病人來唐人街後發現已經進不來了。我們必須要提前通知他們要怎樣做。如果他們生病了﹐他們可以去St. Vincent's醫院的總院。後來﹐我有去診所。但我進不去。於是﹐我就去了警察局﹐然後又到了St. Margaret House。</p>
<p>陳﹕實際上﹐我為那些經歷了911的人組織了幾次心理治療講座﹐特別是為在St. Margaret House的病人。那些老年病人的病房的窗戶是朝向世貿中心的。他們看到了發生的一切。我記得有一個病人告訴我她嘴裡沒有味道了。她有一個星期不能睡覺和進食。他們不懂得他們自己也因911受到了創傷﹐卻認為只是一般的身體不適。但我組織了幾次專題研討會﹐請了一名精神病醫生去St. Margaret House﹐並使用了英文﹑中文﹑以及西班牙語﹐給了他們提供了一個表達自己想法的機會。有些老年人甚至說他們不能再向窗外望了﹐因為以前每天早晨他們起床後向窗外望會看到世貿中心。現在﹐當他們打開窗戶後姊妹塔已經不見了。就好像他們自己失去了什麼﹐失去了象征。這是一段艱難的時期。所以﹐我們做了很多的心理輔導。還有﹐我自己也病了一個星期﹐然後也參加了心理治療和專題研討會。所以﹐我也是受益者之一﹐但我們做這些主要是為了幫助其他病人。</p>
<p>問﹕是不是大多數在唐人街St. Vincent's的病人都是中國人﹖</p>

<p>陳﹕是的﹐我們接受﹐因為我們是天主教會的慈善醫院。但我們通常會按照收入或百分比收一點錢。如果病人必須要做手術﹐我們只收非常低的費用。如果病人需要幫助的話﹐我們通常也會用慈善機構的錢幫助他們。我們做不到百分之百﹐但我們至少會盡力做到百分之七十或八十。我們有的病人患了重病。我們會幫他們做手術﹐料理一切事情。而且﹐我們還有個移民項目(Immigration Program)﹐幫助那些患艾滋病的非法移民。我們的確為他們做了很多事情。</p>

而且﹐我們要在St. Vincent's建一個新的急診室。這個急診室實際上是上一任市長Guiliani的提議。我們要將其命名為Rudolph Guiliani急診室。我們將會為化學攻擊做好準備﹐以及其他各種各樣對紐約市的攻擊。現在﹐這個修建計劃正在進行中﹐預計2005年能竣工。那時﹐我們將會有充分的準備應對任何緊急情況。</p>
<p>問﹕我想談一下2003年﹐即今年。我們有另外一個突發事件 - SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome)。因為這裡是唐人街﹐很多人在中國﹐亞洲有親人﹐或從那邊來這裡﹐診所是如何應付SARS的﹖</p>
<p>陳﹕我們很多病人非常慌亂。但有些病人還不錯。我們甚至跟病人講﹐“你近期 去過中國。你在發高燒﹐而且在咳嗽。”我們會將病人帶到急診室隔離起來。</p>


<p>陳﹕有。我們通常有一個電話系統。病人會打電話給我們﹐我們也會跟他們聯繫。因為我們都有後續跟進。我們建立了一種特殊的關係﹐好像是一家人。他們如果有什麼問題﹐總會跟我們聯繫。甚至他們會問我們﹐“我聽說有SARS﹐我應該怎麼做﹖”於是﹐我們就在電話裡跟他們講解。有的病人進來後甚至問﹐“我的孩子在上學﹐學校裡會有人咳嗽﹐我買不到面具。”我就訂購了很多面具﹐有時就乾脆送給病人 - “帶一些面具回去給孩子在學校和公共場所用。”後來他們發現這些面具不是給大人用的。有的時候﹐他們孩子咳嗽。所以﹐非常有必要預防他們傳染給家人。</p>

<p>陳﹕我希望能再拓寬些場地。我認為唐人街的主要問題是我們有很多的私人的專業醫生﹐但因為很多醫療保險﹐比如Medicaid﹐HMO﹐Family Health Plus等﹐的報銷率很低﹐很多私人醫生不接受。像那些低收入的家庭﹐如果他們需要專業的治療﹐他們要去哪裡呢﹖去哪裡尋求幫助呢﹖我想我們在唐人街有足夠的空間能夠開設一些專門的科室接收那些低收入的病人﹐幫助那些低收入的病人和新移民。我認為我們還有空間。而且﹐我還相信另外一件事 - 競爭。這樣會促進服務質量的提高。讓病人有更多的選擇﹐有更多的醫院和醫生供他們選擇。這樣會促使我們大家一起發展。</p>
<p>陳﹕這一直是我的目標 - 我想在曼哈頓下城為亞洲人中國人或幫助他們建立一所療養院。我會繼續努力﹐即使我會在這個年齡退休﹐我還是想抽出一些時間志願幫助我們的社區。</p>

<p>陳﹕應該差不多了。你已經問得很詳細了。也許還有一件事我要提一下。在我們中國人社區 - 我知道也許其他社區也是一樣的 - 我們的確需要鼓勵年輕人回到社區。很多年輕人受到良好教育後搬到美國人社區﹐<br>

再也不回來了。所以﹐我們的社區需要新鮮的血液。當老一代人退休的時候﹐需要有新的一代人來幫助這個社區﹐建設社區﹐領導社區。所以﹐這是我真心希望看到的。這就是我為什麼志願參加Chinese-American Social Service and Health。我們想提供條件讓新一代人學習社區工作 - 雙語社區工作。這是唐人街所真正需要的。回到唐人街﹐幫助中國人。</p>
<p>問﹕我是Lan Trinh﹐美洲華人博物館Documentation Project。我們今天是在唐人街St. Vincent's採訪陳熬娣。非常感謝。</p>


“Selina Chan,” September 11 Digital Archive, accessed March 25, 2023,