The doctor will see you now.
You might hear those words differently after seeing Clinica de Migrantes: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Or not — I'm past assuming any film can change hearts and minds.
This one, a documentary from Maxim Pozdorovkin (Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer) that makes its television premiere at 10 p.m. Monday on HBO, is about the people living and working among us who often remain unseen, not just by doctors but by those debating their futures. And its approach is as practical as it is personal.
Focused on the work of South Philadelphia clinic Puentes de Salud ("Bridges of Health"), which treats undocumented and uninsured immigrants, Clinica de Migrantes, filmed before last fall's presidential election, suggests that not treating the people who came here, legally or not, ultimately costs us all more in emergency care.
It also brings us face to face with Puentes' patients, people who may be staffing restaurant kitchens, tending lawns, or, in the case of one man who brags about his ability to work harder than younger colleagues, chopping fruit for the fruit plates sold at Walmart. "They're in this country because in a way we've invited them," says Puentes cofounder and director Dr. Steve Larson.
The way Larson, an associate professor of emergency medicine at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, sees it, once someone sees and acknowledges the humanity of his patients, "it's like driving by a car accident. You're either going to stop or you're not."
"There are very strong people in this state that are incredibly opposed to what we're doing right now," says another Puentes cofounder, Dr. Jack Ludmir, who's overseeing prenatal care in the hope of reducing birth complications. "I'm not here to discuss the politics of this thing. This is purely … the moral and ethical obligation."
Being seen isn't a cure-all and Clinica de Migrantes includes some tough moments, some involving Mery Martinez, a Honduran woman with leukemia. But the dedication of Puentes' volunteers is a reminder that medicine is meant to be a calling, not just a business.