Peter Lor is a longtime member of the community served by NYU Downtown Hospital: his 65-year residency in Chinatown has been interrupted only by his military service. During the World War II, to protect the United States, to make peace in the world, he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps to serve the country (1942-1947). After his retirement from the restaurant business, Mr. Lor was looking for a way to stay active and benefit the community. In 1995, he heard NYUDH Volunteer Department recruiting Chinese Volunteer Corp. on the radio, making an appeal for volunteers to work at the Hospital. Mr. Lor saw his opportunity, and has been serving at the hospital ever since.
At the age of 80, when many people might feel overburdened by the demands of volunteer work, Mr. Lor is at the hospital every week, sometimes helping with filing in the Outpatient department, preparing patient’s charts for doctors, getting laboratory reports and getting supplies for the clinic. But most often Mr. Lor translates for Chinese patients who are non-English speaking.
A couple of years ago, Mr. Lor was diagnosed with cancer. However, he has not let health difficulties interfere with his community service any more than he has let age slow him down. In recent years he has undergone radiotherapy and chemotherapy for cancer and has continued to volunteer at the Hospital throughout his illness, even for the four months in 2000 when he was receiving both regimens simultaneously. Today, with his chemotherapy continuing, he says that it makes him tired; but he has not cut back on his schedule at the hospital.
In fact, when someone is in particularly difficult circumstances, he is willing to help far beyond his scheduled duties if patients need him. Not long ago, a 40-year-old woman, unable to speak English and without family or friends help, was referred by clinic for surgery at the Hospital For Joint Diseases. Without reducing his other scheduled volunteer time, Mr. Lor accompanied and translated for the woman during all the related appointments and through the surgery itself, spending up to five hours at a time at the Hospital For Joint Diseases.
Because so many people served by the hospital are Chinese immigrants, cultural and social problems often hamper their ability to obtain relief from health problems. At the outpatient clinic, more than 90% are Chinese, and 60% of the patients in inpatient care are Chinese. Bilingual support is necessary and crucial to providing these patients and community residents with quality health care services.
Until the early 90’s in Lower Manhattan, the predominant Chinese language was Cantonese and only 10% was Mandarin. Today 50% of Chinese speak Mandarin. There is a great demand for Mandarin interpretation at the clinic. Patients who speak only Mandarin Chinese are unable to communicate with most of the Chinese staff who speaks Cantonese in the clinic. Mr. Lor spoke only Cantonese when he came to volunteer; in order to meet the demand of interpretation for the Mandarin speaking patients, Peter learned to speak Mandarin at the age of 72, when conventional wisdom has it that a new language is nearly impossible to learn. Now he interprets both Cantonese and Mandarin for patients.