Sun Gin was born in Austin, Texas, but when she moved to Baltimore and started school at 5 years old, she was learning English for the first time. Sun had spent her first years speaking only Cantonese, the language her Chinese mother and Vietnamese father spoke at home. Learning English in a school where she couldn't understand what teachers and classmates were saying was daunting, and she remembers waking up with nightmares about memorizing the alphabet.
There were other cultural transitions to navigate as well. When Sun became sick in second grade, her father permitted the doctor to do tests and a blood draw. But when follow-up tests and more bloodwork were needed, her father refused. A soft-spoken man who rarely said much, Sun's father put his foot down. He had grown up in Vietnam in the early 1960s and had been raised to believe that any medicine involving blood and needles was inherently unhealthy and unclean.
Instead, Sun's parents took her to a small shop in Washington, D.C.'s Chinatown, where an herbal practitioner felt her pulse and prescribed a tincture that Sun had to drink every night for weeks. "I remember it tasted just horrible," Sun says, "but I got candy afterward if I drank it." Fortunately, in time, the medical issue resolved itself.
With limited exposure to Western medicine, Sun had not considered entering the health field. She did well in school, focused on art and science, and later got a degree in theater arts from UMBC.
You develop a relationship with these patients, and they really end up falling in love with you and vice versa.
Sun was contemplating getting a master's degree in fine arts when a cousin who was a nurse convinced her to think about medicine as an option. Sun saw the appeal of a career that would combine her aptitude for science with her nurturing personality. Sun returned to school, getting a nursing degree from Stevenson University.
Sun first worked at University of Maryland Medical Center in the Medical Intermediate Care Unit, before coming to Johns Hopkins as a home care nurse. In her job now, Sun meets with patients who have been discharged from the hospital — doing all she can to keep them out of the hospital in the future.
Coming into a patient's home, she is occasionally met with distrust, but invariably the patients and their families warm to her and realize the tremendous value she provides. "You develop a relationship with these patients," Sun says, "and they really end up falling in love with you and vice versa." Very often, they insist on treating her like one of the family and follow up with her years later.
As for her own family, Sun's parents have been very supportive of her career choice. Yet, despite his pride in his daughter's path, Sun's father still remained suspicious of Western medicine and was inconsistent about taking his medication — even those prescribed for his diabetes and high blood pressure.
Then, in September 2016, her father began to complain of chest pains and was rushed to the hospital. In the midst of kidney failure, he was resistant to the idea of starting dialysis — still wary of needles and blood transfusions — until Sun and her brothers finally convinced him to relent.
Now Sun is nursing her own father as she has nursed so many others — doing home health care in her own family's home. When she first began helping out, her father's mixed-up bottles of outdated prescriptions and supplements were scattered all over the house. Now, Sun carefully organizes her father's medicine, communicates with his doctors and generally soothes the sometimes-difficult patient's nerves.
With Sun's help, her father is getting better. Sun can tell he is returning to his usual self because he is back to pestering her for grandchildren. Slowly, Sun's father is also coming around to the idea of a kidney transplant.
In order to be eligible for the transplant list, he has had to undergo an enormous battery of tests. And with the tests come the blood draws — over a dozen vials at one recent appointment.
Throughout the appointment, Sun's father didn't complain once. All he said was, "Wow, that was a lot." And for a man as taciturn as Sun's father, that statement spoke volumes.