Language Barriers

Here’s a tip, never get sick in a foreign country if you don’t have at least a rudimentary knowledge of the language. As I sit in my hospital bed, I see the nurses and staff rush around doing their best to take care of us. Young-ish, elderly, reasonably mobile and frame dependent. This they do with as much patience and grace as possible. Imagine how much harder it is for them when they can’t communicate with their patients?

There is frustration for both patient and nurse when they can’t understand each other. This might be the case in every situation in life where language is a barrier, but imagine how that is compounded when the person is ill or in pain or when the carer has a dozen other patients hanging on their all buttons needing their help?

I never appreciated how awkward it could be until I witnessed the elderly lady of Indian descent wailing in pain, sitting in her chair, trying to flag the nurses and not understanding that she’s not allowed to go back to bed just yet.

“You need to eat”, the nurses plead, but the woman simply makes a face of disgust or discomfort and pushes the food away.

She chatters to herself in Punjabi and tries to engage with anyone she thinks might understand her. She looks across to me and tries again. Sorry, I’m Mexican.

The physio comes and tries to get her to stand. “We need to weigh you.”

The woman resists and yelps, quite frighteningly in pain and puts up a struggle, one of many, before they give up and try another approach. They ring the woman’s son and thanks to the miracle of speakerphone, they’re able to hold the iPhone close enough for the three parties to have a translated conversation.

The woman’s face relaxes and she begins to cooperate. The relief and gratitude is visible in the physio’s face and we have a little victory. The physio tells the son to tell his mother to eat. When the weighing is over, she is transferred to her chair and she considers her food. A jacket potato with cheese and what looks like a yoghurt. I’d wrestle her to the ground for that lunch, but that’s another story.

Now she wants to get up and go back to bed, but I heard the nurses tell her she needs to sit up for a while. She has been lying down in the same position for too long.

After 20 minutes, she tries to get their attention again. I try to tell her to stay calm and sit back. Via sign language and gestures I think would serve me well in charades, I tell her to get a pillow from her bed beside her and support her back. She waves me off and I give up.

We’re planning a trip to Asia (Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam) and I plan to take a dictionary everywhere I go.

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