No hablo español, and it turns out my son’s two years of middle school Spanish was not very helpful in a Catalan influenced ER. We soon realized we were on equal footing with the hospital staff since none of them spoke English. What amazes me though is how we all got by with only two real issues to speak of.
The receptionist in the ER wanted the typical information. I’ve had enough experience in emergency rooms to be able to guess the drill. I passed over ID, insurance card, passport, and pretty much anything else I could think of she might want to check.
She asked a long question out of which my son was able to translate one word, “pain.” “Left foot” meant nothing to her, so from my wheel-chair seat I brought my foot up over my head where she could see it through the glass partition. She nodded and wrote notes on the computer.
We frowned over her next question and she started google translate when memory clicked-in. How was I injured? I stood two fingers on the opposite palm and showed my little-hand person falling down, which, by the way, is actually the American Sign Language for “fall.” ASL can be quite helpful, as can vast practice with hand motions in general.
The Spanish hospital in east Cartegena was quite modern. We took a number and the six of us waited for the intake exam while watching a split screen of number calls and what might have been football (i.e. soccer) stats. Our crew tends to spread and took up about half the small waiting area. I think that’s why my number came up before other prior arrivals.
The intake nurse repeated the words that meant nothing to my brain. Pointing at my foot and signing “fall” let him fill in his computer page. His exam consisted of poking the bruise on my foot so I shrieked in pain.”Radiología,” he said. Common Latin roots are helpful in medical situations. Armed with a wristband for my name and number, our family of six was directed to a large waiting area at the front of the hospital where huge glass windows framed the pink, sand, and dusty green of morning sunshine on the mountainous terrain outside. Even at the hospital, Spain’s Alicante region took my breath away.
Other folks who’d waited longer were helpful when my number came up early with a room designation we could not locate. My eldest son pushed me where directed till an orderly took over and pointed him back. I think he was relieved to be relieved of his translation duties.
Neither this male orderly, who parked me blocking the hall for a while, nor the female orderly, who wove me through narrow passages to radiology and back, spoke any English. They were both chipper about it all, spoke to everyone in passing, and were even calling me by name.
The wider hall outside x-ray was half the size of my living room with eight of us waiting, two in their rolling hospital beds. Tight quarters by any measure, I was again left blocking what might have served as a thoroughfare. One person went in the far x-ray, and remarkably my foot took second place.
The attendant didn’t bother to talk after learning my lack of language skills. Unlike the US custom, she did not offer me a lead bib for protection, although there was one (was that dust?) hanging in the corner. She lowered the x-ray table and pulled out a pocket extension from the side of it whereby the x-ray could be taken with me still seated in the wheelchair. Terrific. I’d never seen the like, although I’ve been privy to three hospitals in two other countries for five x-rays in as many years. (I mentioned I have four sons, right?)
“Kristine-a” the orderly greeted as she wheeled me back to my family in the large picturesque room. Seats were fast filling. In my Dutch E.R. post I mentioned how entire families with grandma and grandpa, both parents and all the siblings were not uncommon in The Netherlands emergency areas. Spain was more like America in that only the one necessary driver appeared to accompany the injured. Our English-speaking, mixed-race family had become an island of word-game playing folk in a for-business space. This was the longest wait of day, and I loved how my husband turned this down-time into fun time for the children who were missing out on pool, beach, and ball play because their mom is a clutz.
The language barrier only became an issue in two areas. First, the casting room staff would not tell me what to do very well and were reluctant to cause me pain by situating my foot properly. This first cast shocked me. The expected cool, wet strips of casting net were placed from top of calf to tippy-toe on layers that quickly turned warm. Soon my lower leg relaxed in its heating-pad encasement. Ahh.
The second language issue was that I was given no after-care instructions, no way to get crutches, nada. We only had a photocopy of the break with the hospital info and “ibenprofeno” near the bottom. My husband wheeled me to the car wondering how we’d get around for the rest of week. Climbing into the car, I struggled to twist and lift the 20 pounds of lead on my calf.
“Maybe we can just get a cane,” I said.
“Maybe,” my husband frowned.
He got one alright. That’s when we discovered the awkward angle of my foot made it impossible to walk on that leg. Soon the plastic deck chair was back under my knee helping me hobble around for the rest of the week. My kids missed some playtime time with Mommy and sand castle building, but mostly I did what was normal. I lounged in the sun listening to the surf, watching my children play, and reading great ebooks.
There was an unexpected blessing as well. Unable to get a chair in the rental car, we still went out for the long-awaited paella I’d promised the boys ever since first raving about it on my writing trips to Majorca. We chose a restaurant next to a large beach/souvenir shop, and what do you think we found? A nicely padded wooden chair sat by the dumpster waiting to provide the assistance I needed. “Thank you, Jesus,” I said. My five guys saw the Punic Wall, Roman Theater, and other incredible sites of the port of Cartegena without me, but I truly believe our sons had great guy-time with dad they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.
“Better me than one of the children,” I’ve said repeatedly since breaking my foot. It is so true.
Next up…Doctor Aghast in the Dutch E.R.
Kristin King is an author and US expat living in The Netherlands. She got her first cast in Spain, her second in the Dutch ER four days later, and her third four days after that. Kristin sincerely hopes she is done with casts and broken bones for good.