Despite recent bouts of progress to be proud of, and an overwhelming determination, I am still faced with situations where my current language capabilities just won’t suffice.
This all became clear during a seemingly innocent trip to the doctors, when a simple request for a prescription resulted in an unexpected check-up of the more…intimate kind.
Nothing catches you off guard quite like an old Spanish doctor suddenly asking you to whip off your braguitas at 9am!
“Ahora” Now? I asked. Terrified to have misunderstood such a firm request– I gestured up and down for confirmation…Next thing I know, I am settled in the stirrups, bracing myself for my first pap smear in Spain.
Days before, I had been scrolling through pages of “English speaking” medical centres and was confident after seeing so many. But it seems I was falsely lured in by the prospect of being able to communicate with ease. I should have known. After all, it wasn’t the first time…
Once before, I was confronted with an explanation that the doctor who speaks English “is not here today”, and this time, no explanation at all.
I can do this, I thought. It is all good practice after all…
But I must admit that the hard part was not the appointment itself. Oh no.
The initial call to make the appointment and the arrival at the clinica proved much more daunting. First, I had to face the receptionist, notorious across nations for that fierce and unfriendly attitude. On this occasion, my inability to understand simple urine-sample instructions was met with a scowl which had me flustered and sweating before I even crossed the threshold of the doctor’s office for the main event. (A wave of the cup and a nod towards the baños would have provided clarity I’m sure).
Maybe I am being unfair- it is a stressful job after all. I should know.
Later, as I hopped on the Metro to work (as a receptionist in a women’s health centre), I vowed to be extra simpática to every single patient I met, because regardless of which language we are struggling to communicate in, impatience doesn’t help and a little kindness goes a long way…
I have been so fortunate to have been thrown into the world of international working and it is exactly what I had hoped for. Living and working in a new country is a huge step towards full immersion and I have been told that this was the best way to learn the language. I am entwined in a language mezcla of Español, English and Deutsch and while I may rely heavily on Google translate to get me through most daily interactions, it is proving to be an invaluable experience. (Although I am trying über hard to eliminate German words before they creep in and interfere with my hard-earned Spanish vocab. One new language is more than enough for now).
Amongst the linguistic challenges I have been exposed to lately, I take comfort in recognising some of the terminology at least; hormonas, mamograma, ovulación, obstetricia – words which are similar in many languages thanks to the spread and influence of Greek and Latin.
(Fun fact: the word gynaecology/ginecología comes from the Greek gyne meaning “woman”, and -logia, meaning “study”).
And some parts of the anatomy require no translation either…
As a result, my newly revised vocab of the intimacies and intricacies of all thing’s female had me slightly better equipped for my own excursion to the doc than I would have been six months ago. At least I understood some of what was happening, and anything I didn’t know, well perhaps ignorance is bliss. Sometimes it is better just to go with the flow, and not know what goes where, when…
More new experiences mean more lessons learnt. Had the appointment been for a more serious medical issue then nodding along, pretending you understand and guessing what you don’t just won’t cut it. There is important information to absorb, questions to ask and above all, barking receptionists to contend with. (I am yet to pluck up the courage to return for my resultados…)
But on the other side of the desk, I am meeting and connecting with women from all over the world, bonded by the one thing we all have in common. All in the name of women’s health.
When it comes down to it, you just need to know your lemons.