Sunday, July 29, 2007

Learning French the ‘patient’ way!

The hospital I work in happens to have quite a few patients these days from Burundi.
Duh??Yep ..that was my enlightened response too when I first heard that name.Burundi is a quaint little country in central Africa ,an erstwhile French colony.The primary language out there is called ‘Kirundi’ with most people being fluent in French ,which is their second language.The other day I met Mr.D from Bujumbara ,the capital of Burundi ,an affable kind of guy,a gentle 6 feet giant with a rather chronic skin affliction. Now my French is about as good as his Malayalam ,both of which collectively would be only slightly better than George Bush’s IQ.So as far as understatements go, we had a teeny weeny problem . So Mr D enters my cubicle ,with something between a quarter smile and a half smile on his otherwise pleasant face.
‘Bon jour, Monsieur Doctor !’ (Why can’t these crazy Frenchies write it as ‘Bonshu missue’ if that is what they are going to enunciate anyway ?)

‘Bon jour’ Me already reaching the limits of my excellence in the French language skills department.
‘What problemo ?’ Me reinforcing my idiocy with my obvious lack of knowledge of French ( and Italian )
Mr D apparently having an higher IQ gets the broad idea
‘J'ai ceci démanger partout le corps’ he replies earnestly

I smile in reply ,hoping falsely that my newly scaled teeth will deflect attention from my ignorance of French.

‘Ne parlez-vous pas anglais ? ’Mr D starts sounding a bit disappointed in me.

C’mon man …I mean I don’t even sport a French beard and I definitely don’t fancy French fries.

I finally break the bad news to poor Mr D.
‘No speak French ..u speak English?’

Mr D shrugs his broad shoulders in with a resigned expression on his face ,and continues to explain his problem in sign language
‘J'ai ceci démanger partout le corps’ he says again ,this time using his long spindly fingers to carry out a mono-act of a man scratching away to glory.

Now I get the idea.I mean an itch is an itch no matter which part of the world you’re in.Now I display my newly scaled teeth in sincere and undisguised happiness.I have always felt that Dermatologists experience a kind of perverse pleasure in seeing an itchy homo sapien.Of course the itching specimen also does feel a kind of guilty pleasure I suppose.As some famous person once elaborated “ Better by far than all the world’s riches …to rub where it aches and to scratch where it itches !”

Anyway ,after the scratch act ,I give Mr D the standard dermatological examination ……to put it simply I give him a good look all over.( A senior professor of mine once gave me a a brief talk on the basic difference between a physician and the dermatologist.Give a physician a case, and he or she will take a history for 15 minutes ,do a detailed general examination and a thorough systemic examination ,the whole show taking the better part of the hour.At the end he/she will announce grandly that he /she has no definite diagnosis ,but that there are definitely at least half a dozen potential differential diagnoses which may or may not be proved or disproved with the help of further investigations.The dermatologist on the other hand reaches the same conclusion…….by just looking at the patient’s lesions for half a minute !)

At the end of my meticulous clinical examination ,I explain to Mr D in sign language that he’ll require a few tests ,including a biopsy.Mr D is apparently a bit apprehensive.Not surprising because I do tend to overact when I’m performing with sign language….I had the distinct impression that Mr D winced when I indicated blood tests with the gesture of a needle jabbing my hand.To Mr D it probably looked like I was going to stab him with a 6 inch bowie knife.
Anyway Mr D leaves my cubicle with my precious advice to return with the reports of the tests.
He turns at the door and says “Je vous verrai en trois jours. Au revoir doctor”

“Yes.Sure..same to you ”I fumble …..not having a clue what I was replying to .It did sound a bit like Shwarzenegger ominously saying ‘I’ll be back’

Three days later Mr D returns with an expectant smile on his face and the customary “Bon jour doctor” on his lips.

“Bon jour monsieur” I paused for the effect and then absolutely startled him with “Vos essais en laboratoire sont tous normaux. Rien à s'inquiéter. Je te donnerai quelques médecines et vous devriez être meilleur en quelques jours”
(Roughly translated :Your laboratory tests are all normal.Nothing to worry.I'll give you some medicines and you should be better in a few days)
Boy!The expression on Mr D’s face was like one of those master-card ads ,there really are some things money can’t buy!
We continued to converse in French…very much at a snails pace, but very much in French all the same.
( Mr D did notice that I was getting distracted by the computer on my desk every other minute )

To cut a long story short .Mr D responded well to his treatment and went home a happy and less itchy human being .One thing he still hasn’t recovered from is the shock of hearing me speak in French .We still communicate by e-mail once a while and he continues to query once in a while regarding the secret of my instant French.Someday I hope to tell him the truth.

(For all of you who’re also wondering …check out the google language tools right on the google home page.Just type in anything you want in English and get instant translations in over a dozen languages )

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