Thursday, 18 April 2013

I had to go to the

Eye Clinic at the hospital yesterday. (It's all right I can see! I just have an ongoing problem with the vitreous gel at the back of the eye breaking up and, for safety's sake, it needs to be monitored.) 
But, back to the visit. 
The Eye Clinic is part of the public hospital system. It is situated between a big public hospital and a "private" one. The waiting area for the clinic is large and also tends to have a fair amount of through traffic to other, eye related, areas. 
I had, as is usual with medical appointments, to wait for a while. While frustrating because there was work I should have been doing it was also an opportunity to knit and observe.
There were the three Chinese. One of them, an elderly man, spoke no English. There was a younger woman and an interpreter. The conversation was just audible - and progressing slowly. It had obviously been going on some time, probably in a more private place at first. The old man needs an operation, an operation which will require hospital admission overnight. 
For most of us the necessity of staying in hospital overnight would be a matter of concern - mostly about whether the procedure would be a success or what the results of tests would be. For the old man it is a cause for intense anxiety. How will he cope if nobody around him speaks his language? How will he understand the instructions he is given? How will he tell them if he needs something or something goes wrong? 
I could, without understanding a word of Chinese - and thus understanding just one half of the conversation - understand what the problem was. I did not understand it precisely of course but I understood it well enough to feel for him. 
Being ill or needing medical attention in a foreign country where there is no common language between you and the doctor is a very frightening thing. It would not matter how much was explained to you beforehand the fear of not being able to communicate would be great. 
I know it is bad enough for people with other severe and profound communication difficulties when they have to go into hospital. I have often had to try and give communication assistance in such situations. Usually though there are ways around the situation so that at least basic communication can take place...look up for 'yes', close your eyes for 'yes', raise your hand for 'yes' and other things for 'no' will at least allow staff to ask questions for which yes and no answers will suffice. There are simple and complex communication boards and booklets. There are basic signs that take little interpretation.
None of that will work for the old man. He won't be able to understand what is said to him.  If he could see they could use a communication board with dual language capacity. It seems he can barely see - and the procedure is designed to save what sight he has.
It is none of my business. I could not interfere even if I had a simple answer. I wonder if they will eventually come around to the only solution I can think of...employing an agency nurse who speaks his language to be there with him overnight. 
In the end I did interfere but not directly. I suggested it to the nurse they were speaking with after they had left. I could do it only because she happened to see me next. I did it hesitantly because one should not interfere in some things.
She listened without comment and I thought for a moment I had done the wrong thing but then she said,
 "Will you excuse me a moment? I'll just go and call the interpreter."
Nothing more was said to me. I hope I have done the right thing, that they can afford to take up the suggestion - and that it works.


Miriam said...

I remember, in a semi-awake state after an operation, being spoken to by a doctor who insisted on talking to me in English. He used a term I didn't understand and didn't realise I was supposed to understand. Only after he left did I realise what it meant. As it happens, if he'd told me in Hebrew, I'd have understood it immediately and would probably have asked about it. And that was just one word. I can't imagine being in hospital and not understanding anything.

jeanfromcornwall said...

I was in a High Dependency bed after an operation, and could see across the ward to a man I had met before. The staff knew he was deaf, so they were touching him and talking very clearly towards him, but he was profoundly deaf, and the thing they hadn't done was give him back his glasses, which meant he couldn't see them to lip read.
I was moved shortly after that, and never got the chance to let them know what was going on there, but I still feel a little bit of guilt that I could possibly have helped, and didn't.
So you did the right thing.