to be able to communicate. Just at present someone I only know virtually but nevertheless very much like and respect is in hospital. She has been keeping the rest of us up to date through social media. The two of us have exchanged a few, short remarks. There have been many other messages left for her. Some have been serious, others concerned, yet more have been amusing. I don't know how she keeps it up. She has even found time to read my blog posts - a distraction perhaps from the lack of sleep and the woman in the next bed - who is noisy and demented.
But I thought of all this and then thought of an experience I had going into Italy on an overnight train. Being a student with almost nothing to my name I had gone for the cheapest possible seat from Lyon to Pisa. Opposite me in the carriage were an Italian grandmother and her grandson, a boy of about 12. They spoke no English.
At around 5am the grandson had a grand mal seizure. His grandmother couldn't cope so I went ahead with the necessary first aid.
I asked for help in English but apparently nobody in the carriage spoke English - or perhaps they just didn't want to get involved. After a moment comment sense asserted itself and I asked for help in Italian. Someone left the carriage and then came back with someone who spoke a limited amount of English. I explained what I wanted them to do, trying to keep it simple.
He was a businessman who lived in Pisa and fortunately remained calm and willing to follow my instructions. The boy came out of the seizure a little later and I asked his grandmother for his medication - which she was holding out to me. I read the instructions on the label, confirmed my understanding with the businessman and got the boy to take another dose. He was, by then, sufficiently recovered to agree that this was what he needed.
We were in Pisa soon after that and I had to change trains. The businessman took me off and bought me breakfast - but not before I was hugged by grandma and the boy shook my hand. He was still a bit sleepy and dopey but I knew he would be fine.
But, it was an incident which terrified me at the time - and still concerns me. I couldn't communicate in a medical emergency.What if it had been me having the seizure or if I had fallen ill and been unable to communicate?
I have been told of other incidents since then. A friend fell critically ill in Germany and not all the hospital staff spoke English. She speaks no German. Last year someone else I know was rushed from a ship's hospital to a hospital in Spain and not expected to survive. She couldn't have communicated anyway but her husband was there alone with her and most of the staff had no English.
It is my job to provide communication assistance for people in emergency and disaster situations - although not quite in these circumstances. But they were people I know and I would have helped if I had known about it at the time. I have too much imagination I suppose but the idea of being that ill and not being able to communicate is terrifying. The idea of not being able to speak, of having the sort of communication aid someone like Stephen Hawking depends on break down, is terrifying.
It's Augmentative and Alternative Communication Month. This afternoon I am hosting a "silent afternoon tea" for several people. I am going to try and help them understand, just a little, what it is like. I'll try and tell you about it tomorrow.