Painful language barrier!

Posted on April 2, 2009. Filed under: Benign, Journal from behind the desk... |


I may be wise, but just sometimes I struggle to get myself through a language barrier. 

Oddly I am not talking about the Chmjelewski family, who arrived from Poland last week and can speak English better than I can call their name in the waiting room. 

I’m talking about those Anglo-Saxon’s and Britons.  When I first moved to this area I had some problems adapting to the local dialect.

I remember one conversation with a yocal that went along the lines of…

Pt: “I’ve got a problem with me hair”

Max: “Oh…what’s happening?”

Pt: “I got wacks in it”

Max thinks…Hmmmm, local term for head lice perhaps… and says…”is it itchy?” 

Pt: “No, but it’s a bit squelchy”

Max thinks …Oh! He means he’s got wax in his hair…well so have I, it stops my hair going fluffy and keeps that slightly spiky look in control.

 So Max says: “So what’s actually the problem with it??”

Pt (looking at Max as if he is really stupid)…”Well I can’t ‘ear of course”

PENNY DROPS!!!

Max: “So how long have you had the problem with your ear wax?”

But I’ve been around these parts for a while now and can understand the locals accent without too much of a problem.  But yesterday I realised it’s not always the accent that causes problems.  A man presented with knee trouble…and as I examined him I asked if it was painful when I pressed the area, to which he replied….

“It’s not painful at all, it just hurts all the time”.

Sometimes it’s best not to persue things any further. So I smiled and said “OK!!”

Now of course I recall the very painful essay I had to write as a first year nursing student on “Pain”. Like all the other spotty eager nursing fledglings, I quoted McCaffery who defines pain as “what the patient says it is, and it’s as bad as the patient says it is.”  So if the patient says it’s not painful, and it hurts, then so be it…I didn’t prescribe any pain killers, but some hurt killers instead!!!

A final note to remember if a posh Brit says: “I’ve gort a pin in the Horse”

Check to see if they have a pain in the arse, before you call for the vet to look for the pin….It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack!

((eh!?!?))

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3 Responses to “Painful language barrier!”

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[…] 10. “Painful Language Barrier!” at It shouldn’t happen in health care […]

I completely understand about language barriers of this type. I spent several years in the south (I grew up in the mid-west). It took some time getting used to, but I learned that sometimes humor works best. Like when you stated that the patient looked at you like you were really stupid. I played off similar situations with a smile and made it appear that I should have known. After a while I found that I picked up some of the lingo and when I would visit back home my friends would kid me about it. Either way, I was glad that I learned to communicate with my patients.

Thanks for sharing this story with us, I think I’ve been through the same problem more then once in my life, sometimes is almost impossible to get over those language barriers, but never the less slowly slowly will make it thorugh.


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