Durchfall: You Do The Translation

Those of you who have travelled or lived in a country with a language other than your native tongue can probably relate to my fervent wish of learning as much German as I can while living here. I didn’t realize how the old adage ‘be careful what you wish for’ could apply here, but turns out I there was a limit to the vocabulary I was hoping to absorb. My German-language repertoire would have been just as fulfilling had I never been forced to learn the translation for words like “vomiting”, “diarrhea”, and “body fluids.” Unfortunately, I was forced to take an immersion course on such things and an additional array of medical vocabulary last week.

I won’t go into the gory details of the ailment itself, but let’s just say that around 8p.m. on Tuesday night (a mere 7 hours after my mother’s arrival from Michigan, I might add) Dave started feeling a bit nauseous. And his stomach started gurgling. And shortly thereafter, all things (food, water, bile, internal organs) began evacuating from his body at an alarming rate. This was no ordinary stomach bug, and it didn’t take an M.D. to figure that out. Finally, after a few hours of bodily-fluid-evacuation, my mom and I convinced Dave that he needed some professional assistance. I called and woke the team captain, got some shoddy directions to the hospital (which is in the next village about 15 minutes away) and off we went (with one minor mishap where Dave nearly fainted and tumbled down three flights). My mom was the pilot, I was the near-sighted co-pilot and Dave was the pukey recruit. Picture the most windy road you can, the most nightmarish scenario possible for a person suffering from severe nausea, and you’ve about got the picture of the route. Luck was on our side, and we made it to the hospital in one piece with zero detours. Luck was not on our side when, about an hour after getting Dave settled in, I began a similar bodily-fluid-evacuation. At one point, Dave and I were on separate floors hooked up to I.V.’s while my mother wandered lost through both the hospital corridors and the German language trying to help us both. Luckily my stay only needed to be for a couple of hours before I could rejoin my mom at Dave’s bedside…as long as that bedside was near a bathroom.

I suppose there is always some trepidation when using the medical system in a foreign country because, in addition to the language barrier, you don’t know what to expect in terms of service, standards of care and treatment options. But I can safely say that I wasn’t concerned with any of those at the hospital that night. Sure, the I.V. was delivered from a glass bottled circa World War II rather than a plastic bag, but what difference does that really make? Perhaps it seemed a bit strange that the nurses don’t wear gloves when inserting said I.V. (similar to my ungloved dentist experience), but ‘when in Rome’, right?

The hospital staff was quick, friendly and unfortunately unable to speak any English. Thanks to Herr Ahlers, my Marquette Senior High German teacher, and a phrasebook, I was able to answer all their questions for Dave and do some translating back and forth. The hospital itself was incredibly clean (my mom herself, sometimes known as Mrs. Clean, even commented on it…and was probably trying to figure out how to ask what products they use). The care was incredibly thorough and cautious…very hard to fathom when compared to the way things sometimes go at home. Dave was admitted less than 2 hours after arriving, even before any blood work was back. Instead of kicking him out in the morning as we suspect might have happened back home, they wanted him to stay and seemed ready to use force to keep him there. When he needed an E.K.G., he just walked right upstairs and got one, no waiting, no queuing. During other moments, we were wishing for the familiarity of North American hospitals where you can ask for uncarbonated water without getting strange looks, where you have a T.V. with programs in English to fill the dull hours and where tea isn’t thought to be the salve for any ailment.

Overall, it was as pleasant as you could expect any hospital experience. On Day 2 there was one minor incident, all thanks to the language barrier. Dave had grown understandably frustrated since he had been in the hospital for 24 hours and had not been able to communicate with anyone in a common language. No one had explained to him what was wrong. When they gave him an injection, they couldn’t explain to him what he was getting. After a while, especially when I had gone home to shower and rest a bit, I think he began to feel like he some kind of medical experiment. So we called a teammate to come do the translating. Both the internal medicine heads came in to see us (both women, by the way, SCORE) and spoke HEATEDLY in German when Dave expressed his wish to go home. They spoke for 3, possibly 4, minutes while Norman, Dave’s teammate and translator-for-a-day, listened intently. Then, when it was his turn to decipher this tirade he turned and said simply “You stop this,” pointing to the I.V., “you’re done.” Well said, Norman. Cut out all the extra words.

Turns out we both had the Norwalk virus, and we will go on to recover and live long and happy lives. We’re still not sure where we picked it up, and thank the stars no one else on the team became sick, but a similar outbreak in Dresden this week sent scores of people to the hospital. The whole experience did wonders to get Dave eating more fruit, me driving out of the city limits and making my mom’s visit a trip to remember. Here’s to your health!

3 thoughts on “Durchfall: You Do The Translation

  1. Lane! I’m so glad that everyone is back to feeling healthy! I’m sorry you guys were in the hospital, but I’m happy that your mom was there!

  2. Oh my gosh!! This happened to me in a foreign country too. Fortunately it was America so there wasn’t a language, but I was scared none the less – the coincidence is that it happened while I was in (get this) Norwalk, CT. I’m not kidding.Glad you are both feeling better.

  3. I´m soooo sorry to hear about your little experience with hospitals in Deutschland….they are an interesting experience. I had to “laugh” about the gloves part because yesterday the nurse at the gyno took blood sans gloves…I was a little disturbed, so DH told me to insist that she do so the next time. He agreed that it is just more than a little gross.

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