Thursday 14 February 2013

Oh to be Bi-Lingual

"9 year old female, fever, DIB"

I know I seem to start most posts with 'it was the middle of the night' but in all seriousness, it normally is! People don't generally call ambulances at school finishing time, dinner, time, prime-time TV and bed time! They call when nothing else is happening and they are left alone with their own thoughts and fears! Take this job for example. A 9 year old girls with a fever! No biggie! Girl says 'I don't feel well' when she gets home from private tutoring. Mum thinks 'you'll be fine'. Serves dinner. Girl eats dinner and forgets she's under the weather. After dinner, child is pre-occupied with playing and watching TV. Then it's bath time and bed time. All goes according to plan. Because the child is slightly unwell she sleeps restlessly. When she wakes she wants mummy. 'Mummy, I don't feel well'. Now it's 1am. There is nothing to distract her, no TV, no food, no entertainment. Mum's comforting doesn't work. 'Mummy, I don't feel well'. Mummy phones 999.

Now, this apartment was in an very expensive part of town. Probably the most expensive there is! The family were eastern european but spoke excellent english and were very polite. Our patient, the 9 year old had an americanised accent and from what we were told they moved around a lot around the dad's job. In the flat was our patient, her mother and a neighbour / friend. We managed to obtain a history from our patient and it appeared she may have had the start of a chest infection. She had been given Calpol earlier on and was due another dose. We asked about referring her on to her GP but her mum didn't understand. 

Her friend stepped forward. 

"Let me translate for you, what do you want to know?"

"Can you ask her if they are registered with a GP in this country and if she is, would she be happy for us to refer her daughter onto the GP?"

"OK, no worries."

He turned to the mother and to my surprise, annoyance and embarrassment said the following in English..........slowly.

" Doctor?"

Are you serious?! That is your translation?! In that case I can speak fluently in every bloody language! I can say 'Hello' in Russian. By his linguistics I can speak the language! It's just a vocabulary issue! And don't even get me started on "Ambulance Driver"!I decided to bypass him and speak to the mother again. She understood the GP bit, just not the referral! I asked the daughter to help! She spoke fluently in Russian to the mum, who then answered in English to me! She was registered with a GP but it was a private medical centre. A quick phone call and I was assured that a GP would be at the house within half an hour! It's amazing what money gets you!

We left the mother and daughter with their 'translator' to it with advise to call back if needed. It was a bit of a waste of time call but I got the impression she had called 999 for advise but despite her good grasp of the english language, being prompted about difficulty in breathing etc had ended up with an ambulance arriving. I don't mind these calls so much when there is an outcome other than hospital. In this case we assessed and referred on with only half an hour of time used. If we'd had to go to hospital that would be an hour + of ambulance time then 4 hours minimum at a hospital. Luckily my grasp of 'slow english' was enough to make this possible! 

This job also highlighted just how embarrassingly awful we are in this country at second languages! We really do need to buck our ideas up!


  1. we are terrible at second languages I agree, but I always laugh when you ask if the patient speaks english and they reply no....?

  2. Is it wrong this made me laugh, the translator part that is. How ignorant! 😏

  3. I can get by in German and French, a little bit of Spanish and an even smaller bit of Cantonese and Russian lol. Yay for moving all over the place whilst growing up :)

    I do think languages should be taught more at school and college though. The one I would love to learn is sign language. Must look for courses near me!


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