Photo from Mount Royal, Frisco, Colorado.

"That is happiness; to be disolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep." - Willa Cather

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Her is fine

Sometimes I wonder what in the world I am doing working as a physician in Denmark. It’s certainly not like international medicine in the classic sense. It’s not like it was when I worked in rural Guatemala, for example, where patients are just so glad to get medical care that they don’t mind imperfect Spanish. Patients in Denmark just think, “Oh, God. Why did I get stuck with the foreign one?”

I am currently working in a 3 month trial position in Internal Medicine. It’s an emergency room-like setting where I evaluate patients, treat them and either admit them to the hospital or send them home.

Many patients ask me if I am from the Faroe Islands. This is a big compliment, because people from The Faroe Islands grow up learning Danish. I guess compared to most foreigners, I don’t have much of an accent. That's probably becasue I learned Danish by hearing it and not by reading it. In fact, most of my knowledge of the language comes from Danish pop music. For example, I am very good at saying “How did you get that ass in those pants?” but the occasions I can say that to patients are quite rare.

So the slight accent and the fact that I look like a Dane, makes my language mistakes even more disturbing to patients:

First, I have difficulty with my placement of “not” in sentences. “Your dad does need to take that medication not.”

And then there is a problem with pronouns. “Let me ask the nurse if her can help you to the toilet.”

These two mistakes are always met with the same confused/disturbed look and Hvad siger du? (what say you?)

Finally, I have a problem with occupations. I have to ask everyone what they do and it is so rare that I understand. I have only been in Denmark 7 months, so job titles are not something I have necessarily learned. It is quite disconcerting to a patient when he says “I work in a printing press” and his doctor (me) says, without much of an accent “What is a printing press?” So he thinks to himself, you’re supposed to figure out what is wrong with me?

And sometimes it’s less of a joke. It is always hard to find the words to explain that a young woman’s cancer has metastasized to her brain. Or to explain to parents that their child has tried to kill himself.

I recently had yet another patient with an intentional drug overdose and I was trying to explain to his mom the treatment we were giving and what we were and weren’t worried about. It was 5 am and I had been up all night and this was the 14th patient I was admitting. The nurses and I had given him a treatment that would most likely save his liver and perhaps his life. But the mother was upset he had me as a doctor because I had trouble explaining the situation and thus, she concluded, I didn’t know what I was doing. As I left the patient’s room and went into the physician room, I could feel the tears in my eyes. “What the hell am I doing here?” And I found myself asking “Is me okay?” Yes, even my English is confused. Because if me is not okay, how can I help the patients?

Sometimes I come through a shift feeling as if I have been through a war. But there was no war. And it's not a 3rd world country. I get no praise; instead, I get attendings asking why I can’t remember the BMI on that diabetic patient.

But I couldn't say life is not good. There is, after all, quite a bit of time off here. And today, such a gorgeous day, I went on a run down towards the coast and ran into this:

It is called Gavnø Slot (Gavnø Castle) and is not too far from our home in Næstved.

And then I went and picked up this guy:

Running Song of The Day: Easily Bruised by Matthew Barber


Olga said...

I can relate, although I wasn't treating anybody when I came to this country. First year in the lab I would be like "I need that, you know, round thing you use to, you know, do that thing with protein". Then came along yoga instructing, and it was "place your butt to the floor" (instead of press your hip bone). Now I tell massage clients "get naked and hop on a table" - what is almost harassing in this stupid country with fear of sexuality, but I have to admit, first of all, I have no (huge) problems with language barrier anymore (just am stand-offish), and secondly, my accent doesn't help the case (while not quite typical Russian, it is still pretty harsh).
But, ah, yes, there are so many more things to live for...when you stop and think "is me ok?"

Danni said...

That sucks. But man you've only been there a little while and your language will only get betterer. Don't let these people get to you!

SteveQ said...

Language problems are frustrating but make for such endearing stories. I once couldn't think of the German for toothbrush, so asked a woman do you have a brush for my mouth - confusing the words for brush and breast and getting a rather startled response.

My friend Ina (Dutch, Danish and Indonesian accents, via north Friesland) hated that I didn't understand "Oo awhfve zahndelayoo" meant, "Dandelions! How quaint! I thought they were strictly European." Her favorite TV show is "kissee me-a-me."

Anonymous said...

Hello from the USA, Sea Legs! I just wanted to tell you that I had my baby girl 2 days ago. Your blog was a great inspiration - I ran almost daily until Week 36, then cross trained until the 40th week. I gained 18 lbs, a full 8 of which was baby! She is incredibly strong and healthy (and darn cute!). I hoped to be back to running within days, but since I had to have an unplanned c-section, that won't be happening. However, I am still convinced that all that exercise benefitted my baby, and that not gaining a ton of weight was good for both of us too. So thanks!!!!

Pics of her:

sea legs girl said...

Thanks for all of the comments, which I just cherish.

And Enthused, I am SOOOO happy for you!!! I am heading to your blog right now!