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.