I think therefore I am? – Loss of Signal

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

He was worried that people couldn’t understand what he needed. His English was limited. Most of our staff’s Chinese was much more limited. Not an uncommon situation. We had previously prepared picture cards for other patients. Simple pictures with words in various languages for symptoms such as pain, breathlessness and nausea. A simple low-tech form of communication. Apps such as Google Translate can help when you are desperate but they are limited. What is required is Google Interpret. Not just the words but interpretation within a cultural context as well. The AIs are not quite there yet, soon come.

In the meantime, we try our best with second languages. A lot of people from China can speak Mandarin which is the government proscribed National Language. Mandarin is often their second language, with the language that their parents used with them at home being their first language.

Mandarin was my first language as a child but once I went to school it was shunted off to the side and English dominated. Many years later I find myself often having to use my now second language, Mandarin, in clinical interactions. Mandarin often is the second language of the person I’m dealing with. We both end up speaking our common second language. It’s not perfect, it’s not 100% fluent for either of us. It does make a difference and is much better than not being able to communicate at all.

The basic human connection. I hear and understand you. You hear and understand me. I can acknowledge your fears and needs. I want to do something about them. We will help you out. We are all here to help you, and to support your family. We’ll get you through this.

I think therefore I am? – Final Human(?) Interaction

Photo by Lewis Roberts on Unsplash

With palliative care/hospice patients and their fragile health status, there is a chance that every time you see them might be the last time they ever have a meaningful connection with a fellow human being. Things can change in an instant, people can lose consciousness or clarity. Keeping this in mind, try to make each interaction as pleasant an encounter as you can for the both of you. The following tells of an unpleasant distressing encounter.

I was asked to see an unwell Oncology patient, who was in a lot of pain, and possibly about to die. There was a language barrier in that he did not speak English, thus an interpreter was organised to facilitate communication. That was the idea anyway, what actually happened was different.

The man in bed looked fragile, he had trouble communicating with his family, as he was lapsing in and out of consciousness. The interpreter arrived, a young man, who looked nervous. He stood at the end of the bed and didn’t greet the patient or his family members. The patient was being prepared for a scan and might need to head downstairs at a moment’s notice, so time was of the essence.

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