Last Monday, it was business as usual. At 11:20, our classes got out in time for me to dart over to l'école maternelle (public preschool) to pick up Maggie, Elise and Micah. It's about a 5 minute walk without the kids, and the time for opening the doors for lunch is a bit variable, so despite having hurried over, I was waiting with everyone else for the doors to open. We had been told that morning that a local ER doctor was coming to talk to all the doctors this afternoon about medical vocabulary in French. We were instructed to bring our questions for him, so I was pondering that.
|The back of the maternelle school for our kids|
All of a sudden, there was a bit of commotion up near the doors, and the crowd shuffled a bit like someone was falling down. Somewhere inside me, some well-honed reflexes were quickly dusted off, and I darted toward the front. A man was holding the arms of a woman in her 30's who had evidently passed out.
She looked like she was breathing OK, so I reached for her wrist to check her pulse. The other man shouted at me to clear off and give her some room. Je suis médecin! (I'm a doctor!) I called back, and he instantly beckoned me to do whatever I needed to do.
Je suis médecin was the first and last properly formed French sentence to come out of my mouth for the next several minutes. In caring for a patient who has passed out (had an evanouissement), there are not really a lot of questions one needs to ask. However, she had a friend nearby and I wanted to know if this happened often to her, and if she had been in good health lately. Despite being capable of asking those things, I found the words spilling out in a jumbled mass, and it took a good bit of repetition to get that simple information.
Her pulse was regular and she wasn't seizing, and a short while later, when I rubbed her sternum a bit, her eyes opened right up, and she began to talk in a more-or-less normal fashion. I learned that she had these episodes souvent (often), but that, though the doctors had done some analyses, nothing yet had been found.
"The other guy" had called the firemen (who interestingly play the role of EMS here), and they showed up impressively quickly to put her on the stretcher and take her to the hospital. The head-teacher eagerly accepted my offer to stay until she was taken away, and I told the fireman those things that I would have wanted to know from a reliable witness on the scene, if I was the doctor who was going to receive this lady at the ER.
And so I learned a valuable language lesson:
Urgent medical care calls for all of your brain power at once. At this stage, so does conversational French. Given that I don't have two brains, one of these two is going to win out. So, later that day, when we had our medical French talk, I was searching for a cadre of stock phrases that I can memorize and will therefore flow out as easily as Je suis médecin in the midst of an emergency.
The talk turned out great, as we all probed him with our thoughts, and he encouraged us with how much the technical medical vocab of French is similar to the technical vocab in English. We listened eagerly and had a chance to practice interview questions on each other. Rachel asked about birth control, Carlan asked about spinal injury, and Jason talked about passing gas (in the setting of bowel obstruction, of course.) All in all, I'm thankful that my one French patient didn't seem to be in any great danger, and the day was certainly one to whet the appetite for what is to come.