Mwen pale kreyòl

Last week E, my translator, had another job to do, so I spent the week working sometimes with another translator, sometimes on my own. I felt pretty intimidated heading into that first morning without someone to help me understand what was being said, but after the first few patients I started feeling a bit more comfortable.

The basic discussions I have with parents on rounds are pretty formulaic – how is your child today? Is she drinking? Did he have a fever? I’ve been able to ask those questions for a few weeks now. But I found myself pushing my limits – finding a way to explain to a mother that breast feeding is best for her baby, letting another mom know that we had gotten ahold of the medicine that her daughter needed and explaining how it would help her, etc. It was challenging, yes, but I got my point across. I also found that I could usually understand what a parent was trying to explain to me as well.

Going without my translator, who also happens to be my kreyòl tutor, also gave me a new appreciation for his skill as a translator and a teammate. E knows I can speak some kreyòl and gives me the space to do so. He anticipates what my next question will be and often asks it before I have to mention it. He knows my explanations of how to give oral rehydration (ti kras pou ti kras – little by little,) how to treat for scabies (lotion neck to soles of feet – including between fingers and under nails, socks on the baby’s hands so he doesn’t get any in his mouth, etc) and many others. He reminds me which stack of charts belongs to patients I’ve already seen and which ones I’ve yet to see, and helps me with pronouncing Haitian names of my patients. E knows how to talk to the nurses in a way that conveys my respect for them, and acts as my cultural translator as well, explaining things such as why so many babies have a thread stuck on their foreheads (protection against coughing.)

I worked this weekend, and E is back. Much as I enjoyed pushing myself to use my kreyòl, I am glad to have my translator/tutor/assistant/cultural broker back at my side.

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