Recently I had a Guatemalan patient “M” who was new to Juneau and spoke only a few words of English. Her boyfriend spoke very little Spanish, definitely not enough to help translate during the exam. My Spanish is very rusty, since I haven’t had to use it since I stopped seeing patients in Miami back in 2011. “This is going to be interesting” I thought.
And it was!
After a few sentences, things started to come back to me, and I was able to communicate with her more easily. The exam went from stilted to full-blown animation once “M” realized that I could understand her. She told me all about her family back in Guatemala, her journey to the US, her ex-husband in Texas and how she came to move to Juneau with her new beau. Her joy at being able to have a conversation in her native language was obvious. It didn’t matter that she spoke way too fast for me to catch some of what she said. It didn’t matter that my Spanish was not fluent. What mattered was that she felt heard. Her gratitude at the end of the exam was overwhelming as she hugged me and thanked me over and over.
I realized that this is what makes me popular with my patients. They feel heard when they come to me. They feel comfortable talking to me about anything. I am one tiny star in the sky, but I do my part in brightening up the Earth.