Monday, January 15, 2018

How to Ace an Emergency Room Abroad

Having found myself in the hospital this past Christmas holiday, while on vacation, with a impaired ability to focus, I realised just how scary it can be to be sick and literally unable to describe it.
I know all of my students travel either for leisure or business so I thought I'd put together a list of phrases you might need to ace an emergency room visit! So if you're a teacher you might want to take these to class and if you're a student you might want to print them off and stick them in with your socks!

I am a proficient user of language and yet I found myself strangely unable to communicate with my doctor, another proficient user of language with a different accent. I was mumbling and I could see that he was having a difficult time understanding me as well. This situation gave me an idea about a blogpost. Because albeit I didn't always understand what he said and he didn't understand me, we were able to communicate through our shared knowledge of hospital situations and phrases. We both knew what more or less to expect from each other.
But when you are a learner of language in a similar situation you do not have that advantage to help you through a tricky conversation. So here is a helpful list of phrases you might hear or want to say in an Emergency Room situation.

Doctor Phrases
Here are some things the doctor might say to you and what they mean:

Tell me what happened.
or Can you tell me what happened?
The doctor will ask you to report what caused the sickness to begin with. If you are incoherent (like I was) make sure you tell the people accompanying you to the hospital. Tell the first responders (the people on the ambulance). Tell a friend in a text, etc. Try to be as accurate as possible and put the actions in order staring around 24h before. You might say something like: "Well, yesterday morning/afternoon/evening I...., then ..... . This morning/afternoon/evening I felt...."

We'll need to run some tests 
They need to primarily test your blood, although sometimes they might ask for a urine sample. They might want to perform scans such as an ultrasound (used for seeing internal organs; often used for pregnant women to see the baby), X-rays (used for seeing the bones) or even a MRI (scan that passes through bone and takes pictures of soft tissue, such as tendons, blood vessels, and the brain) or CAT scan (the super detailed scans that show everything in your body using many x-ray measurements taken from different angles to produce cross-sectional images of specific areas of a scanned object)

Do you have any allergies? or Do you have a history of allergies?
If you are allergic to something you might find in the hospital, always make it your business to tell the doctor, nurse, friend, taxi driver as soon as possible. You can respond to this question by saying “I’m allergic to…”

Does it hurt when I press here? or Do you feel any pressure when I press here?
If you have pain in your body, the doctor might press (apply pressure) on different places and ask you if you feel any pain at that particular point.

I'd like to keep you here (overnight) for observation.
This sounds scary, I know. But sometimes all the doctor might need is a couple of hours just to make sure you are OK. They might use a machine to monitor your vital signs – observe the rhythm of your heartbeat and breathing.

Your WBC count is looking low
The WBC count is the white blood cells count which has normal parameters when you're OK and are elevated when you have an infection.

Your lab results are not looking good
Some of the parameters for your blood test are not normal and hence the doctor might prescribe further tests.

Your results came back and they're fine.
Yay! Be happy. You get to go home with just a scare and a hefty bill.

I'm going to prescribe some antibiotics
You have an infection. The doctor will give you a prescription (official note with permission) that will allow you to buy antibiotics.

Patient Phrases
Here are some things that you might need to say:

I have a high fever
High for Celsius degrees is anything between 37,1° and 40° while for Fahrenheit it's 98.6° to 107°.

I have a rash
A rash is a red, irritated area on the surface of your skin. If it’s itchy, it means you feel an annoying sensation that makes you want to scratch it with your nails.

I have a terrible headache
I have a stomachache
To describe the pain you’re feeling, you can say “My (insert body part) hurts.” or "I have a terrible (insert body part)+ache"

I have been vomiting
Don't want to sound overly teacher here, but please avoid "I vomit" or "I vomited" as this doesn't give an accurate account of your state. using the perfect continuous makes much more sense. Yes. I have just insisted on correct tense while in the emergency room.

I feel nauseous
Nausea (pronounced /nɔːʒə/) is a major symptom that needs to be promptly reported to your doctor.

I feel a sharp pain when (insert reason) 
A sharp pain is a strong, sudden pain. The opposite is a dull pain – a feeling that is weaker and more continuous.

I can't feel my (insert body part)
Loosing feeling in a body part (being unable to physically feel it) is a serious condition that could mean nerve damage and needs to be promptly reported to your doctor and addressed.
Obviously you might need a combination of these when talking to your doctor. You might also be unable to report this to your doctor if you are feeling too sick. Make sure the people around you are constantly informed about your condition. This means that if you won't be able to talk for yourself, somebody will have the necessary info.
And don't forget to buy health insurance before going on vacation. It will save you a lot of money and grief.

The Sound Eater

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