Language! (2)

It is difficult to know where to begin – I want to write and update on what I did yesterday; for those of you on Facebook, you’ll see my visit to the dementia day-care farm was a highlight. I will write more about this later.

For the moment, I have to rush-off to the hospital shortly, so I will cover what for me was perhaps the most formative aspect of the day.

The conference was held at the Groen Hart Hospital in Gouda – it began at four pm and ran until nine; this was to allow staff – predominantly nurses, with some doctors to attend.

The conference follows the Microsystems methodology taught in Jonkoping, where much of my recent work, particularly with Helen began.

For me however what was fascinating was sitting through the evening – it was all in Dutch.

My knowledge of Dutch is not great – limited effectively to those words which are the same in English – ‘Person-Centred Care’ funnily is one, others are, ‘Groen’ – green, and, perhaps ‘Apothek’ – Pharmacy. Yes, limited indeed!

My talk was in English, which I think most understood – I did ask people to shout-out if I accidentally used any jargon or over-colloquialisms, but whether because of complete understanding or politeness, the audience remained silent.

What was overwhelming for me was sitting through what was probably three hours of Dutch. Hearing the words, the accent and intonation, the body language and facial expression, and my struggling to extract some meaning from this.

The first speaker was a ‘Clini-Clown’ – a clown who works for a Dutch charitable fund that visits and entertains sick children in hospital, she was followed by a former patient who I think had a heart-attack and experienced the highs and lows of the Dutch healthcare system, then a man who fronts a charity for the hearing-impaired; I came after dinner.

The experience took me back to when I was 12 years old – three decades ago; when I moved to live in Israel, again with very limited access to the language; there I would sit through the school lessons straining to hear a word or perhaps phrase that was familiar.

Over the months, back in the 1980’s I quickly picked-up the language and all was well;

It was however this struggle to understand, this reaching-out for comprehension that I felt perhaps mirrors not my experiences on the whole, but those of my patients – whether they are older and struggle to see or hear or process the information provided to them by me or the nurses, other doctors or therapists in the hospital, or the younger patients assailed by the medical jargon directed at them; I suspect, not fully understanding what your doctor, or nurse or – probably to a lesser extent, your therapist has said is commonplace in 21st century healthcare.

Being provided the opportunity to return to this position of me at 12, or a patient in hospital, or anyone who is not sitting on the outside through choice, but because of the way events have fallen was revealing, and fascinating and, meaningful.

I do wish I could have understood fully what the people were saying, and the director of the organisation did her best to keep my abreast of the essence, jotting-down on a scrap of paper the salient points.

It was great – experience fragmented, translated and likely distorted – in effect, an exaggeration of life.

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