Sometimes it’s the little things…

Some days in your clinic are just plain peanut-butter-and-jelly days – nothing particularly brain stretching, no cases that you could find in Hunter’s Tropical Medicine, no life-saving measures.

The fact that some of your patients are Hispanic, many of Guatemalan or Mexican ancestry, and speak little English adds some salsa to your tortilla chips though. Like the case that just hobbled through your door…

You can’t get more routine than an ingrown toenail, can you? Thankfully, a medical interpreter is handy to help you communicate with this patient and his wife. However, when the interpreter says “uña encarnada“, your patients blink without recognition.

You have your own copy of the Stedman Bilingüe Diccionario de Ciencias Médicas at home – good healthcare providers are life-long learners, right? – so you know that’s the standard medical terminology. But you decide to go out on a limb.

Uñero,” You say.

The wife’s face brightens. “¡Hay, sí! Esta es la palabra que usamos.”

That starts a fast-paced side conversation between them and the interpreter while you set to work, relieving the poor man of his simple but noticeably painful malady.

I’d better give the interpreter a card for Understanding the Guatemalan Patient before she leaves, you decide. After all, sometimes it’s the little things that make a big difference.