You’ve dreamed of this day. You’ve studied and saved for this day. Now here it is: your first day seeing patients with a medical mission team in Guatemala.
The still-cool morning breezes waft through the metal screens over the windows of the concrete building. You smile at your first patient, a man from the campo who looks like he has labored long throughout his life, and begin a conversation. Since you’ve studied Spanish for several years now, your team decided you don’t need one of the in-demand interpreters as much as other team members, so you’re on your own for this conversation. Shouldn’t be hard, right?
Then your patient says, “Me duele mi canilla.”
Your optimistic thoughts screech to a halt. Canilla? You’ve never heard that word! So much for those years of studying. The way he set his worn hand on his leg makes you think there’s some connection, but you want to know…and you don’t want your ignorance to make him feel uncomfortable.
You calmly look around. No interpreters nearby.
Then you remember that little blue book your dad gave you when he dropped you off at the airport. “Might come in handy,” he said.
You pull it out of the bag on the table next to you. It’s a glossary. Where are the “c” words? Oh, yay, there it is!
canilla – leg, lower leg
You look your patient in the eye with a smile and say, “¿Se duele su canilla?” You set your hand on your leg like he had. “¿Cómo su pierna?“
“¡Sí!” He nods his head vigorously. “Me duele mi canilla.”
Oh, good! Now you can continue with your consultation.
Later you get a chance to ask one of the translators about canilla. He laughs. “Canilla is like an animal’s leg,” he says. “People, especially those who grew up speaking a Mayan language and speak Spanish as a second language, use it for a person’s leg, too.”
Ah, now you understand even better. And maybe tonight you’ll look through more of those words from that Understanding the Guatemalan Patient. It seems like it really might come in handy.