“I am constipated.”
“’Constipation’ means different things to different people. What exactly bothers you?”
Silence…. When a caller doesn’t answer, it usually means he doesn’t understand.
“Do you have pain?”
Silence. I knew the word for pain in French is ‘douleur.’
“So you have pain in the abdomen.”
“Yes,” he answered without conviction. He made it clear he wanted a visit, so I quoted my fee (“yes”) and made the trip.
Half of my hotel guests are foreign, but usually one person in the group speaks enough English to get along. Men do better than women. Guests from Asia cause the most trouble. South Americans are the easiest because every hotel has Hispanic workers. I can’t remember the last time I drew a blank from a European male.
“When was your last bowel movement?”
Incomprehension. The wife handed me an Ipad with a translation app. I typed “bowel movement” and the screen obligingly displayed “movement de l’intestine.” Even I knew that this meant “movement of the intestine” in French. He looked blank.
He had no fever, and my examination of his abdomen was normal. His urinalysis was unremarkable. He wasn’t old enough to be at risk for the many abdominal catastrophes that affect the elderly. I concluded that it wasn’t an urgent problem. He seemed to understand that he should go to the hospital if he weren’t better in a few hours. The hotel promised to keep an eye on him. Everything worked out.