Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Euh, excusez-moi????

Oct 6, 2011
Paris, France

The stress over the past few months has taken its toll and I now have an eye inflammation that requires the talents of an ophthalmologist. Fortunately, this isn’t the first time I’ve had to go to the eye doctor in Paris so I know the drill. Left unchecked, however, this small inflammation has the potential of becoming quite severe, as history can attest:

So, I’m taking myself to the American Hospital of Paris as they’re one of the few places that will see me right away. Of course, it comes with a high price tag from a French point of view, but compared to my lack of medical coverage in the US, it’s actually quite affordable. Yes, I’m still living in that void between countries, where I have no rights in my own because I’m not present and no rights in the place I reside because a mountain of paperwork and red tape stand between me and basic social programs.

Nevertheless, I was feeling pretty good about the ease in which I managed the appointment and saw the same doctor as before. He remembered me.

He did a quick perusal of the situation with his microscope and began to give me his diagnosis in French.

Now, when you’re not fluent in a language every interaction is a rapid-fire game of deduction. You don’t catch every word, so you have to extrapolate meaning from a limited vocabulary.

Take for example the following sentence meant to provide instruction. Someone might say:
“Try to feed the dog late in the evening because that way you don’t have to get up quite so early to take him for a walk, although even then he might have an accident...oh, but if that happens, don’t worry.”

In a foreign language, from a sentence comprised of 42 words, you might pick out only 8:
“feed” “dog” “evening” “early” “walk” “accident” “don’t worry”

In the absence of more data, your mind immediately tries to fill in the blanks like a madlib exercise on crack.

Okay let’s see….

I need to feed the dog, that’s clear, but when…probably the evening or is it DON’T feed the dog in the evening because he’ll have an accident? I also need to walk the dog, but are they telling me that I should walk the dog in the evening after feeding or do I get up early and do it or is it BOTH? What does the “don’t worry” part refer to again??? Can’t be about not feeding the dog, so it must be about the walking of the dog, but that can’t be right…this is where the reference to an accident makes sense...Ah…fuck it! The dog must eat, the dog must walk, if there’s an accident I’ll clean it up. Whew, glad that’s over…now just nod, smile and all is good.

That's 42 words distilled down to 8, creating an inner dialog of 130. No wonder my head hurts so often in France!

Meanwhile, back at the doctor’s office...

My mind is racing, trying to follow the doctor’s words, fill in the blanks, translate and differentiate between the pieces of information that are meant to educate me about what’s going on versus actions that I must take to get better. I’m nodding attentively, the doctor completely unaware of the fireworks going on inside my brain as the synapses struggle to make the connections fast enough to catch up to where the conversation is actually at. I’m falling behind quickly, he’s talking very fast, but if I stop to think about how to tell him to slow down, I’ll easily miss the next few sentences. It’s a bit like the adults talking in the Peanuts comic strip. It’s “whah, whah, whah, whah…” (but with a French accent). From the words I know, I pick out and try to make sense of what’s going on. Suddenly, 3 words stand out and grind everything happening in my head to a halt.

“whah, whah, whah, whah….couper ton oeil…whah whah..whah..c’est ca,” he says, smiles, stops and looks at me expectantly.

I blink and stare at him, a few seconds of awkward silence transpire as my brain catches up to my ears and sends out a red flag with three words written on it “couper ton oeil!” “couper ton oeil!” it waves. On the other side of the flag my brain has helpfully provided a call to action in English: “Quit blinking like an idiot, he just told you he is going to cut your eye.”

Okay, enough’s enough, it’s all fun and games until someone says “couper ton oeil!" This French lesson has now come to an end. “Euh….et en anglais s’il vous plais?”

“Oh,” he smiles again and chuckles slightly and begins to explain to me that indeed the only way to address the issue is with surgery and tells me he has next Wednesday available.

I ask him what the recovery time is for something like this.

“Bah…I don’t know, it depends on how much it bleeds.”


He describes the procedure, which involves me completely awake as they inject a needle directly into my eyeball.

“Well, it will be so close that you won’t be able to focus on it,” he confides to me.

I leave the office a bit shell-shocked. Uh, seriously? On top of everything else, I'll be sans an eye? I try to imagine for a second being a photographer with a patch…merde.


Anna said...

That is quite the story!

But hey, when it comes to medical procedure speaking French does not mean you understand what is going on, honestly!

Hope all is well!

Rick Dahms said...

Hi-larious! But this story has no ending. We go from eye surgery to mysteriously sprained ankle? Both months ago. Then, nothing. Please write a happy end to this adventure.

Hope all is swell! Rick