Communication

 

I’m on duty as the “boss man”- tied to a beeper covering three distant areas of the emergency room. I roam, problem solve and before one case is finished the beeper drags me to another area. This time the trouble is about an older man.

As I enter the “major” treatment area I see a slightly built older man surrounded by clerks and nurses. He is dressed in a well worn suit and appears relaxed and quiet despite the commotion surrounding him. He reminds me of those quiet Italian bocce ball players that stand wordlessly on the sidelines. It turns out that this gentleman is deaf and mute. Most unfortunately he cannot write and none of us that encircle him know sign language. I had learned how to sign “what’s the matter” but I’ve learned not to try that because it always provokes a smile and signals I cannot understand.

I find this situation troublesome…this person could be having anything from chest pain to a rash but we cannot even start to help him. My gut feeling is that whatever he’s come for is not serious. He doesn’t appear to be in pain and, if anything, he seems to enjoy the company.

I take control of the situation and with my best reassuring and smiling face, I lead him to a room where it is relatively free of visual horrors. I ask the nurses to get him changed into a hospital gown while I try to find someone who can sign.

I make phone calls that redirect me to other phone numbers and finally the process of a search begins and I can return to my work. I bounce around the three areas of the ER with purpose but I’m certain, with the appearance of aimless wandering. I try to rediscover my rhythm like a juggler who has just dropped a ball.

Occasionally I return to the “major” area and check on my silent guy who still appears relaxed and patient. A hasty exam reveals nothing unusual but I call again to make sure the hospital is still searching and finally, they found someone who is only one hour away. I am amazed with the patient’s calmness because he has already waited an hour and still sits peacefully as he endures this process. I am proud of this patient and admire his tolerance but not knowing why he came to be seen is distracting me from my work. The frustration is somehow even greater because of his tolerance.

Unknown to our silent patient, he is surrounded by death by auto, knife stabbings, rape victims and more. Life is in a serious balance right next to him yet he sits and dangles his legs. He cannot hear the cries from pain and loss or sense the dread of a diagnosis as this dark cloud cannot enter his room.

At last we all enter with the newly arrived sign language expert and surround the patient to see how we can help him. There is a flurry of hand motion from both….success….he can sign!

We wait and watch the silent communication and note a grin from the patient as he stands up with a look of relief. The translator ushers out of the room and with a straight face informs us that this patient, who had waited two hours to be seen, was actually here to visit a friend on another floor. He apparently simply came through the wrong entrance since he couldn’t read the signs.

With embarrassment on my face and with assistance of the translator I offer my sincere apology for kidnapping him (though I didn’t state it as such). I personally escorted him to the appropriate area and let him keep the gown as a memento. He turns with a smile and waves bye…still in a happy mood. A clerk wants to know what to do with the chart and notifies me that we have to bill him since we had made a chart. I decide to deal with that later.

I watch him as he takes his small confident steps to his destination…still appearing at ease. What an individual…the acceptance, the charity of forgiving our error. My grandmother that lived to 104 years of age didn’t believe in worrying. Based on this, I think he will live a long time.