The two places I dislike the most are immigration offices and hospitals/ER. I have plenty of reasons to not like these two places – immigration officials are the least competent people on the planet when it comes to the job. Hospitals? Well, they’re in a completely different category for me. Coming from a society where the roles of men and women are very distinct, Western countries force someone like me to an extreme position when translating for family members and fellow Somalis who don’t speak English in places like at the doctor’s office. I always dread it specially when it’s my mom.
Doctors really don’t care about the awkward role-reversal situation because their objective is to get as much information as possible from their patients and they certainly don’t hold any punches when it comes to feminine “situations.” On Thursday, I found myself sitting in front of a doctor, answering questions about my mom’s very, very personal feminine “situations.” I don’t even know how to write it without feeling nausea. But for the doctor, it was the most natural question to ask a twenty-something son what is his mom’s “period” is like. “Ask her to describe it” was his follow up questions in various rephrasings. After four questions about this topic back and forth, it was on to questions about the stool. ‘Nough said.
However, at least in this case, my mom knew the drill – I’ve asked her those questions before at a docot’s. But once in a while I translate for someone that I barely know who sometimes has only been to a doctor a handful of times, mostly with female doctors. It is deeply embarrassing for a traditional Somali woman to talk about her feminine situation with two strange men in a 11×11′ room. So it is up to me to make her comfortable by rephrasing or innuendoing the questions, which of course takes even longer time but why can’t the doctors be more sensitive to their patients? It is baffling on so many level for doctors to spend more than a decade of their lives and hundreds of thousands of dollars perfecting their human anatomy knowledge yet can’t manage to sense the most visible uncomfortable expressions on their patients . Or what questions to ask less directly. It reminds me of The Spirit Catches You And You Fall Down. Sad.