September 20, 2010 by David Gillaspie
The best way to learn a language is to live with it.
My kids have done it.
So has my wife.
Now it was my turn.
Spanish may sound different in Spain than it does in Mexico, or South America. Since I don’t speak the language to begin with, it doesn’t make any difference. Before leaving for a month of travel in four cities, I took the precaution of avoiding learning any of the language since it wasn’t the same as the Spanish spoken around Oregon.
I was wrong for doing that. How wrong?
The one time you want full command of any language is during a medical emergency. You want to know what’s wrong, what’s being done, and what to expect. We had an emergency in Granada that resulted in a four-day hospital stay. It all turned out well, but this review might assist others in a moment of similar need.
While planning a trip that includes others, review medical histories. Some in the group might feel like you are prying into their privacy, so you’ll need to explain a few things.
If you have a medical emergency in a country where you don’t speak the language, you’ll still have to answer the routine questions. Except you won’t know what’s being asked.
Allergic to eggs? Had a tetanus booster within the past ten years? Any past medical history that relates to your current condition? You can answer them easily, but when asked in another language you might as well try explaining the Theory of Relativity.
Start with a list of conditions, followed by the medications taken for those conditions. If possible, translate the conditions and medications into the language of the country you plan to visit.
If you have allergies, check to see if your destination will have allergy threats. Same with asthma. If you have triggers, make sure you know to expect them.
The respiratory emergency facing me in Granada required that I find a way to get one in my party to the nearest hospital in the middle of the night. We were staying in a hotel that locked the front door from the inside so I had to find the night clerk, explain that I needed a taxi, then start all over with the taxi driver.
From Hotel America in Alhambra to a downtown hospital in the dark, I chatted with the driver in our special English/Spanish mix. At the emergency room check-in, I started the whole thing over.
Helpful words at check-in would have been ‘pneumonia’, ‘lungs’, ‘infection’, ‘allergy’, ‘respiration’, among many others. Helpful phrases during the five hours I sat in the waiting room would have been, “where is my wife”, “may I see my wife”, and “how much longer will she be here?”
With my wife admitted into the hospital I left Hotel America in Alhambra the day Michelle Obama planned her visit. I booked into the Princesa Ana Hotel across the street from the hospital and found my greatest ally in the hotel manager.
Enrique Bernardo was the calm in the storm I feared coming. I’ll admit to being rattled. I asked Mr. Bernardo the same questions every day and he answered as if hearing them the first time. Is this a good hospital? Where are the doctors during the weekend? Is smoking generally allowed in hospital rooms? Are there good places to eat nearby?
Mr. Bernardo helped transform what felt like someone coming to their wits’ end in a strange place to an oasis of welcoming calm. With his anchoring presence, the storm I felt growing passed. Instead of becoming a hysterical tourist asking for the American Embassy phone number, I relaxed.
It seemed an odd feeling given the circumstances.
Then, during a visit to the hospital, I watched bullfighting on television. I looked at the matador facing the bull and realized he looked just like Enrique. Instead of planning for an encounter like a matador, Enrique found me at the door at the Princesa Ana in full flight mode. He listened to my every need and instead of shaking a cape or brandishing a sword, he settled in to help.
I knew I wasn’t the only person in the Princesa Ana, but talking to Enrique Bernardo made it feel that way. His patience and grace turned the pressure down when I felt like something had to give. His kindness with a man on the verge of tears for four days speaks to the heart of the travel experience:
When as many things as you think possible have gone wrong, you’re at the beginning of what can really go wrong. You can loose your luggage, your money, even your passport, but you still have your health. When health is in jeopardy, the next emotion is panic. Events often spin out of control with panic. Demands grow unreasonable. Conversations turn shrill in a second.
If Enrique Bernardo were a trained crisis manager instead of the manager of the Princesa Ana Hotel in Granada, I couldn’t have been in better hands. He was generous with his time, willing to assist without being asked. For me he is the Face of Spain, a guardian angel watching over his city and visitors in need.
Thank you, Mr. Bernardo.
And thank you Princesa Ana Hotel.