Monday, January 25, 2010

Speaking in tongues

Recently I received a phone call that we had an ambulance on its way to Post with one of my Soldiers on it (he's quite fine, so no worries, though we didn't know that at the time). I was told it would probably arrive in about an hour.

Forty-five minutes later I was over at the hospital, waiting at the Emergency Department. Our hospital here is the best around, for many hundreds of kilometers in any direction.

That's actually a comforting thought.

The ambulance operators spoke no English, other than "I speak no English" (which was actually spoken quite well). None of us spoke their language.

In addition to our Soldier, there was an Italian Soldier on the ambulance who required quite a bit more attention than did my guy (who was released to the unit within 90 minutes of arrival -- not bad for an Emergency Department, eh?). The Italian didn't speak a whole lot of English, and almost none of his buddies who showed up not long thereafter spoke English either.

It turned out that one of the ambulance drivers could speak a bit of German. I audited a couple of Quarters of German while I was in college, after I returned from Foreign Study in Spain. That was 33 years ago now.

Had someone been recording our attempts to speak German to each other, I suspect the YouTube Embarrassment Quotient (YEQ®) value might have been great. I was able to tell the Italian gentleman (in ItaloSpanglish) that the ambulance drivers were apologizing that it had taken them so long to get him to the hospital, as there was the complication of having another patient to stabilize and transport.

Our Italian guest was not at all upset about any aspect of his transport to our hospital.

Our unit's medic, who'd heard about our Soldier's plight, came to the hospital to transport him back to the unit. Our medic watched with some measure of amusement as I attempted to switch among German, Italian, Spanish, and English as I triangulated among the hospital staff, the ambulance drivers, and the Italians visiting their Carabiniere.

It was pretty humbling, and quite comical, I'm told.

When I went back the next morning to visit my Italian friend, after a couple of visits the night before, he had been through surgery and was about to be released for return to his own base. He told me, in a combination of Italian and Spanish (for my own benefit) that it had been very important to him that one of the first persons he'd met upon his arrival at our Camp was a priest.

He mentioned that the fragrance of the anointing oil I had used on his hands and forehead had been a source of comfort for him as he awaited surgery, and that he could still smell it when he awoke from the operation.

He also stated that he'd been in a number of incidents, given his profession, which had required hospitalization before, but that he'd never encountered hospital personnel as competent and caring as we have here at our Camp.

I love my job!

Blessings and peace to one and all,

Fr. Tim, SJ

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