The international language of EMS

A Spanish speaking asthma attack looks a lot like an English speaking one

First things first; I do not care where you came from, or how you got here. Don't care if you were on the Mayflower, traveled The Underground Railroad, waded through the Rio Grande or are actually one of the few people here who originated here.

Don't care. I don't even care if you speak English; if you do, great, if you don't, not so great, but not the end of the world. I don't need words to tell me what is wrong with you, if there is indeed something wrong.

I've yet to interpret a 12 lead in any language but the only one that matters; a linear line with ups and downs.

A Spanish speaking asthma attack looks a lot like an English speaking one, I can stop blood loss in every language ever spoken and have managed many an emergency scene with a touch and a smile, or a touch and a scowl.

They start here
More than half of the people who call 911 in Providence speak limited English and half of those none at all. Providence is the starting point for many immigrants from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, as well as most Central American countries, Haiti, Africa and Eastern Europe, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and everywhere else.

They start here. Some end here. Most assimilate into our country, learn our ways, retain their country of origin's flavor and become good American citizens, adding to the character of our country. It takes time to learn a language, and most of the people I meet while responding to emergencies are trying. Currently, the Hispanic population dominates the inner city, and communities of Spanish speaking only people have evolved.

There is a comfort zone here for them; they can get by for weeks and months without having to utter a syllable of this country's language. But it won't work forever if they are to truly succeed here.

But in the meantime, it's just not up to me to expect people to speak English. I put on the uniform to help people who need it, and they depend on me, and I'll be damned if I'll waste valuable time waiting for people who are in trouble struggle to communicate.

So, some people have landed in Providence, and they don't speak English too well yet, and one of their children has a seizure. What little English they do know goes out the window when the s@#! hits the fan. It's my job to stay cool when the s@#! hits the fan, not fire things up.

So I reach into my bag of Sesame Street Spanish, and extract the key words needed to figure out how best to help these people, who are new here, and will eventually be a strong thread in the fabric of our people. That thread will only be made stronger if those that came before them reinforce it, and make it stronger through example.

The kids who stood by helplessly, watching as their baby sister or cousin or whatever stopped breathing and seized witnessed their elders in a state of panic until the fire department showed up, and one of El Bombero's could communicate enough to figure things out and help. 

An hour later, we're called for a report of two children struck by an auto. We arrive on scene and find two children standing on a street corner, confused, overwhelmed and afraid. Dozens of people surround the girls, police officers, firefighters and concerned citizens. A car had bumped into the two, knocking one of them to the ground.

Unable to communicate 
The kids are petrified, and try to tell me what happened but I don't understand them. The Spanish speaking people tried as well but failed to communicate. I crouch to the 5-year-old's level and reach out my hand.

She looks me in the eye, hesitates for a moment then takes hold, squeezing so tightly I think she might never let go. Her sister, 9, stands guard, then softens. With my free hand I take one of hers and lead them through the crowd, away from the busy intersection and into the rescue.

The Spanish speaking people on the scene were frustrated, the kids didn't understand them. The police are baffled, and so am I. I give the 9-year-old my phone, she smiles and dials. The person on the other end is no help; she speaks in a different language altogether. I give the 5-year-old my pad and pen, she writes an address down. It's just around the corner.

The little girl has a small scrape on her arm, the older one is fine. One of the bystanders tells me that a car slammed into them and ran the little one over. The driver of the car says the kids actually bumped into his car and one of them fell over.

I have four languages going at once.

We took the kids home. As soon as they opened their door, they ran up three flights of stairs and into their apartment. There, three more children lived with their mother, who was breastfeeding an infant. None spoke English. I managed to be understood by the oldest child, a boy of about 14.

They spoke Swahili. Honestly. Try to find a Swahili interpreter in Providence. Not so easy.

Somehow we sorted things out, the kids were all smiles and the mom appreciative. She gave the girls a thorough going over, decided they were fine and that was that.

Refusals? What good is a refusal when the person signing the form has no idea what they are signing?

Between me and the police, we did the best report we could muster and said goodbye.

Sometimes we have to wing it.

  1. Tags
  2. Archive

Recommended for you

Join the discussion

Copyright © 2020 All rights reserved.