22 nov. 2018

Going to the Doctor in Spanish

Last week, like many other people, I was really sick and completely bedridden for almost an entire week. After two years in Spain, it was finally time to go to the doctor for the first time. Luckily for me, Raúl took care of finding the number of the nearest Sanitas doctor. This was great, except for the fact that it did not occur to him that it might make sense for me to see an English speaking doctor. I did not have the strength to undo what was already done nor could I fathom waiting any longer to get treated, so I sucked it up and made the appointment.



While the experience was positive overall, there are a few things I would have done differently to prepare myself if I could do it all over again. Even though my Spanish is strong, I still felt a bit lost. For better or worse, I am not used to discussing flu-like symptoms in Spanish, so those words just were not part of my vocabulary. I tried to tell the doctor that my ears hurt by saying “me duelen las orejas” but apparently that direct translation from English is just not a correct way of describing this symptom in Spanish. I quickly reverted to hand gestures, and before long the doctor did as well since it was clear to him that I was just not following. Looking back, my advice would be as follows:
  • As a heads up, when you call to make the appointment, they are going to ask you what type of doctor you want to see. I did not know what to say (a doctor doctor, I was thinking). Try to have this one figured out before you call. In the end, I needed Medicina General, which makes sense in retrospect, but I have never had to make such a distinction when calling to make a doctor’s appointment back home.
  • Write down a translated list of your key symptoms using an English-Spanish dictionary before you go. This is especially critical because I have noted there are several “false friends” in the health arena, such as constipada (hint: it has nothing to do with your digestion).
  • Do not hesitate to ask the doctor to repeat himself several times; at the end of the day this is our health we are talking about. I left the doctor thinking that he prescribed me some sort of throat gargle that I needed to mix with hot water twice a day, only to find when I went to the pharmacy that he really prescribed me anti-biotic pills. I still have no idea how I got so mixed up.
  • If you are on any other medications before you go, have the names written down along with that they are and what they do, translated into Spanish. The doctor is clearly going to ask you this, and if you are not sure, for example, what the words for insulin and what it treats are in Spanish, you could be putting yourself at risk.
All in all, this experience was not nearly as scary as it sounds, and I am lucky that I only had a throat infection (I think?) and not something more serious. The doctor could not be any nicer and more patient, and I am happy to report that the prescribed treatment worked and I feel so much better. Although I am proof positive that this can be done successfully without making these advanced preparations, in the end I think they can help quite a bit.

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