8 April 2020

I stared at the laptop screen, running through a chest x-ray mnemonic in my mind, trying to decide if there was anything worthwhile that I could find on this film, and trying to guess why it had been ordered. I'm supposed to give a lecture one of these days (once gatherings as large as a staff meeting are declared officially safe again) about indications and risks and everything one should know here about ordering and interpreting x-rays. I'll have to also remember to ask our order-writing staff to write a clinical blurb on the order form whenever they order any radiology studies. Finally I scribbled my interpretation on the results form and walked out to find the patient and see what actual complaints had prompted this x-ray.
The nursing students brought the young man into the consultation room.
I greeted the patient and waited for the nursing students to interpret. "Ok, what symptoms does he have?"
They just looked at me and didn't interpret anything.
"He can't talk," they finally explained, amused. "He's drunk."
"He's drunk? Really? He doesn't look drunk at all!"
"Nooo, no he's not drunk," they laughed. "He's deaf! He can't hear! His family was here earlier to give the history, but now they've left."
With a few gestures we attempted some basic communication and then found that he could read and write in French! What seemed like an impossible encounter actually turned into a fun conversation, and I was able to order the treatment he needed.

In French, the word for drunk is "soûl." When we talk about someone being on a medication we use the word "sous," which means under. So literally we say someone is "under quinine," or "under metronidazole," etc. The word for deaf is "sourd" (and if the patient is "sous quinine" they may also feel like they're "sourd" thanks to the side effects of quinine).

Soûl, sous, sourd. As different as these words might look in writing, most of the letters that look different among them aren't actually pronounced. Apologies to my French teachers, for whom these subtle pronunciation differences are probably huge and obvious, but to me they all sound like "sue."