2024 Grateful 45: Lesson from a hospital ward

I’ve been spending a lot of time in hospital lately. Visiting.

Last week, it was to a six-bed ward where the chap in the next bed reckoned the world thought he did a better Elvis than Elvis did. I overheard him on the phone to Priscilla (presumably a daughter). When he’d don his Elvis-like gold sunglasses and treat the ward to a few verses, the Irish ward attendant joined in. Two others, from India and Africa, looked on in bemusement. The patients, those who could hear, were smiling. Job done.

This week, we’re in a three-bed ward (the joys of patient flow). There’s an elderly American lady in the next bed. She does feisty in the way only elderly American ladies can do. When I’m there, I translate for her.

When she asked the attendant to lift her tush, the young Filipino woman looked at her blankly. She repeated her ask and again got a blank look. I explained that tush is what some Americans call their bum.

I had to stop myself laughing aloud at the look of disbelief. I’ve had to translate that word a few times since for other staff, Irish included.

More confusion came when she asked someone to move the pitcher on her table. I could see the Irish nursing assistant frantically searching for a picture and seeing nothing that even came close. Again, I translated.

Two things struck me.

There’s a quotation I’ve often attributed to George Bernard Shaw when he described England and America as

two nations divided by a common language.

If Shaw did say this, no one can say where he said it. Despite what The Guardian says.

But there is a verified quotation by Oscar Wilde from 1887 that echoes the sentiment:

We have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, language.

The New York Times has put the first chapter of Patricia O’Connor and Stuart Kellerman’s book The Origin of the Specious online, if you’re interested in more on this.

I was also taken by the diversity of hospital staffing and how they bring to the wards various aspects of their culture.

Had I not had so much time to study their behaviours, I might have been tempted to generalise and say that the African women are very matter-of-fact and the Indians seem quite clinical. But it’s more individual than that. Stereotypes don’t apply.

Some are full of sweetness and light; others seem worn down by the pressure of it all. Some have time to have a chat; others rush from bed to bed. Some smile; others show no emotion.

There’s a lesson there I’m grateful for.

In our increasingly diverse world, we need to go beyond the stereotypes and get to know the people behind them. No matter where we’re from or what colour we’re wrapped in, we all bleed red.

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