Sleeping Beauty, a good name for my seemingly un-trainable, but much needed 19 year old Nabt language assistant. She is my mouth and my ears as we see 20-30 patients per day. On a good day we might have one patient that speaks any English at all. Schools were very few and far between until 20 years ago, making western education an impossibility for nearly all adults in the Nabt region.
First thing in the morning while I dust, sweep, and straiten the treatment room Olivia sits on a bench with the patients, resting her head in her arms. Keep in mind, she is getting paid while I am not. When asked to move to the treatment room so we can begin to see patients, she makes a call on her cell phone and then lays her head on the desk and doses off momentarily. After a patient enters her job is to ask them to stand and show me where they hurt, five seconds later her gaze loses focus and her head jerks as she catches herself before falling out of the chair. She misses the patient response and, inevitably, needs to make another call (or two) on her cell phone.
Being a thorough doctor, I check her inner eyelids to see if she is anemic-a lovely and normal deep pink. I ask about fever, diarrhea, stomach pains, headache, a boyfriend – no luck. I ask her to be sure and get a good nights sleep, alas no impact. I even give the old tried and true pep talk on treating each patient as you would like your mother to be treated. I do believe she is sleeping with her eyes open during that one. Toward the end of most workdays, she no longer lifts her head off the desk to talk to patients, but merely turns her neck a bit toward the patient, speaking directly into her own forearm. I ask her to sit up straight in her chair, the response is a slight lift of the head off the desk with the next patient. It occurred to me that maybe she doesn’t like me, but then she did ask if she could have my bike when I leave which is surely a sign of familiarity, if not affection.
With only one day of working together remaining, I consider myself victorious to have survived the “assistance” and still be able to wish the young lady well in the future. I could not have done the patient care without her language assistance, and it is even a little humorous as I look back.