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Medic’s Care Not Lost in Translation


We were dispatched to the East Side of Lorain, Ohio, for a chest pain call. We entered the two-story home humping all our stuff, and we were directed to a back bedroom on the second floor where a 30-something-year-old woman was rolling back and forth on the bed and moaning. Concerned family members were gathered around, telling us they didn’t know what was going on, but they thought she was having chest pain. I was the medic in charge, so I knelt by the bed to try to get her to tell me what was going on.

She kept rolling back and forth on the bed moaning, “ayayayayayayay … ” I asked her what was wrong. “Ayayayayay.” Now, I’m ashamed to say I know little Spanish even though I grew up in a largely Hispanic neighborhood in New York City and went to Seward Park High School on the Lower East Side. In the ’70s, students at Seward Park were about one third black, one third Puerto Rican and one third Chinese. Oh, and there were a few other various ethnicities still leftover from earlier waves of immigration to the Lower East Side.

But I did know a few phrases, other than the curse words I’d learned back home. I asked the patient, “¿dónde dolió esto?” (Where does it hurt?) “Mi corazón,” (my heart) she answered. She wasn’t short of breath; she wasn’t diaphoretic; she had no pertinent history—she just didn’t look like she was having a heart attack. “Ayayayayay, mi corazón.”

I asked one of the family members standing by the bed if anything had been going on in her life that would cause her stress. “Her husband left her. It’s breaking her heart,” he said “Oh,” I said.

I don’t remember whether we just transported her al fresco or if we covered our butts with 02/IV/monitor/nitro—this was pre-aspirin/12-lead days. But I did learn one thing: Sometimes a broken heart really hurts like, well, a broken heart. And sometimes, the dividing line between the “physical” and the “emotional” is a blurry one, at best.


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