Encounters with Spanish

When you work in an internationally famous hospital, encounters with other languages are common and sometimes quite funny. A great example of that was when a Spanish doctor who had been with us as an oncology fellow for more than a year decided to show off his colloquial English, which was foreign to him. After a long weekend on call, he plopped into a chair in the nurses’ station and announced “Boy, am I shrubbed!” (This was long before George W. Bush.) It took us awhile to understand he meant “bushed” and even longer to explain to him why it wasn’t the quite the same thing.

That same week, a language difference drove us crazy in my outpatient clinic. A patient who barely spoke English called from South America to make an appointment in a week or so, but our computers were down. All our clerk could do was get a full name and date of birth, since the patient couldn’t recall their patient number. Unfortunately, she didn’t ask him to spell the name and we spent a considerable amount of time trying to identify a patient named “J. Honace” since that was the phonetic surname.

At that time, our hospital had over 250,000 patients registered and not one seemed to match. We did know the patient’s physician, but he was equally bewildered. The answer came to me at lunch. It was so obvious if you thought about it, but “Honace” is how “Jones” sounds if you use the Spanish rules of pronunciation! And on searching, there was a “J. Jones” living in South America with the correct date of birth. When the patient came for his appointment, he didn’t have a clue what a time we’d had making that simple appointment.

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