My shift was over and I could hardly wait to get out of the place I loved to work, but did not love to stay when I was exhausted and wanting a hot shower. It had been a busy night but I didn’t feel like I had made much difference in anyone’s long term.
The fastest way to employee parking was out through the emergency room entrance. As I reached the ER’s automatic doors I was forced to stand aside to make room for a gurney on its way in, propelled by two big uniformed EMT guys. Their patient, a blood-covered woman, splinted and temporarily bandaged, was curled up on her side screaming incoherently.
Just as I was reminding myself why I was glad I did not work down there, Joe, at the head of the stretcher, recognized me and yelled, “Bridgette! We need your help.”
I couldn’t imagine why, with such a well-staffed place, they would need my assistance. Curious, I turned and accompanied them to an empty trauma unit.
The regulars transferred the terrified female to an ER bed, started an IV, and hooked up the heart monitor. I waited until Joe gave a quick report to the attending physician, then he pulled me outside the room for privacy.
“She doesn’t seem to know any English. I’m not sure, but I think what she's speaking is French. We found her in an alley behind a big hotel. She was unconscious but came to in the ambulance.”
“So,” I surmised quickly, “If I don’t interpret, no one will have a clue what happened…right?”
Joe grinned. “Yep, Bridgie, That’s about the size of it.”
I stowed my purse in a safe place, washed my hands, and returned to the patient. Obviously still frightened, she was moaning and sobbing.
I worked my way to the head of the bed and said, as gently as possible, “Bonjour, Madame.”
Her tightly shut eyes popped open as she heard a language life-saver being flung in her direction. In that instant, as she realized a communication bridge was at hand, she visibly relaxed.
When the doctor, a rough sort of agitated man, realized I could help he began barking a list of things he wanted to know. “Ask her who she is, what happened, is she in pain…and hurry.”
“Que est votre nom?”
She whispered, “Je m’appelle Jeanette Le Blanc.”
To no one in particular, I said, “Her name is Jeanette.”
Dr. Grumpy, tired of the chit chat, growled. “Ask her where she hurts.”
I spoke with a little more authority to keep her focused. “Jeanette, avez-vous des douleurs? (Are you in any pain?) Ne respondez que, Oui ou Non (You may answer yes or no)”
“Now what did you say?” He was beginning to get on my last nerve.
“I asked her if she had any pain and that it was okay to answer yes or no to the questions.”
He mumbled something about being more specific so I pointed to areas of her body and asked, “La tete (head)? Au ventre (abdomen)? A la poitrinel (chest)?
It took a good hour to get the details of an attack that nearly cost this woman her life. Later, I was needed as an interpreter for the brief police interrogation. At some point she asked for a chaplain. The one on call for the night couldn’t have been a better choice. His name was Antoine Du Cheval and they understood each other perfectly.
After a short nap at home it was time for my shift to begin again. I was delighted to find out Jeanette had been transferred to my unit on the seventh floor. I tiptoed in to check on her and found her awake. She smiled as much as she could with so many stitches and bruises.
I took her hand and asked, “Comment vous sentez-vous (How do you feel)?”
She squeezed it and answered, “Pas mal, merci (Not bad, thank you).”
Then she surprised me with what sounded like, “Whot ees naim?”
I showed her my name tag. “J’ai m’pelle Bridgette.”
“No, No… een angleesh.” She pointed to herself and back at me several times. “Teech, s’il vous plait!”
Without hesitation, I agreed to be her English teacher. Helping a woman learn to connect in a garbled world had to be an answered prayer about my making a difference.
I stopped in the linen closet for a private moment with the Lord.
“Merci beaucoup. Je comprends.”
No translation was necessary.
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