A Universal Language

I was an engineering major in college, and one of the things I loved about it was working with numbers. Something that always fascinated me about them was that they breach language barriers. Try to have a conversation about the weather in two different languages and you’ll get frustrated really fast. But throw up an equation for the flow of a fluid through a tube and everyone who recognizes it will instantly know what you’re talking about, regardless of what his or her native language is. This is the same way I’ve come to view medicine, and taking a trip to Honduras with a surgical team this summer really opened my eyes to it.

 There were six medical students on the trip, and we were able to do everything from set up clinics in nearby villages to playing soccer with the children at an orphanage. Of course, my time assisting in the OR was by far my favorite activity, but I think the bigger eye-opener was working in the hospital’s clinic with the interpreters.

Playing with Honduran children receiving care at one of our village clinics.

I had never spoken through an interpreter before, and on Day 1 we were sent off to do histories and physicals on more than a hundred eager patients in the hospital clinic.  I quickly realized that, although I spoke very little Spanish, these were people in pain and in need of care just like any other person back in the United States. Intense abdominal pain to a Spanish-speaker meant the same thing as it would to an English-speaker. Once I came to that realization, it was so much easier to talk to each patient just like I would to anyone back home. It was awkward at first learning how to talk normally to them and not look at the interpreter as if they were the patient, but with time and practice it became easier. Before I knew it, we had cleared out the waiting room and had a full OR list for the week.

Working with an interpreter at a makeshift clinic to get a patient’s symptoms and medications.

 One day I hope to be able to go back to Honduras or another country and give of my time and what little experience I have to help the people there. Just like math equations look the same across languages, the need for medical care also supersedes those boundaries. I look forward to moving forward in my medical education so I can continue to use the universal language of medicine to help those both near and far from home.

A view inside one of the two operating rooms at the Hospital Bautista in Guaimaca, Honduras.








Shea Bielby


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