Sunday, March 11, 2012


Girl just spent her second night in the hospital. I think, though I can't be sure, we'll be here another night. A week of stomach virus left her zapped of fluids and energy, so here we are.

I am the first to say I probably needn't have learned Estonian for work. I read Estonian correspondence and news in the office, but I really don't speak it to clients or counterparts. My local staff could have translated the written stuff for me. Waiters and waitresses all speak impeccable English. Bizarrely, Estonian has come in most handy in the bank and pharmacies. And now, in the hospital.

There are many English-speaking Estonian doctors. In Finland. The residents we've been seeing here are certainly capable, but speak less English than one might expect. The nurses don't speak English at all, but I find that, as native Russian-speakers, their Estonian is slow and crisp and therefore much more intelligible to this plodding American.

The nurses alternate between speaking to me as if to a baby: loudly repeating nouns while pointing to the object in question, and speaking at their normal cadence. I'm not insulted by the former; my Estonian brain only works when I turn it on and anticipate the context of the question. I've occasionally misunderstood basic questions, leading to my own infantilization. It's not their fault. We are in Estonia, after all; it would be presumptuous to expect that everyone speak a non-local language.

I've always been intimidated by doctors. So when the doctor discharged Girl yesterday, I didn't know the right way to ask to stay. I didn't know how to tell her that it took three sticks to get an IV in and how I didn't think 500 mL of fluid was enough. I didn't know how to say that Girl wasn't herself. I couldn't advocate for her. They didn't teach us "intravenuous" and "lethargic." She sleeps more than generally. She is very dry. I wasn't making my case.

The discharge instructions were understandable when predictable: no dairy until her poop is normal, lots of fluids, probiotics. Look for a dry tongue. The rest, I have no idea. She could have told me to hang Girl by her toes and I would have just been nodding compliantly.

After six hours at home and a mere three tablespoons of water, we were back, tears in my eyes as I apologized. For what? I don't know. For not explaining my doubts earlier. For not successfully hydrating her. For being at the office for every bad diaper that week. For not being able to explain what it looked like, not because my language skills weren't adequate, but because I hadn't been there when she was sick.

I apologized to Girl for the five more sticks it took to find a vein again.

Girl is sleeping now, IV back in place. She won't let me put her in the crib, so she's on the bed, beloved elephant and blanket in tow. She'll be alright, thanks to the luxuries of sterile needles and IV fluids.

Intravenous. I'll have to look that one up.

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