An old man came to my office today needing a pair of crutches. His French-speaking son was with him. The old man had a necrotic head of his femur and was in need of a hip replacement . . . which is a procedure we don’t do here in Galmi.
As I was fitting him for his crutches, the son asked me a most shocking question about his father’s care:
‘Yes, of course we do.’ I answered, very confused as to why he was asking.
‘Well,’ he said, as he pulled out a little digital camera to show me the bone scan pictures that had been taken somewhere else, ‘That other doctor told me that my father needs to have a new hip put into his body, and that you can’t do it here. But you’re telling me that you do have a Gynecologist. So why did they tell me I have to take my father to Niamey or Morocco? When you have a Gynecologist here who could do it?’
At first I thought maybe I had gotten the term wrong . . . but I was pretty sure it wasn’t my French that was the problem.
‘You mean an Orthopedist?’ He stared at me.
‘A bone doctor? The one who fixes bones and joints?’ I tried again.
‘Yes’ he answered as if that’s what he had been saying all along.
I assured him that the services he was looking for were not available in our hospital. I suggested trying Niamey before going all the way to Morocco. But I did not, however, explain why our Gynecologist would not be able to help his father.
When working cross-culturally, some things are better left unsaid.