When I was a nursing student, I got to meet a lot of interesting people. Saint Louis is a very diverse city, and I worked in Saint Louis University Hospital, right in the downtown area.
I had one patient who spoke a little English, not very much. She had probably ten or twelve family members crammed into her room, all laughing and talking in Spanish. Now, I’m just a little Asian girl, so most people don’t think I speak Spanish, which I guess makes sense. They assumed they could speak Spanish around me and I wouldn’t know what they were saying.
It’s an awkward situation, when you don’t know how to broach a topic, especially one that could cause embarrassment for anyone. In this case, when I went into the room to hang an IV, one of the patient’s nephews told everyone that I needed to get through. And, of course, there was a lot of teasing involved.
“You like her!”
“You think that nurse is cute. Why don’t you ask for her number?”
He was embarrassed, but he didn’t really say much. I worked on hanging the patient’s bag, but as they continued to talk to me, I started to feel uncomfortable. Finally, I turned to the patient, and asked, “De donde es?” (Where are you from?)
The room turned silent and the patient gave me a kind of smirk. Obviously it’s a simple question, one that anyone could learn in a first level Spanish class.
She told me, speaking quickly so that I wouldn’t understand her.
I smiled, connecting the tubing with her IV. “Y cuánto tiempo ha vivido aquí?” (How long have you lived here?)
It took less than thirty seconds for the room to clear. Everyone left, except for the patient’s husband. I’m thinking they were all embarrassed by what they said, realizing that I understood every word. I never saw the nephew again.
I guess that’s one way to clear a room.