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Wednesday, 10 March 2010


Lung Oncology specialist confirmed the correct pronunciation of the patient’s surname with me. He called her name through the makeshift door, prefabricated from hard plastic, of the surgery cubicle in the ground floor of the Royal Melbourne Hospital.

An overweight woman and her husband, both in their late 50ies, shifted in their seats which were conveniently placed in a row along the wall in the insufficiently lit narrow corridor of the largest research hospital in southern hemisphere. The place smelled of illness. At anytime of the day one could see at least 20 patients sitting and waiting for their names to be called through one of the surgery cubicles. Their granddaughter, about 10 years old, hesitantly followed them in. I greeted them in Turkish and explained my duties, even though they had heard it countless times before from interpreters. The man had a confused but confident face. The woman looked worried, she was cuddling her grandson. The doctor started to ask objective questions about the patient’s history. The patients had to go through these seemingly unnecessary questions, which were asked each time they had a consultation. When the doctor asked whether he smoked, the patient proudly answered ` I gave it up 4 years ago`. The woman also smiled `Yes he did, look how young he looks`. The patient’s hair was unusually black. `He dyed it` I thought... He was clean-shaven and wore a neatly trimmed `Turk` moustache.

`Hmmmmm` hummed the doctor and reached for the film folder that the patient was holding in his hand.

The patient lifted the heavy bag and murmured `here are the results, will you tell me at last` He looked terrified.

The man had been having pain to left side of chest, back, hot flushes, tiredness etc.

By this time, from the concerned look the doctor had, I felt there was something bad to interpret that day. I don’t like such days.

He fingered through the films and pulled a couple of them, holding them skillfully and determining the most recent one from the stickers placed on the corners.

The patient and his wife’s eyes were fixated to the doctor’s hands. Gazing and trying to interpret each and every mimic the doctor had.

The doctor carefully placed one of the X-ray films on the viewer.

It was a chest x-ray. It had a neat small patch of darkness near the center. This meant trouble. I had mastered to see the unusual on an X-ray film throughout the months I had worked as the full time interpreter of the hospital.

`This is what I was worried about` he murmured.

Pulled that down and put a new film on. This was a detailed MRI scan.

He pointed to one of the square shaped side scans and spoke, as if he was teaching a medical student about a particular subject ` I’m afraid this is cancer`, without looking at the patient. He continued to stare at the scan, tapping a tiny spot with the tip of his pen.

The man slumped back on his chair. A sigh of relief ensued, his eyes gazing directly in my eyes. I averted my eyes towards the woman. Tears were pouring from her eyes; silent sobs of grief had overtaken the wife...

I had already interpreted. The doctor continued `we can operate on this and take it, if it has not already spread into other areas…..`

`He had stopped smoking years ago, I was so happy, why god, why us? ` The wife uttered…

The doctor explained that the patient had to continue treatment at another center, which specialized in malignant cancer types. The patient and his wife had never heard of this hospital. The child was patting the tears on her grandmother’s face with the corner of her headscarf.

There was a knock on the door and immediately after it was opened. The head of Oncology Department appeared through the door. Both the Doctor and I got up. He never offered opinion on any case unless there was something serious. The patient and his wife looked as if they were in some sort of trance, dazed. The situation must have looked surreal to them.

There was a spooky silence for a minute or so. We could hear the humming noises coming from the restaurant section of the hospital, but silence prevailed in the 2x3 cubicle. The doctor started to tell the Professor about the history in a low voice, pointing to the scan on occasions. I could barely hear what they were saying.

The patient and his wife were lost in translation.

They were looking at me with querying eyes.

I stepped closer to the doctors.

The specialist, covering the vision of the patient, put his left hand over his mouth, scratched his lips and slightly tilted his head towards the professor ` This is deadly` he said `..I couldn’t really tell him we can’t operate on this piece of lung... We should still treat him though, give him the best treatment until we loose him`

The professor nodded, looked at the frozen figures of the patient and his wife


Looked into my eyes. I stepped back from his way. He first turned towards the patient and his wife and smiled “Have a good day!” he said, in his usual politeness, as he reached to the door and left, silently.

I didn’t have to interpret the last sentences exchanged between the doctors.

The family had left quietly.

Doğan şahin- 2003-Sydney

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