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Another Way to Communicate
When language became a barrier and English words didn't work, God's words made the difference.

I smiled at the middle aged woman seated on the bed in front of me. The volunteer who had brought her to the medical ward told me that Mrs.Veroot spoke little English. Her mother tongue was Dutch, which I didn't speak or understand. Yes, I thought, this is going to be difficult. Still I was sure that somehow we'd both manage to make our needs known.

… everything about her posture indicated someone in a great deal of distress.

"Hello," I said. I pointed to myself. "I'm your nurse and I have to do your admission."

Mrs. Veroot beamed and nodded. "So sorry, so sorry, English no so good."

"That's okay," I said. "Someway we'll manage this."

I patted her arm and pointed to the scales, where I wanted her to stand. She stood up and did as I requested. Well, I thought, that was easy enough.

This patient was on the ward for an assessment of an ophthalmology condition. I noticed that she frequently rubbed her right eye, which looked reddened and sore.

I pointed to her eye, and grimaced. "Your eye, it pains you?" She frowned, and shook her head. I had no idea if she had understood what I had been trying to convey by my facial contortions. Nevertheless, she was my patient, and I knew that I would have to proceed the best way I could to get all of her admission information documented.

"So sorry … So sorry," she said, hanging her head down. "Is no goot. No goot!"

"It's alright." I gently patted her arm. She peered at me. "Is alright?" I nodded.

She rubbed at her eye again, and I certainly did not need her to tell me that it hurt. The drawn expression that passed across her face whenever she touched it was enough.

With a lot of mime, and a great deal of nodding and shaking of both of our heads, I finally had all of the paperwork completed. As I left her room, I wondered how the doctor from the eye service was going to do his admission. I thought it best to forewarn him of the language problem. I relayed this information to him and he thanked me.

A few days later, the specialist approached the nurses' station. "Do you have Mrs.Veroot today as a patient?" he asked.

I nodded. "Yes, as a matter of fact I do."

"Do you speak Dutch?"

I shook my head. "No, I'm sorry I don't."

"That's too bad."

"Yes," I said, "it would have made communicating with her a lot easier, but we've been managing up to now, without verbally saying very much."

"Well, that's fine then," he said. "Perhaps, you could go in right now and see her. She's very upset about her diagnosis."

"What did her test show?" I asked.

He pursed his lips together before answering. "They were not good. This lady is going to have to have that right eye of hers removed, and it needs to be done soon." I could only imagine how this woman must have been feeling, knowing how I would react to such news myself. I stood up. "I'll go in at once."

When I walked into her room everything about her posture indicated someone in a great deal of distress. Mrs.Veroot sat slumped in the middle of the bed sobbing, and rocking backward and forward. I walked over to her and placed my arm around her shoulders. She looked at me with her tear-stained face and gave a deep heart wrenching sigh.

I wanted to let her know that I empathized with her, and I wanted to be able to tell her in some other way other than just hand signals and a few odd words of English. The problem was how to do that. Then I spotted her Bible on her bedside table. Although it was printed in Dutch I picked it up.

Mrs.Veroot watched me as I leafed through the pages. I finally found the section I wanted. In the book of Ecclesiastes, there is a passage that has given me much comfort when I needed it. I hoped that it would ease some of my patient's grief, and let her know that I understood how she felt. I pointed to Chapter 3 and motioned to her to read it. The passage begins "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven." She sat quietly looking at the page. Her tears gradually subsided, and turning to me she nodded.

I inclined my head back at her. As I was about to leave, Mrs. Veroot grabbed hold of me. She hugged me and for a few minutes we stood locked in an embrace. We had not uttered a single word during this short exchange, but by the use of God's holy Word I had found the way to communicate with her. For me it was an uplifting experience.

Victoria Stirling is a retired nurse, freelance writer, United Church lay preacher and public speaker. She was born and educated in England and came to Canada in 1966. For details of her book, From the Other Sideof the Bed," click on She can be reached at

Originally published in Glad Tidings, September/October 2004.




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