Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Accents

The first half of my morning surgery was stressy. I was feeling unloved and put-upon by our dear Government and the computer system was running extraordinarily slowly, sometimes taking more than five seconds to respond to a key-press. This made it even more difficult to review patients with complex problems, and once again I began to run late. Then I used a four letter word in the presence of a patient, for the first time in my career. I wasn't swearing at him, but he mischievously asked me what I though of the Secretary of State for Health. Normally I am circumspect in my comments, but this particular patient is the brother of a local GP and we get on very well. He was amused rather than shocked, and at the end of the consultation he put his hand on my shoulder in good-natured complicity. A little later I needed to carry out an intimate examination on a female patient but all the nurses were busy and there was a long wait before one was free to chaperone me. My patient made it clear that she sympathised with my problem and appreciated the care I was taking in looking after her. I was touched by the kindness shown by these two patients. Things improved rapidly thereafter and I regained my usual friendly matter-of-fact manner. A quick calculation at the end of surgery showed that I had averaged just over 14 minutes per patient, which is not much slower than my usual rate.

I like listening to patients, and in particular their accents. I find it remarkable that voices can be so distinctive. We are fortunate in having patients from all over the world visiting us in Urbs Beata. This evening I saw and heard a rather pretty young lady from Norway and two charming American gentlemen, coincidentally from the same city. This gave me the opportunity to compare their accents and identify what they had in common. As we walked down the corridor to my room the second American asked “am I your last appointment of the day?” This rang a bell. In an earlier post I described the shock of finding myself in a poem written by a patient's daughter. That daughter has lived in the States for many years, and one of the lines of the poem (describing her father's visit to me) was “he was his last appointment of the day”. So I told the story to my patient, and he asked if it was not a British thing to say. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the grammar or vocabulary to a British ear, but we just wouldn't say it! I suppose the British equivalent would be “am I your last patient?” which sounds a bit more personal. We had an interesting chat about health systems, and guess what? He finds the system in the UK superior to both the USA and France where he has also lived. We may be doing something right, but our politicians have evidently not heard this good news.

9 comments:

The Shrink said...

I had an email from IT asking why I've not logged on to the electronic notes system for 12 months now, and if I need training.

Oh, the mirth and merriment of it all!

As to accents, I've become quite interested in them too, given that dialogue is, in essence, what I do. Practising in England I'm fine with most accents, the only one I regularly struggle with is a strong Glaswegian accent. I love the Edinburgh and MidLothian/Borders accent, Aberdonians are easy to understand as are rounded accents from Perthshire, I'm consoled that Scottish friends are oft times similarly perplexed by Glasgow's rapid and unique twang!

cogidubnus said...

Accent and intonation are curious things...set down in a strange area, most of us subconsciously begin adapting and within a week are picking up and repeating odd nuances of the speach around us...

I live in the South East of England and whenever we visit friends of ours in a tiny Notts village I'll come away after a few days saying "Aye"...until I realise, that is...

And yet...

And yet, my mother, born 1928 in Wapping, a true Eastender, was evacuated in 1939 to the South East, where (moving about between various towns/cities) she remained to the end of her days, (dying about three years ago in Eastbourne of all places)...but she never lost or even diluted her East End twang, and was (alas!) prone to saying "Gertcha!" to the bitter end...

Odd...

dearieme said...

Furry boot ye frae, shrink?

Anne said...

I have lived abroad on and off,for about twenty years. You really miss people's accents and it made my day when I heard one that I recognised. I tried to guess where they came from and engage in chatter as long as I could. I think it helped me feel less homesick.

Doc Joss said...

I've just discovered your blog and that you are leaving general practice. I myself have just left after 14 years as a partner. Can I just say that it was time to go - and it sounds the same for you. You are unlikely to regret it. I seemed to forget it quickly but I suspect the last 20 years since medical school have taken their toll in ways that will take longer to heal. I am regaining a sense of purpouse and pleasure in helping people in a different way now - this had not been present in general practice for a long time. I wish you all the best and Well Done.

hugh said...

referred from Dr Crippen. a blog after my own heart. I retired two years ago after 36 years in GP. still miss the patients , whom I meet in the local shops, but I do not miss the PCT mismanagers . enjoy yourself in the next year

Anonymous said...

It's funny you should say we Brits wouldn't use the phrase "Am I your last appointment of the day" as that is exactly what I would say! Maybe I am American through and through and have lived my whole life in some sort of delusional state...

Anonymous said...

Dear Shrink - you obviously don't have too many patients from the north east of England. I'm a native English speaker who has lived in all sorts of places, and I can do all sorts of German dialects including most Swiss German (and that's more than many native German speakers) but although I've lived here for 10 years the Sunderland accents defeat me - it really can be scribble!!!!

Dr Andrew Brown said...

Thanks everyone. In particular,
Hugh: thanks for your kind wishes.
Anonymous 1: you clearly are American, you just haven't realised it yet. ;-)