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Lost in Translation: From Nappies to Catheters, A Crash Course in Medical Terms

Written by  Feb 04, 2024

So I learnt much of my Croatian through assimilation, a more practical approach rather than a theoretical one. I would see someone drop a pen and logically work out what they said from the action. This week I learnt a whole new word, one that I was I could immediately forget. That word – catheter.

Not only was the word a new one but the whole process of using it was new to me. Although my whole family works or worked in the health system in the UK, I have pretty much successfully avoided almost anything to do with hospitals and medicine for over 50 years.

Babies and old people have a lot in common - if they don't get naps they get mad – they both wear diapers – they both don’t have teeth and they both eat mushy food. Yes, babies and the elderly share many things. “I must have changed hundreds of nappies over the years, and now I am wearing them,” laughed my mother-in-law.

She has been staying with us for the past couple of weeks due to a problem with her health.

I have been sent to the pharmacist to buy lots of different things but never 100 catheter bags. “Please don’t ask me anything about this, I am here solely and exclusively as a messenger and I have no knowledge of the case in any form,” I said to the smiling pharmacist before handing over the details.

Of course curiosity got the better of me and I Googled catheter when I got home. WTF! Is this some Medieval torture device! Unfortunately, I stumbled over the male version first. My eyes are watering just writing this, and my penis is retracting like the head of a tortoise into its shell.

I phoned my sister (a trained nurse) to get the full story. Bad idea number two! “Just make sure that she doesn’t pull it out by mistake,” said my sister with a look of pain on her face. She came close once (another trip to the ER) but apart from a few messy hiccups passed her catheter phase.

I joked with her “Let me give you some advice, don’t get old,” – “I think it’s a little late,” she smiled.

“Although there is one benefit of old age,” I said. “Your secrets are always safe with your friends …because they can’t remember them!”

She needed to spend two nights in hospital after a routine operation. And by far her biggest worry wasn’t anything to do with medicine or the procedure, no, her panic was that she was going to miss two episodes of her TV serials. I know that one (or maybe two) is Turkish because whenever it comes on she turns the volume to mute. “I can’t listen to that language; it sounds like they are fighting the whole time.”

And another one has something to do with a village in the Dalmatian hinterland where everyone seems to do their best to avoid doing any work. Of course I recorded the first few seconds of that series and sent it to her on her first night in hospital just to annoy her even more.

“We’ve got a TV,” she called me on the second day. “Although it’s a little tired, sometimes it just turns off by itself,” she said. She follows all these serials religiously, and has a set daily routine, flicking from one station to the next. She has the schedule and timing down to a fine art.

The weekends are the worst. No Turkish serials, or daytime TV. If it wasn’t for The Voice (or as Croatians say Da Voice) she would go mad. So her first call from hospital as to say that she was able to watch the serials, not to talk about her procedure!

And here I should say a huge thank you to all the staff in the hospital. They all do an incredible job and deserve to be paid much (much) more. It’s a strange world we live in where a waiter earns more than a doctor. I just hope the next new word I stumble across has nothing to do with any form of medical procedure! 

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About the author
Mark Thomas (aka Englez u Dubrovniku) is the editor of The Dubrovnik Times. He was born and educated in the UK and moved to live in Dubrovnik in 1998. He works across a whole range of media, from a daily radio show to TV and in print. Thomas is fluent in Croatian and this column is available in Croatia on the website – Dubrovnik Vjesnik


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