The Unspoken Language

By Tatyana Bakhurets


"Hello, my name is Tatyana. I am here to translate for your doctor."

I knew going in to the patient's room that I was about to tell him he is going to die.

The doctor speaks, and so do I.

"Mr. D, you have a mass in your lung. The biopsy shows squamous cell carcinoma, a type of lung cancer. We need to discuss your further treatment and make sure you are as comfortable as possible."

"We would like to check for any distant metastasis to be able to provide the most adequate medical treatment. Chemotherapy and radiation are the options; surgery is not possible at the moment due to the location of the tumor."

I keep translating, but soon realize that the patient is not very familiar with the medical terminology. All he understands is "lung cancer." I see the acceleration of fear in his eyes.

"Do you have any questions? I will be back with paperwork you need to sign," says the doctor as he leaves the room. Again I translate.

He does have a question.

The patient is starting to cry, promising to quit smoking right there and then. His eyes beg me to take back my words.

He is about the age of my grandpa, a strong, tall man with dark hair and dark brown, deep-set eyes. Long black eyelashes, and fine wrinkles on his tan face. He looks noble, yet a hard worker. I guess that he probably works with his hands because they are much more wrinkled then his face; they appear rough and weathered. He is the type of man who does not complain, who does what he has to, who will fight through the pain and never tell anyone of his suffering. He is a rock for his family, someone who will do and sacrifice anything for them. He is someone's object of admiration, a role model, perhaps, for his grandkids.

And yet here I am, dismantling him, bringing him to his knees, crushing him with my words. I am making this man cry. His own family has most likely never seen him like this. He feels embarrassed by his own reaction. I can see him struggling to get himself together. To him I am a child. I know he can see the tears in my eyes. He probably feels responsible for them.

"Am I going to die?" he asks, fighting tears.

But the doctor is not there. It is just me and him. He is asking me.

I am there just to translate, but now I am the one whose answer he seeks. But does he really want the answer?

I try to hold back my tears.

"It will be okay; your doctors will do everything they can for you."

I offer a generic response. He deserves better. He deserves to know the truth. But what is the truth? Do I have the right to give it to him? There is always hope, and chance for survival, but do I have the right to give him that hope?

These thoughts race through my head at a thousand miles per second. I stay quiet. I sit down next to him and take his hand, and human touch eliminates all barriers in communication.

He starts crying hysterically as he squeezes my hand tighter and turns his face away, attempting to hide his fears. Tears run down my cheeks. We sit there for about a minute, maybe more. It feels like forever.

"It will be okay," I say, rubbing his shoulder, but now it sounds real, not generic. It feels sincere.

"Thank you, daughter " he says, smiling though his tears.

He needed that. He needed to let it out. Now he can return to his family as the strong, solid rock he needs to be. No weakness.

That day I learned a different language that we can all be fluent in.

A language that I needed to dig a little deeper for.