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The Baby Boomer Face Of Spain During An Emergency

Who Do You Call

The best way for Baby Boomers to learn a language is living it.

My kids did it.

My wife did it.

Now it’s my turn?

Spain seemed like the best place to learn Spanish since that’s the language’s origin, as I’ve been told.

But it sounds different in Spain than it does in Mexico, or South America. Since I didn’t speak the language to begin with, it didn’t make any difference.

Before leaving I took the precaution of avoiding the language since it wasn’t the same Spanish spoken around Oregon.

I was wrong for doing that. How wrong?

The one time you want full command of any language is during a medical emergency.

We had an emergency. It all turned out well, but this post might assist you in a moment of need.

If you plan a trip with others, review medical histories. They might feel like you’re prying into their privacy, so explain a few things.

If you have a medical emergency in a country where you don’t speak the language, you still answer routine questions, except you won’t know what’s being asked.

Allergic to eggs? Huh? Had a tetanus booster in the past ten years? A what? Any past medical history that relates to your current condition?

You can answer them, but when asked in another language you might as well try explaining the Theory of Relativity.

Start with a list of conditions, followed by the medications taken for those conditions. Translate the conditions and medications into the language of the countries you plan to visit.

If you have allergies, check for allergy threats in your destination. Same with asthma.

The emergency I faced meant finding a way to get one in my party to the nearest hospital in the middle of the night.

We stayed in a hotel with the front door locked from the inside so I had to find the night clerk, explain I needed a taxi, then start all over with the taxi driver.

At the emergency room check-in, I started over.

Helpful words to know would have been ‘pneumonia’, ‘lungs’, ‘infection’, ‘allergy’, ‘respiration’, ‘Legionnaire’s Disease.’

Helpful phrases during my five hours in the waiting room would have been, “where is my wife”, “may I see my wife”, and “how much longer will she be here?”

With her admitted to the hospital I checked into a hotel across the street and found my greatest ally in the hotel desk clerk.

I was rattled. A mess. I asked the guy the same questions every day. He answered as if hearing them for the first time.

Is this a good hospital? Where are the doctors during the weekend? Is smoking generally allowed in hospital rooms? Do all hospital cafeterias have three beer taps? It was a cultural exchange at it’s finest.

He transformed my growing terror into a welcoming calm. With his anchoring presence, the storm I felt growing passed. Instead of becoming a hysterical tourist asking for the American Embassy phone number, I relaxed.

It seemed an odd feeling given the circumstances.

You can loose your luggage, your money, even your passport, but you still have your health. When health leaves, the next phase is panic.

Was I losing my wife? I thought so.

If the hotel clerk had been a trained crisis pro I couldn’t have been in better hands.

He was the Face of Spain, a guardian angel watching over his city and visitors. And me.

He’s watching over you, too. He’s got Baby Boomer experience.



About David Gillaspie


  1. Great post. And good reminder…going to Spain, France and Italy next fall and I will take your advice and make lists and translate them, just in case…..was the healthcare as good as I hear? I assume all turned out well.

    • David Gillaspie says:

      Hi Laura,

      It all turned out well with everyone home safe. The healthcare experience reminded me of an urban county hospital with police and doctors and staff running around. I’d call it a more relaxed system with beer on site, smoking in the hallways, and room sharing with deathly ill gypsies and their grieving families.

      It was incredibly humbling and heart wrenching and in an odd way a gritty highlight of cultural exchange.

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