As second year medical students we had to practice taking histories on patients. This sounds easy but it can become challenging especially when you and the patient don’t speak the same language. In a group of three we ventured into the surgical ward of the hospital to do a history of the gastrointestinal system. We found a friendly looking oldish black man who agreed to allow us to ask him a few questions.
The first question on our list was a bit personal and we were not quite sure how to phrase it so that he would understand. “Sir, um, how regularly do you go to the toilet?” He did not seem to know what we were asking him. “Ntate, the stomach, does it work a lot or is it soft?” Again that confused face. “Ntate, die kakka, is dit hantle?”We ask in very poor afrikaans-sotho mixed. We tried different wording and phrases. “Ntate, the poo, how is it?”
Eventually, he answered in proper queen’s english with a British accent: “Oh, you mean my bowel movements?” How silly we felt!