Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Medical Spanish: Fighting Heart Disease

Two years ago I had a heart attack. The Emergency Room cardiologist asked me the usual questions cardiologists ask. Did I exercise? Did I smoke? Was there a history of heart disease in my family? Not that he expected to learn much new. He already had seen my blood and urine tests. All the fat, salt, the cigarettes and the late nights of tango and vodka were there, all the evidence of abuse.

Heart Attack = un infarto, un ataque del corazón
Emergency Room = sala de emergencia
Cardiologist = cardiólogo
Dou you exercise = ¿hace ejercicio?
Do you smoke = ¿fuma?
Do you have a history of heart disease in your familiy? = ¿hay enfemedades del corazón en la familia?
Blood test = exámen de sangre, prueba de sangre.
Urine test = exámen de orina

The problem with abusing the body, like abusing a nation, is that sooner or later it rebels. Social status, bank accounts and political agendas matter little. The stab comes when you least expect. I reached up for a book at the public library a wonderfully warm autumn day. Suddenly I felt an intense pain across my chest. I collapsed. I recuperated instantly and got up. I felt extremely tired. The first thing I did was to call my wife. I should have called 911. Fortunately my wife’s common sense is more developed than mine. She jumped to the car and took me to the ER.

Abusing the body = abusar el cuerpo
Suddenly = de repente
An intense pain = un dolor intenso, un dolor fuerte (strong), un dolor agudo (acute). No muy fuerte = not very strong.
Chest = pecho
Collapsed = me caí (I fell down)
I got up = me levanté
I recuperated = me recuperé
I felt tired = me sentí cansado. ¿Cómo se siente? = How do you feel? ¿Siente dolor? = Do you feel pain? Me siento bien = I feel fine. No me siento bien = I don’t feel well. Siento mucho dolor = I feel much pain.
Call 911 = llame al 911 (nueve uno uno)

Hispanics are reluctant to seek help. Calling an ambulance is a last resort, something you do when you have a serious road accident or a fire, said a young man I interviewed when I decided to chronicle my attack, to write the story of the Hispanic heart. The reluctance is not only cultural. There are other fears preventing Hispanics from seeking emergency help, said a public health expert. 4 in 10 Hispanics don’t have health insurance. Among recent immigrants the ratio is 7 in 10. And there is the fear of deportation.

Reluctant = no le gusta (doesn’t like)
Have a serious accident = tiene un accidente serio
A fire = un incendio
Fear = miedo. ¿Tiene miedo? = Are you afraid?
Do you have health insurance = ¿tiene seguro de salud?

Meanwhile heart disease became the number one killer among Hispanic men and women. Hispanic men in Connecticut, for example, have a life expectancy of 59 years while the general population’s averages 80. The main cause of death is heart disease. Even 11-year-old kids are being diagnosed with risk factors such as Diabetes type 2. Diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and stress are risk factors all too prevalent in Hispanic communities.

Life expectancy = la esperanza de vida
Average = promedio
The main cause of death = la causa principal de la muerte
Risk factors = factores de riesgo
Diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, stress = diabetes, la obesidad, la presión alta, el estrés.

Don’t forget language, said the public health expert. Language is also a leading risk factor for recent Hispanics immigrants.

Don’t forget = no se olvide. No se olvide de tomar los medicamentos = don’t forget to take your medication.

A book in Spanish about the heart could help. Most of the literature available about the heart was directly translated from English, lacking cultural relevance, and overly technical material. I joined forces with my cardiologist to fight the windmills of heart disease with a book--a fitting tribute to Don Quixote’s 400 anniversary.

Could help = podía ayudar. Can help = puede ayudar.
Available = disponible

Lying in the Cardiac Unit of the Hospital, waiting for an angioplasty to unclog years of plaque building inside my coronary arteries, a 2-day wait, I turned to an old etymological dictionary. There it was. Both human and humiliation had their origin in the Latin word for clay. Contrary to divine, a celestial state, to be human meant earthliness. Humiliation really was bringing people down to earth, putting them in their place, that is, confronting mortality.

Lying down = acostado. Lie down = Acuéstese.
Waiting = esperando. Wait a minute = espere un momento.
Unclog = descorchar, diluir la obstrucción.
Plaque building inside the coronary arteries = la placa que se forma dentro de las arterias coronoarias
There it is = allí está
To be = ser and estar. Ser is a permanent condition; estar a temporary one. Yo soy = I am (permanent, used for nationality, name, physical descriptions: Soy argentino, usted es hombre, you are a man, ella es alta, she is tall). Yo estoy = I am (temporary, used for a state of being, estoy cansado, I am tired; for location, ella está en Miami).

You’ll be Ok, said the cardiologist, but I must tell you there are some risks.
Risks? I saw my left side paralyzed. I saw myself unable to shave and say I love you. I started to hyperventilate. I asked what would happen if I refused the procedure.
You’ll die, said the cardiologist.
Compassion is a word physicians should learn before practicing. But then I thought bluntness was preferable to ambiguity.
Chances of complications are minimal. Almost non-existent, said the cardiologist, handing me the authorization form I had to sign.

I must tell you there are risks = debo decirle que hay riesgos
Paralyzed = paralizado
I started to hyperventilate = comencé a hiperventilar, a agitarme.
I refuse the procedure = me rehúso a tener la intervención
You’ll die = se morirá, muere (you die.)
Sign = firmar. Sign here = firme aquí.

Two hours later it was over. I saw the pictures of my coronary arteries before the procedure and after. One artery has been 95 percent obstructed. It now looked like new. My first reaction was to write to the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language and the Webster Dictionary to suggest the inclusion of miracle to the definition of science. But then I recalled what Don Quixote told his squire: Miracles, Sancho, are just things that happen once in a while.

Obstructed = obstruida

As the excitement subsided, and contrition took over, we came up with the idea of writing a book. We wanted to show people exactly how a heart attack occurs, at what precise moment it starts, like Argentine writer Ernesto Sábato said, to determine which grain of sand makes the pile. The idea was to allow people to rewind the movie and go back to their original diets of beans and chilies, bananas and cabbage, to walking from here to there, and dancing, and going to church, and making family a priority. Life expectancy among recent Latino immigrants is higher than the average American, and much higher than second generation Latinos. Junk food, a sedentary life and smoking really kill.

Diet = la comida. La dieta is more identified with loosing weight.
Cabbage = repollo, col.
Walk = caminar
Making familiy a priority = hacer de la familia lo más importante, la prioridad.
Junk food = comida basura, comida mala.
Smoking = fumar
Really kill = mata de verdad

My cardiologist asked if we could really make a difference with a book. With all honesty, I replied, maybe not. So, we wrote the book. I visited Hispanic communities nationwide not only to learn the reasons for the deteriorating health but also to give a face to statistics, to create composites where readers could see themselves reflected. And, most importantly, we did not go to a traditional publisher and sat waiting for Hispanics to find the foreign-language section in a remote corner of the local Border’s, that section some Latino writers nickname ‘the cemetery.’ We published the book ourselves and went to the communities, to churches, hospitals, schools, to the corner where jornaleros, laborers, hope for a day of work. Are we making a difference? Maybe, maybe not. But, hey, that divine dreamer, after four hundred years, his quixotisism, can still be contagious.

Maybe = quizás
Contagious = contagioso

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