I like words. I like the sound they make, the pictures they draw and the sense they create when placed in a line. Onomatopoaeia (meaning imitating the sound described – e.g. ‘splash’) is a lovely word itself. In Irish nimhneach (pro. Niv-nyach) is a an onomatopoaeic term useful in a doctor’s work.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about communication difficulties between the doctor and the patient inEnglish alone – can you imagine the issues when two languages are involved? Sometimes these issues are benefits rather than problems.
My patient was Bridie Laverne. Strange name for an Norn Irish woman– she was reared in Gweedore and Irish was her first language. She married a Welshman and came to live in Northern Ireland; when I met her she was widowed, she soon discovered I spoke a little Irish and she loved greeting me and thanking me in her native tongue. This wasn’t too frequent, I should add, as she rather disliked attending the doctor at all, whatever the language!
Bridie developed a cancer in her seventies and despite doing well for a couple of years came to the terminal stage of her life. She was nursed at home by her dedicated daughter Ann– but every time I attended her there she spoke to me in Irish, so that Ann wouldn’t understand, and wouldn’t be upset! She spoke about dying, and about her symptoms.
Sure Ann knew the whole story – indeed it was she who discovered Bridie’s cancer in the first place, while helping her in the bath one day – but maternal instinct of protecting the daughter from distress was strong.
I didn’t understand all she said, but I had enough Irish to get the drift. And when Bridie was very ill, in her last few days of life, she spoke only in Irish. (Ann remembered that her mother’s sleep talking was always in her original tongue).
We were able to ensure Bridie was not nimhneach (sore) and had no samhnas (nausea) in her final days, and bhí bás suaimhneach aici. (she died peacefully).
I met Ann the other day and was reminded of Bridie agus an Gaeilge. Cronaím í. (I miss her).