Monday, September 5, 2011

Improbable Imposter

Ms. Federica Garcia Lorca was a lovely little lady, slight of build, clear skin, shiny hair, big eyes.  She had abdominal pain and I was the one to situate her and show her to her room.  Exceedingly polite and rather charming, she claimed to speak very little English and so I spoke with what Spanish I knew and we got along swimmingly.  She seemed to understand me quite well in English or Spanish, though the nurse that went in later said she really needed an interpreter because she didn't understand a word.

Through the hours I checked up on Ms. Garcia Lorca, fetched her pillows, blankets, glasses of water, vital signs, EKG's, etc, I realized she knew more English than she let on.  Sometimes speaking slowly helped, other times it didn't. Words I used before were suddenly incomprehensible now. Something was a little strange.

A friend came to visit her and 5 hours into her stay, the woman in Ms. Federica Garcia Lorca's room was named Juana Ramona Jimenez.  I thought we had a new patient, but I peeked in, and there she was, feeling "much better." It was so strange, because I make it a point to address patients by name- now I didn't know what to call her.

An astute registrar, Spanish-speaking, was in the room when her friend was talking and realized that her friend called her something different.  She changed the registration name, so there were two names under the same medical record number in our computer system.

Ms. Garcia Lorca/Ramona Jimenez was discharged with one name and received prescriptions with the other due to a computing glitch.   I have had had patients who gave me false names before, but I would never have guessed that the sweet little lady was playing games with the system.  She just seemed too... clean-cut.  I learn something new every day about people and how little I actually know about them.

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