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Reflections on the Twists and Turns of My Small Bowel

Episode 2: Confusion: Hearing Medical Diagnosis for the First Time

By Patrick Doyle

So here’s the thing. Doctors don’t speak English. They really don’t. It’s true they use some English words that the rest of us use, but mostly they speak a different language.

Speaking a different language presents obvious difficulties if, say, you’re having a casual chat over the back fence with your new neighbour and you’re discussing lawn care or what’s your preferred brewski.

But when you’re in pain, stretched out in the supine position, half-clothed in a hospital robe, confused and afraid, the last thing you need is for a doctor to tell you what’s wrong with you.


Because, by the end of your chit-chat, you’ll be more confused and afraid.


In my case, after a CT scan, I was told by the Doc that,): “you have complete obstruction in the distal jejunum resulting in significant dilation of the small bowel. To relieve the blockage, we recommend laparoscopic surgery. Immediately.”

Having spent many years watching, from the comfort of my LazyBoy, the genius of Lionel Messi and my other sports heroes, I am not unfamiliar with the odd metatarsal fracture or an injury to one’s ACL. But that’s about it. No rugby or hockey player I ever watched got taken off with an obstruction to their distal jejunum! So how could I possibly know what it meant?

“Thanks Doc. Could you give that to me in English, please”, I spluttered. “I have no idea what you just said.”

Now, I would never claim to be the smartest person in the room, but I’m smart enough. I am well educated, speak multiple languages, and I am someone who takes pride in being well-informed about the world we live in.

But nothing could have prepared me for the feeling of ignorance that would sweep over me on that first night and during the days that followed when I would hear terms like: “enterocutaneous fistula, ileus, lysis, anastomosis, enterotomy, duodenum.”

Had I been transported back to the year 460 BC to a remote village in Ancient Greece? I pictured myself a first-year medical student sitting in an amphitheatre listening to Hippocrates himself as he delivered one of his lectures. The only difference?  All the other lads (yes, it was male only back then) could understand him.  Me? I hadn’t a clue. It was, as they say, all Greek to me.

It was an out-of-body type experience. It was the first time I was actually able to see the blank look on my own face such was the intense sense of bewilderment I felt. “Boy, do you look dumb”, I could hear my alter ego mutter.

I was so confused how I was in hospital in the first place. How the hell did I get a twisted bowel? I was 45 years of age. In the prime of my career and .  in perfect health. Only seven weeks prior, I had just moved into a new house with my girlfriend.

Yet here I was about to have emergency surgery, the explanation for which simply served to not only confuse, but frighten the hell out of me.

Yup. Get ready for my “scared” and “angry” phase. That’s coming up in Episodes 3 & 4.


Patrick Doyle

Patrick Doyle

A writer and consultant, Patrick’s idea of fun is to analyse and interpret the economic, social and geopolitical trends affecting business today. Specific areas of interest include: Brexit, China, the EU, political systems and the media.He is also a part-time Professor at the Centre for Business, George Brown College, Toronto.
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