Fanfaron: Spanish for “show-off”


The Hospice nurse phoned in late,

But I made good use of the wait

      The stranger did vanish

      When I slipped into Spanish

And the form I helped her translate.

I met with the Care Initiatives Hospice nurse at a nearby nursing home; as I walked in she called to tell me she’d be twenty minutes late.

As I’m working with a more flexible schedule, I told her, “No problem.”

Sitting by the door were a woman with a clipboard, another woman in white pants and a nursing smock, and a receptionist.  Closing my phone, I looked at the woman with the clipboard, and I furrowed my eyebrows.

One cannot tell by the face what language the mouth has, but I went out on a limb and said, “Te conozco?” (“Do I know you?”)

“Yes,” she answered in Spanish, “Doctor?  I heard you retired.”

Then we struck up a lively conversation.   I gave her my synopsis, and told her I came to care for dying patients.  She nodded, and asked about my Christmas.  Soon food dominated our conversation.  After five minutes or so I turned to the receptionist, and in English announced my name and my purpose and why I would be starting late.

I turned back to the woman with the clipboard.  “I’m embarrassed to ask,” she said, in Spanish, “but would you help me fill out this form?  I don’t have enough English.”

I sat down with her and soon realized that, however well I can discuss pathophysiology, pharmacology, and disease states, I have never translated an employment application.  The woman, who has above average inherent intelligence but less than a high school education from a third-world country, had been working in the USA for years but had always found help when seeking work.

I did the best I could.  She had documentation of her ability to work legally.

But she had little English.  I told her how my wife and daughter had been teaching English as a Second Language at Western Iowa Tech; she was familiar with the institution and wanted to learn English but she was too busy working to get to classes.  I expounded the virtues of Rosetta Stone.

I had gotten the education and recent work history sections filled out for her when the Deb, the Care Initiatives nurse, walked in out of the cold.  I excused myself and we went to round on two patients.

Some people approach the end of life with awareness and wisdom, some with fear, some without input of their senses or the ability to understand. 

Great stories fill every nursing home.  One doesn’t traverse decades without experiencing fascinating slices of reality.

An hour later, our work finished, we came back past the receptionist.  The woman I had helped had left. 

The Spanish word for show-off is fanfaron.

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