On the first full day of my husband’s hospitalization in Boston, I walked down a long hallway, searching for his room. I heard him laughing loudly. His voice was booming. I was immediately relieved, because I had gotten ridiculously lost trying to find him in the immensity of the hospital. But I was also perplexed. He is not boisterous, even when he feels well; and he was very unwell. Shawn was only 45-years-old and could run a 5 minute mile. Still, he’d had a shocking heart attack a few days before, after running a 10k race.
I burst into the room nervously, and saw him standing next to his bed, nodding and smiling. On the other side of the room, I saw with whom he was chuckling. A very elderly, sloped-shouldered man sat in a chair, rocking with laughter. They were nodding, clutching their hearts, and yelling back and forth. I had no idea what they were saying, but they seemed to understand each other.
Shawn introduced me to his roommate, Mr. G, who waved to me enthusiastically. I waved back, and looked toward Shawn, confused. “Oh,” he said, very loudly. “Mr. G doesn’t speak much English.”
Just as I was about to tell Shawn that speaking louder was not a successful translation tactic, he explained that Mr. G was also nearly deaf.
Judging by the happy conversation I’d just interrupted, neither lack of a shared language nor a hearing difficulty had stopped them from bonding over their shared health dilemma. Shawn explained that they were laughing because Mr. G refused to believe he’d had a heart attack. The absurdity of it was hilarious to both of them.
Shawn wasn’t sure what language Mr. G spoke. But the night before, when Shawn was admitted, Mr. G was watching a blaring Red Sox game. Somehow, they’d begun a commentary as the game progressed. They’d yelled the players’ names to each other as each got up to bat. They jeered at bad plays. They cheered for the good ones. As soon as the Red Sox won, Mr. G fell asleep.
When Mr. G’s son arrived for a visit, he told us he spoke Italian. His son said his father was a 93-year-old-widower who’d spent a lot of time on that cardiac floor. He apologized for how loudly his father talked, explaining how extensive his hearing loss was. Shawn assured him that Mr. G was a great roommate. His son said he worried…