- Eliza Doolittle (My Fair Lady)
When we're in a foreign country, we become acutely aware of the importance of language. Unless we understand the language, words become a blur, sentences a smear. Essential communication is reduced to simple gestures and potentially universal words like "yes" and "no" (spoken loudly, of course, to increase their effectiveness). What's more, we're unaware of any customs, norms, and mores that could help us get along in society. In other words, in a foreign country, we can find ourselves up the proverbial creek without a paddle.
Being diagnosed with RA basically is the equivalent of suddenly being dropped off in a foreign country.
We don't know the language, the norms, the customs. We don't know our way around. We stand there with a crumpled map in our hands and don't know where in hell to go or what to do -- or even whom to talk to.
"Okay, you meet five of the seven diagnostic criteria for RA as designated by the ACR." RA? ACR?
"Your ESR and CRPs are elevated, but your RF is negative." ESR? CRPs? RF?
"We'll need to start you on MTX, which is a DMARD." MTX? DMARD?
"And you'll have to have blood tests every four weeks so that we can at least check your ALT." ALT?
HOLD IT -- WTF???????? Have I at least made myself clear: What the fuck?
After receiving my diagnosis, I felt as if (in the words of the great Lily Tomlin) I'd been dropped off on the proverbial corner of Walk and Don't Walk with a map in one hand and a translation copy of "The Rheumatoid Arthritis Patient's Guide to Medical Terminology and Life with RA" in the other.
It seemingly took forever to get my bearings and to make my simplest questions understood. Where am I, really? Why do I have to play pincushion once a month? What are the side effects of these medications? What can and can't I do? Why is this happening to me?
Gradually, I learned my way around. I purchased the equivalent of the RA Rosetta Stone and studied day after day. I consulted my map and committed several important routes to memory. I learned where gas stations and community centers were, so that I could fill up both on knowledge (thus power) and on friendship. Eventually, I found that I couldn't remember a time when I didn't know the new language, culture, and customs.
And it all was okay.
Until I returned to my country of origin.
Once I was back home, I would speak my new language to other people, expecting them to immediately understand what I was saying. Misunderstood, I would gesticulate wildly and speak loudly, attempting to communicate with friends, family, and sometimes, even strangers.
It was an odd and unsettling experience to find myself a stranger at home.
But gradually, some people took the time out to try to learn at least the rudiments of my new language. We were able to communicate with each other on new and different levels, and this helped to enrich our relationships. There's still the occasional hiccup or misplaced accent, but that's okay. We work past it.
Of course, not every one has wanted to learn the new language. And that's okay, too.
As time has passed, I've simply grown accustomed to doing what I do these days: straddle two different countries. But since I've gotten to know some great people in both countries, I've found that dual citizenship does indeed have its privileges.