November 16, 2011 | Hebrew
In which I speak Italian under the influence of propofol.
Today a nice doctor sent a small camera down my throat and into my stomach to take pictures of my insides. Normally I would not share this piece of information in a public forum, but I am so excited by what happened afterwards that I can’t help myself.
Learning the Basics in a New Language Is Like Reverting to Childhood
Before the procedure, I sat in a waiting area with a bunch of other people. One of them was a woman who had just finished her own procedure of some sort, and who apparently felt like total crap, which I did not find reassuring.
To relax, I studied Hebrew. As I have mentioned previously, studying languages has made doctors’ visits a million times more pleasant. It is very relaxing and distracting. This doctor’s office by coincidence happens to be right next door to the office of the podiatrist who is treating my foot injury. I considered popping my head in and saying hi, but decided the chances that no one would care were high.
So there I sat, waiting my turn, consulting a couple of Hebrew books and practicing my letters. Although my Hebrew focus has so far been almost entirely on Pimsleur lessons (meaning oral skills), I have started taking at least a preliminary look at the Hebrew alphabet. Above is an example of what I have been working on, from The Hebrew Primer (Behrman House).
I haven’t checked my answers in the book yet, so there may be mistakes in what I wrote next to the Hebrew letters. But it is really such a cool feeling when you first start to penetrate a radically different writing system.
Hebrew, like Arabic, reads right to left. The Behrman book is paginated in the reverse of the English system (so their front cover is our back cover), and the other one I am currently using, Teach Yourself to Read Hebrew from Simon & Anderson, which covers similar material, is paginated according to the traditional English system. This makes it a little hard for me to open the books on the right end the first go-around.
My First Hebrew Letters
Anyway, back to the doctor’s office. I am not super keen on medical things, but since I know there are far, far worse things than endoscopies, I tried to remain calm. I think I succeeded. To distract me (I assume), the anaesthesiologist asked me what I had done to my foot, so the last thing I remember before going under was talking about running.
I was knocked out completely for the full thing, and the first thing I recall afterwards was being ushered back to the doctor’s desk. Two friendly young women attending to me seemed to be under the impression that I knew Italian. The reason for this perplexed me, since I had been chatting in English before the procedure and did not have any Italian books with me.
They explained that I had woken up from the procedure speaking Italian. Apparently I was talking about the marathon and how I hurt my foot.
I was floored. And ecstatic! To be comfortable enough in a language that I would come out of anaesthesia speaking it, when I could very well have spoken nonsense in my own native English? Maybe I was really getting somewhere!? (I have actually been worrying about my Italian, which is for my tastes still too primitive and fragile. Yesterday while running an errand, I practiced talking to myself in Italian—silently in my head, I mean—to make sure I hadn’t forgotten certain words.)
One of the women said she had been studying Italian with Rosetta Stone, but that she hadn’t found it useful. Still loopy from the propofol (yes, that’s what they gave me), I gushed about the virtues of Pimsleur and wrote down the name for her on a piece of paper.
At least I think I wrote “Pimsleur.” It’s possible I wrote “Pommslar” or something delirious like that instead.
This endoscopy completely made my day.