I often turn to Google Images to help explain things to patients whose English is limited. I'll pull up a picture of prunes for the constipated patient, or a humidifier for parents of a coughing baby. A few words typed into the search box, and the screen's populated with helpful images.
Longtime patients of mine, an elderly Iraqi woman and her adult daughter, came to see me about the mother's shingles. She had terrible pain to her right trunk, and as part of her treatment I advised that she apply lidocaine ointment to the area where the lesions were. The ointment works best when an occlusive dressing is applied over top, but Saran wrap is a cheaper alternative.
They were not familiar with Saran wrap. Cling wrap? Plastic wrap? A see-through cover that can be stretched over food? Miming pulling the wrap from the roll and wrapping a sandwich didn't help.
So I turned to the computer and typed in my search terms. Mother and daughter leaned forward and looked expectantly at the screen. And then, multiple images of naked women bound in cling wrap appeared. I quickly turned the monitor away, but not before these two conservative Muslim women had been confronted with several seconds worth of pornography.
Well. This possibility had never entered my mind. Was this an established practice about which I was extraordinarily naive? We were all horrified, but I was the only one who blushed, and this, with my profuse apologies, seemed to amuse them. There has been a sly reference to this incident at every visit I've had with them since.
It feels like a gamble, now, to search even seemingly innocuous terms in front of patients, and I've since discreetly turned the monitor out of the patient's line of vision for a preview when I need an image.
And then on Friday, a Nepali-speaking family came in with a boy with olecranon bursitis, an inflammation of the elbow. I advised icing it - with a bag of frozen vegetables, for example. They were confused, and I turned to my computer, screen carefully angled away. But they gathered round and watched over my shoulder. What could I do? I would have to chance it.
Bag of frozen vegetables, I typed. I couldn't think of any way that this could be abused, but I'd been wrong before. I held my breath. The results came up.
Peas and carrots. Oh, sweet relief. Nothing more than peas and carrots.