Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Soporific delivery compensates for lecture's sparse humor

Double-click the photograph to read the witty captions.

This week I gave an ophthalmology lecture at the National Military Hospital in Kabul, during which I silently recalled one definition of a professor: A person who talks during someone else’s sleep. The topic was glaucoma, a diagnosis of interest to very few people outside of ophthalmology. In fact, many ophthalmologists have little interest in the disease, so I was not surprised that a couple of staff physicians and a handful of medical students were dozing during the forty-minute presentation. I’ve written before of the easy and prolonged sleep I’ve enjoyed during my stay in Kabul, and evidently many Afghans are not immune to the sedative vapors that propel me into slumber. I was a little disappointed when I noticed that Dr. Abdulmanan, the only other ophthalmologist in the room, was asleep, but I doubt I had anything new for him. The lecture had begun with two ophthalmologists in attendance: the aforementioned Dr. Abdulmanan and Professor Lalzoi, the latter a seventy-four year physician who claimed he was the oldest faculty member at the hospital. But the Professor departed the lecture, after sitting in the front row looking extremely bored, five to ten minutes after I began. He later told me some sort of emergency compelled his departure, an excuse that is the Afghan medical equivalent of Saturday night hair washing.

I try to add humor to my lectures whenever possible, but what I thought would be laughable injunctions failed to elicit much mirth. Perhaps my idiomatic English didn’t translate well. For sure I thought I would get a chuckle when I showed a photograph of an Afghan hound, a show-breed canine famous for its long hair and distinguished profile; and also one of the more than forty breeds of dog predisposed to glaucoma. Instead of laughing at the veterinary allusion to a dog named for their country, the Afghans simply stared at the photograph, confused as to why the dog was called an Afghan hound as not a single person in the room had ever seen one or heard of the breed.

The audience also seemed confused when I stated that the prevalence of closed-angle glaucoma was unknown in Afghanistan, but since it was more common among Asians that Afghans with Asian blood were likely at increased risk for the disease. My translator himself seemed confused at this, and he turned and said to me, “We are all Asian.” When I informed him that I meant Chinese Asian, as in the bullied and widely despised Hazara Shiite minority of Afghanistan, he simply nodded his head vigorously and told the audience something that provoked them to slightly gasp in unison and then discuss briefly with their neighbors what I could only imagine was their perceived luck at being born Pashtun or Uzbek or Tajik.

I was able to elicit group laughter during the question-and-answer session when a nurse asked what he could do to treat his near-sightedness (an issue, by the way, that has nothing to do with glaucoma). I told him that no good, scientifically proven prevention treatments exist; but that, in America, some people believe that a diet heavy in carrots improves vision, the proof being that you never see a rabbit wearing glasses. Even after translation, that quip had the entire crowd chuckling.


Anonymous said...

Hey Dr Willy!

Are you sure these guys weren't watching a Padres game via satellite?


Joseph said...

That's hilarious. Maybe you should have offered free starbucks coffee and donuts.