Monday, May 12, 2008


No matter how long I've been in this country, no matter what language I speak flawlessly, no matter what community, city or state I live in, deep down inside, one thing holds true: I'm just a Cuban girl at heart. The culture of my ancestors, my family, my homeland permeates me in ways only I realize, not others around me. Sometimes I give little glimpses to the world. Mostly I laugh at the things that pop into my head that would mean absolutely nothing to John Doe on the street, but would crack up another Cuban if I said it out loud.

Case in point: LA CIRIMBA.

La CIRIMBA is a fainting spell, Cuban-style. (And it sounds funny when you say it.) Accompanied by yells, screams, rolling of eyes, hankies smelling of rubbing alcohol. They usually happen to females, and usually at funerals or when receiving bad news. And if you're painting a picture of delicate Victorian ladies with their vapors and fainting couches, DON'T. This is more in line with demonic possession. The term "hysterical latin female" certainly has a precedent.

A patient arrives in triage, complaining of generalized abdominal pain. He is in enough pain where he is sweating, can barely answer questions or sit still. I'm trying to get a blood pressure to get him inside quickly when, BOOM! he slides to the floor unresponsive. All 275 pounds of him. His wife starts to scream, his teenage kid starts yelling and banging his head against the wall. YEP! Guess where they're from?

I call for help and it takes four hefty guys and myself to pick him up and get him on a stretcher. Rush to the trauma room, followed by IV insertion, EKG, neuro exam and insertion of a LARGE Foley catheter. No response, including the catheter. I'm starting to panic and think I missed SOMETHING and didn't act quickly enough. While on the way to get a CT scan of his head, I give him a hearty sternal massage, and finally he opens his eyes and says, "What did you give me?"

"What......I didn't give you anything. Do you remember what happened to you?" And more important, "How is your pain"?

He responds, "What pain? I don't have any pain now. What did you give me?"

I slowly come to the realization that I have just witnessed a CIRIMBA. A Cuban male version of the CIRIMBA.

And BOY, do I feel stupid.

He checked out completely normal. Not a lab value out of place, an EKG from the normal textbook version, not even altered vital signs throughout the whole episode. And NO PAIN WHATSOEVER. AT ALL. He went home the same night, thankful that I took care of his pain (must have been the chicken I sacrificed to the Santeria gods the night before to sanctify the atmosphere in the ER, or something like that).

(Note to PETA MEMBERS: I don't always sacrifice chickens to clear the air in the ER. I sometimes wave my magic wand or shake holy water, or hang the little rubber hen with the red ribbon attached to her neck). You had to be Cuban to get that.

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