It’s a frightening example of how translation can go wrong..
Willie Ramirez was taken by ambulance to a South Florida hospital in a comatose state. He became quadriplegic as a result of a misdiagnosed intracerebellar hemorrhage that continued to bleed for more than two days as he lay unconscious in the hospital. In the course of the law suit, it was asserted that Willie could have walked out of the hospital had the neurosurgeon been called in earlier. No neuro consult was ordered for two days because the Emergency Room physician and the doctor covering Willie in the ICU erroneously believed that Willie had suffered an intentional drug overdose and had treated him accordingly. The misdiagnosis was based on the physical exam which initially pointed to a drug overdose, and on complete confusion regarding the medical history. At the heart of this confusion, was the Spanish word “intoxicado” which is NOT equivalent to the English word “intoxicated.”
Among Cubans, “intoxicado” is kind of an all encompassing word that means there’s something wrong with you because of something you ate or drank. I ate something and now I have hives or an allergic reaction to the food or I’m nauseous. On the day Willie’s intracerebellar bleed began, he had lunch at a fast food restaurant, the newly opened Wendy’s. His mother and his girlfriend’s mother assumed that the severe headache he experienced that night was related to eating a bad hamburger at Wendy’s – that Willie was “intoxicado.”
In Spain, intoxicación is used to mean food poisoning, and I warn students about this, mentioning the occasional (and increasingly rare) cases of people being found to be ‘intoxicated’ in old people’s homes.
Note: in English intoxicated can mean poisoned in medical usage but is usually understood to mean drunk. It’s one of those not-quite false friends where the meanings overlap bot don’t coincide.