I Don't Need an Interpreter (Part 2)

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This is the second article in a 3-part series. Interpreters, perhaps you can relate to the situations. Add a comment to share your own examples and takeaways on the theme.

Some years ago, I was called to the Emergency Department to interpret for an elderly gentleman and the care team. When I arrived and introduced myself, the patient’s adult daughter was none too happy to see me. She was adamant that she didn’t need an interpreter. Even when the staff explained that I was there to interpret for her father, she still insisted that he didn’t need an interpreter either. She was going to interpret. And interpret she did for about three more sentences, and then she got stuck on a word: quarantine.

Seriously, who goes around knowing how to say quarantine in their languages of proficiency? I’m guessing not too many bilingual people do, but do you know who does? Medical interpreters, that’s who.

As soon as she got stuck on the term, I had my opening to nonaggressive take the lead on interpreting. The patient’s daughter then settled into her role (and an extremely valuable role, to be sure) as the daughter and primary caregiver. I interpreted what was said for whomever did not understand the speaker’s language. From that point on, roles were clear and everyone contributed their skills and expertise to the encounter – medical team, patient, family, and interpreter.

Takeaway messages:

1) Just because you, the interpreter, are not wanted, doesn’t mean you are not needed.

2) Don’t underestimate your skills. Just because another person is certain that they can do what you, the interpreter, can do, it doesn’t mean they really can when it comes right down to it.

3) Welcome and encourage individuals to participate in their primary roles. You’ve got the interpreting covered so that others can be themselves and do what they do best: Treat patients, care for family members, receive medical care.

Next up is I Don’t Need an Interpreter Part 3, a story about the emergency room and a physician (but the star of the story is the nurse).

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