Interpreting: It's not all "Rose-Colored Lenses"

rose lenses

Ask me the details from my interview over six years ago and I probably won’t be able to recall many. One thing that did stick with me, though, was when one of the interviewers took extra time to do what I now call the “this is what you’re getting into” talk. At the time, I was psyched because, well, why would she waste her time doing this if the company wasn’t truly interested in hiring me? Now, looking back, I get what she said when she told me that interpreting isn’t all “rose-colored lenses.”

Of course, there are many happy moments in healthcare interpreting. A baby is born. A patient’s A1C went down so much that he is no longer considered to be at risk for severe complications of diabetes. A patient finishes her last round of chemotherapy.

On the flip side, though, interpreters sometimes find themselves being the bearers of bad news. And if you’re considering a career in interpreting, you need to ask yourself if you can handle the situations that aren’t so rose-colored.

Imagine yourself interpreting the following scenarios:

  1. OBGYN: “On the ultrasound, your baby didn’t have a heartbeat. I’m so sorry for your loss.”
  2. Gastroenterologist: “What we found on your husband’s scope looks like cancer, as I suspected.”
  3. ICU Doctor: “The probability that your brother will survive after an accident like this is extremely low. Are you able to call your mother in Mexico?”

These are all scenarios I’ve had to interpret. And yes, it can weigh on you emotionally to be the bearer of bad news. So how does an interpreter do it?

First, remember that without your interpretation, the patients will understand little of what’s going on. They may assume the worst. And if you were in the patients’ shoes, wouldn’t you want to be informed, no matter how bad the news?

Second, being able to understand everything empowers the patients to make their own decisions regarding lifestyle changes, treatment options, and second opinions.

One situation that I will never forget is when I interpreted for a patient who came in with a large lump on his finger. The infectious disease specialist who saw him thought that the lump was likely infected all the way through the bone. His recommendation? Amputation. The patient, however, really wanted to save his finger. I mean, who wouldn’t? He told the doctor this, and so the doctor referred him to an upper extremity specialist. The other specialist did a biopsy and found that the finger could be saved. 

When I heard this, I was blown away. The patient was immensely relieved that they didn’t need to amputate his finger. They say “interpreters save lives in many languages.” Maybe I didn’t save someone’s life that day, but through interpreting, in a way, I helped him save his finger.

If you’re an interpreter, what advice do you have for someone considering an interpreting career? What do you recommend interpreters do when they find themselves in situations that aren’t “rose-colored”? Comment below.


About the author: Miranda Boyd is a CHI™ certified Spanish interpreter. She learned Spanish through her studies in the U.S. and Argentina. Miranda has been a full-time healthcare interpreter at Connecting Cultures, Inc. since 2010. 

Posted on April 7, 2017 and filed under Newbie.