Superpower Wish List for Medical Interpreters

Have you ever wished for a particular superpower to help you better handle interpreting encounters? I know I have.

It might seem silly to daydream about having superpowers. However, accepting that I don’t have superpowers helps me to have more realistic expectations of myself and others. It also serves as a motivator to uncover superpower alternatives that are realistic and produce the desired outcome — even if it does take a bit more effort.

Here are the top four superpowers on my wish list, along with their more attainable alternatives:

bi-location (n.) The ability to be in two different places at the same time.

Why? Even the most carefully planned day can get off track. A 30 minute clinic appointment might run two hours longer than expected. On some days it might not matter if the planned appointment runs long; other days, this will cause serious complications to meeting the needs of others and fulfilling commitments.

Alternative for non-supers: Develop a logistical contingency plan to fall back on when unplanned events prevent you from sticking to the schedule. Be sure to collaborate with your team members when developing the plan. This includes fellow interpreters, interpreter schedulers, and the healthcare team.

Here are some questions to consider when developing a logistical contingency plan:
+ Who must initiate the communication?
+ Who needs to receive the communication?
+ What do they need to know?
+ By when do they need to know it?
+ How must it be communicated to them?

mindreading (n.) The ability to know exactly what the speaker means, and have access to the full context of the message.

Why? Words don’t always translate neatly, and individuals don’t always speak clearly. Some messages remain unclear even when spoken with a reasonable amount of clarity and context, such as words that have multiple definitions like “buckle” and “tough”.

Alternative for non-supers: Clarify messages before delivering the interpretation, and correct interpretation errors when they happen. I’m much more likely to trust an interpreter who is more concerned with communicating the messages accurately, than an interpreter who is more concerned with “looking good” while delivering seemingly flawless messages. Also, develop a strong working knowledge of the subject matter (i.e. healthcare) to better understand the context of the spoken message.

antigravity (n.) The ability to float or hover above everyone and everything in the immediate environment.

Why? Most hospital and clinic facilities were not designed with interpreters in mind. Sometimes it’s impossible to be in an ideal position to facilitate communication and stay out of the way of medical equipment and personnel.

Alternative for non-supers: Install hammocks on exam room ceilings (just kidding — that would probably creep the patient out, and it wouldn’t be safe).

Work with the medical personnel to select the best place for you to be. Learn from “mistakes” and make better decisions the next time. Remember that you are a very important person in the encounter, but you are not themost important person in the encounter. Make the best of the situation you have.

Energizer Bunny (n.) The ability to keep going and going and going...(Okay, not really a superpower, but indulge me on this one...)

Why? Many interpreters work unusual hours and have unpredictable schedules. Meal and sleep routines get interrupted or delayed, which inevitably impacts the human body’s ability to keep going and diminishes brain power.

Alternative for non-supers: Be aware of your own physical needs, and respond to them. Don’t ignore that you’re hungry, thirsty, tired, or have to go to the bathroom. Do what you can to anticipate your physical needs. The C-section might only last 45 minutes, but you’re going to be very busy for that duration and a period of time thereafter. Grab a quick snack or hydrate before going into the operating room.

As an interpreter, what other superpowers would you like to have? What other superpower alternatives do you recommend?

P.S. If you are reading this and have developed any of these superpowers, please contact me. I'd love to talk.