The Truth About Interpreting: A Father's Journey for Peace


Disclaimer:  I am very aware of the difference between interpreting and translating.  As a business woman I have interpreters cross trained as translators.  The context and intent of this blog makes this differentiation irrelevant.  Please have discretion when reading interpreters/interpreting because the focus is on the work we do to facilitate communication and understanding


It was the last working day of 2017 and I will never forget it.  

I was taking my daughter out to dinner when I made a quick call to the office to check in on the day's activities with our account manager.  While we were chatting, she put me on hold to answer another call. As I waited, I heard the confusion.  

On the other call was our IT manager who was the only employee in the office at our second location. He was asking about translations and wanted a quote for a man who just stopped in and was standing in his office.  Without seeing the document there was no way to quote it, so the account manager asked that he scan it and send it via email so she could take a look. 

She returned to our call and we continued talking about the day's events.  And then I heard a gasp! 

There was fear and sadness in her voice.   

Our emphasis is on healthcare and so it is very rare that we're asked to do work for the public.  When requests for translations come in we assume that it is for a business so we ask for that information.  In this case we gathered the man's name, number and the name of his engineering firm. 

“Oh my gosh! Rashelle, I’m looking at someone’s brain! This is a picture of a dead body!”  

Now you can imagine that while I’m driving with my daughter at my side I knew dinner was going to have to wait. Based on the information I had, I assumed that we were talking about an autopsy report.  But neither my account manager nor my IT manager speaks another language and no interpreter was available to give them context.  All they had were images and the man's info.   

I drove right to the office to view the document and inquire about the request. Why would an engineering firm need an autopsy translated? 

Upon arriving to the office I looked at the report. There were indeed images of an autopsy which were graphic and disturbing for anyone outside of healthcare.  Things were flying through my head as I tried to put together the events that just happened. 

And then it hit me.  I saw the name of the deceased and then the man’s name. I made another assumption: this is a report of a woman this man loved.  

In my 20 years in this business I had never seen an autopsy report, so it was new to me.  Not that it was outside of my scope, but it never came up.  In order to clarify what happened to my staff receiving this request I needed to call this gentleman. I was taken aback by the images as we were given no warning about what we were receiving.  I made the call.  

This man delivered his daughter’s autopsy report to us. It had taken him years to get and he wanted it translated so he could bring it to a local doctor for review. He had seen the document so many times that he was numb to how others might receive it.  He apologized for not giving warning and you could hear the sadness in his voice. 

This broke my heart. As he was talking I saw her face, the images of the methodical exposure of her organs and corpse was impactful, for sure. It was in that moment that I appreciated the impact the work our entire staff does. The IT department, finance, management, assistants, my children and the families of all our interpreters were going to help this man take control of his circumstances and find relief.  

Interpreting is never just about the interpreter. It is about the team of people that support the work they do. Everyone who works in this field, multi-lingual or not, brings such peace and power to so many who would otherwise be helpless.  

Being in the healthcare field can be exhilarating and brutal in the span of one day. Interpreters are elated during one encounter and emotionally bankrupt by the end of the next. It is the people that support this work that are the unsung heroes.  

On that last day in December I was finally able to have that dinner I originally set out on the road to have. On the way my daughter asked me a very important question:  

“Mom I could never do what you do. How can you see all of this pain and see so many bad things?” 

 It was such a wonderful moment of reflection. Her question was profound, and my answer was immediate. 

“God gave me a gift of being able to speak two languages. His plan for my life led me and you to this very moment, sitting here, right now. I found that I could use this gift to help people in their most vulnerable times.  

“Take this man as an example. He lost his daughter in a way no parent should. And he wants to understand what happened and continue his journey of finding peace. Without us he would never be able to really know what happened to his baby.” 

We drove together in silence. I appreciated the fact that I had a wonderful dinner and great conversation with my baby. When we got home I shared what happened with my other two girls. All three saw, in that moment, that all the work we do and sacrifices we make can change a life for the better in an instant.  

To all who support the amazing world of healthcare interpreting and translating, I thank you. Because as a profession, as a community, we are connecting cultures and we bring light when all seems dark.  

©Connecting Cultures Inc. 2018

Posted on April 27, 2018 and filed under Interpreter, Newbie.