There you are going about your day and then it happens. You don’t think much about it until later when it happens again. No!, you think to yourself, it is only allergies. These sneezes can’t mean… Oh crap! I have a cold. Within a short time, the eyes begin to water, the nose stops up and you have that funny feeling in your chest and throat. Yep, it is a cold alright.
No big deal, you say to yourself. I will be over this in no time. Now you are on day three, and the bones are aching, the stomach-churning and you haven’t felt this miserable since…well, since the last time you felt this miserable. Nothing is relieving the symptoms, and the bathroom has become where you pass the majority of your day and night. You are so tired and feeling terrible. You want relief.
On day four you can’t take it anymore so you, reluctantly, call the doctor hoping for some miracle. Please! Of course, it never works like that, so the receptionist tells you the doctor has to see you, so you begrudgingly agree to the appointment. You can’t stay off the toilet for more than five minutes, how in all that is holy are you going to be able to make the twenty-minute trip to the doctor’s office? Somehow you make it to the appointment and without any accidents if you know what I mean.
After describing all of your symptoms the doctor determines that you need to have some blood work done and chest Xray. Yes, you have the flu. The doctor then tells you that it appears based on the symptoms that you may also have ‘walking pneumonia.’ What? Okay now doc, I just came here for the flu and to have you make me feel better. I just want to feel better. Can’t you prescribe something?
Now, picture yourself in the above scenario (we have all been there at least once in our lives) but this time you are in another country on vacation. You know just enough of the language to ‘get by’ as in where is the bathroom? How much does this cost? There is no way you have enough vocabulary to describe how miserable you feel, and all of your symptoms in a different language. You curse yourself for not studying harder to learn the language. There is nothing you can do now except hope that by some miracle the doctor will understand you and write that prescription you want.
You walk up to the receptionist and timidly give your name praying silently to yourself that there will be no questions. The receptionist motions to a nice looking person sitting in the waiting room. With a smile, this person walks up to you, introduces themselves to you in your language and explains that they are the interpreter and will be helping with communication. A complete sense of relief comes over you. No longer are you alone, feeling miserable and unsure of what you are going to do.
For the professional medical interpreter, the above is a daily occurrence. We go from appointment to appointment to be the voice for those that, otherwise, would have to depend on pure luck to communicate with their medical professional. Would you want to depend on pure chance when you are sick? Probably not.
I don’t personally know you; however, I would bet that you also wouldn’t allow someone that has taken a few classes in biology to review your symptoms and determine what sickness you have either. Why, then, does it seem acceptable to allow an un-trained bilingual person to play the role of an interpreter? Simply put, it is not acceptable.
A professional medical interpreter is someone who has the education, training, knowledge of medical terms and has passed a rigorous certification test, both written and oral. On one appointment the interpreter may be interpreting about heart disease at the cardiologist’s office, and the next instructions on natural childbirth. This knowledge is not something that comes naturally merely because a person is bilingual. Think about it for a minute in your language. Other than the basic medical terms that you grew up with, do you have the necessary knowledge and vocabulary to explain complicated heart procedure? Probably not.
Next blog article? The daily life of an interpreter, from receiving the request, negotiating the fees, preparing for the assignment and dealing with language agencies in the process.
David Martin Tucker, Certified Spanish Medical Interpreter, CHI™, or “Spanish David” as he is known, is a certified medical interpreter whose passion for Latin American culture and language is second only to his desire to become a voice for his Spanish speaking clients. Conveying more than words, David’s continuous thirst for knowledge thrusts him into the culture of his clients.
David is an honor’s graduate from the Southern California School of Interpreting’s Medical Interpreter Program, and holds bachelor degrees in both Modern Languages (Spanish) and Business from Metropolitan State College of Denver and the University of Southern Indiana respectively.
A founding member of the El Puente Bilingual Toastmasters in Denver, David is also a contributor to the International Medical Interpreters Association (IMIA), the National Council on Interpreting in Health Care (NCIHC), and is a member of the Colorado Rocky Mountain Health Care Patient Advisory Board.