The following is a scenario that unfolds on a regular basis. I arrive to interpret at a physical therapy appointment. They call the patient in to begin, and I accompany him. Step 1 is to begin at the treadmill for about ten minutes. As the patient is walking on the treadmill, I stand nearby. The therapist offers me a chair; I say no thank you. I will get offered that chair another twenty times during that appointment. I typically explain that as an interpreter, I must be ready to do my job at any moment. Standing ready to do so near the patient is the best way to do so.
At some point, the patient is given a box to carry and circles the location repeatedly. I walk along with the patient as he does this. Remember, I am compensated to serve as an interpreter and convey what is being said. Doing this doesn’t just include the direct conversation between the patient and the healthcare professional. As we walk, another patient makes a comment to him that I must interpret. Within the therapy location, a group conversation ensues between several therapist and patients about the recent World Cup. My patient is Hispanic and has much to say about that. The other participants have lots of comments and questions themselves. I am busy interpreting all of that.
So, there I am standing attentively near by to interpret at any moment constantly getting offered a chair. Then one day I am told the nicest thing after refusing a chair. The therapist stated that he was having a conversation with his colleagues about me. He said that they like me because I am always attentive and communicate everything. I was told that most interpreters usually accept the chair and stay seated looking at their phone or iPad during the appointment. They often miss conversations and only come when they are called to address something medical. The other complaint I heard is that they often abbreviate instead of saying everything. It fosters a feeling among providers and patients that the interpreters might be excluding vital information.
I find myself interpreting conversations about sports, family, food, work, and so many other subjects not related to healthcare. Why is this so important? If the patient doesn’t understand what others are saying, he might suspect they are talking about him. If it is soccer, maybe they are, but not in a negative way that he might assume. The patient becomes part of the greater community and he feels at ease. Remember, an interpreter places the limited English proficient patient on equal footing with the rest of the people at the clinic. All of this promotes good healing as is strengthens the relationship between the patient and healthcare provider.