I arrived at the hospital, ready to interpret for a very nervous patient. For almost an entire year, I had provided interpretation for the patient at doctors’ appointments, physical therapy, and even for medical tests. I was there when the doctor first prescribed tests while sending him to physical therapy. I accompanied him for physical therapy several times a week for many months. After a while, the doctor attempted injections to relieve pain, but that didn’t work either. After all options were exhausted, surgery was the only viable choice left.
Over the course of a year, I was fully familiar with the patient’s vocabulary as he was with mine. The patient grew to trust me and my professionalism; he understood me well and trusted me.
Does this story sound familiar? It begins almost exactly like a previous experience I had some years back. Only this one was much more recent, and it changes from here.
So here we were at the hospital. The big day for surgery had finally arrived. After a while, the hospital’s telephonic interpreter introduced herself and in a professional manner explained that she would be interpreting everything being said.
At that moment however, the patient spoke up and said, “I have grown to understand my workers comp’ interpreter very well, can he interpret for me instead?”
The hospital nurse responded by saying that per hospital policy she, the telephonic interpreter needed to interpret and that I, the workers comp interpreter could stay but could not interpret.
Although the patient was annoyed and complained that he could not understand the interpreter very well, he was comforted that I was able to clarify things that he wasn’t understanding.
When I had a free moment, I sent an e-mail to my office requesting that they inquire from language services department at the hospital if the policy to allow workers’ comp interpreters had changed.
Eventually, I received an e-mail from the director asking me more questions and assuring me that the issue would be treated properly. Within a few minutes, a hospital interpreter came in person and introduced herself. She was very professional and kindly allowed me to take the lead interpreting. At one moment during the encounter, she added a word that I failed to interpret and then stepped back allowing me to continue. She treated the patient with respect and everything proceeded smoothly.
This was a perfect example on how to resolve conflict and promote unity as professionals.
- As a professional, I cooperated with hospital staff.
- I reassured the patient that he would understand everything.
- Instead of fomenting a combative spirit, I waited for an appropriate moment to send a message to my office.
- My office communicated with the appropriate leadership at the hospital who were able to:
- Send an in-person interpreter with experience handling delicate situations.
- Inform the nurse to inform her that hospital policy allowed me to interpret with their interpreter present.
- All parties worked together with professionalism and discretion.
The result was gratifying experience for the patient and his family. After awaking from surgery, the patient thanked the hospital staff for their professionalism and fine service. With deep appreciation, he stated that “God was guiding their hands.”
Sadly, not all interaction with workers’ compensation interpreters at the hospital work out so well. Often, untrained bilingual persons unfamiliar with our code of ethics and medical terminology are contracted to interpret in these settings. They have no training on how to deal with delicate situations and have been seen arguing in plain view with hospital staff. Instead of fostering cooperation and collaboration, they create deeper distrust for professional interpreters that return in the future.