For example, when a patient has an x-ray of the chest area, they are often asked to hold their breath. I will make the suggestion that the provider explains the procedure to the patient in its entirety before they begin. The three of us come to an agreement about how to cue the patient to hold their breath and release it. Ensuring the patient understands the instructions is essential to generating accurate test results while simultaneously fostering patient dignity and respect.
I also understand that the provider’s goals must be my goals.
I recently interpreted for a patient who had a kidney transplant. The provider was not confident that the patient understood he must not bend, lift, or twist for four weeks or he may damage the new kidney. Through my medical interpreter training and my knowledge of Deaf culture, I understand that many Deaf patients incorporate new concepts through those which are more familiar. In this situation, the provider’s goal was to ensure the patient understood the instructions before discharge. I asked the patient if he had ever eaten a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich. I used the first letter of each word to help the patient remember the provider’s instructions. No B (Bacon)-Bending, no L (Lettuce)-Lifting, and no T (Tomato)-Twisting until the following month.
A concept that can be difficult to communicate to providers is the need for a Certified Deaf Interpreter (CDI). We all know that a CDI is helpful when a patient uses non-standard signs, like home signs, or is from another country. But when a patient experiences a major trauma, they are so focused on the immediate crisis that their second language is much harder to maintain. This means that even when the hearing interpreter can understand the patient’s signing style, a Deaf patient in a critical situation may prefer communicating through a native signer, who I refer to as a ‘language specialist’. The term ‘specialist’ is often used in healthcare settings. For example, a cardiologist, a specialist who cares for the heart, may call on a more unique specialist, an electrophysiologist. In the same vein (yes… pun intended), a language specialist (the hearing interpreter) may need the assistance of a more native specialist who can assist in ensuring the patient’s communication needs are met and the provider’s goals are accomplished. Using the same terminology as the medical provider makes it much easier to accomplish the mutual goal of excellent patient care.
I have a couple pieces of advice for healthcare interpreters, regardless of whether the interpreter is just entering the field or has decades of experience. The first is to utilize resources such as the internet, apps, and specialized workshops to enhance your knowledge. The other is to become involved in regular peer consultation or structured supervision to reduce the negative effects of vicarious trauma or work-related stressors and promote continuous learning and self-analysis.
As professional healthcare interpreters, in addition to incorporating biomedical ethics in our daily work, we also have the responsibility to maintain the goals of the environment, no matter the meeting or appointment type. This includes fidelity to the message being conveyed and to the desired result of the members involved, and an awareness of what needs to be accomplished in that moment. Our willingness to pursue ongoing professional growth and education ultimately translates to better services for the Deaf patients we serve.