The Linguist

The Linguist 52,5

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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FEATURES MEDICAL INTERPRETING Let's get physical Rekha Narula looks at the challenging physical environment for linguists working in the health service s an interpreter for the health service, I can be called upon to interpret at all hours, seven days a week, irrespective of bank holidays or weekends. The work involves going around the entire city in which I live, and sometimes outside that area if a request comes in from further afield. On a typical day (although no day is ever 'typical'), I might have a GP appointment in the north of the city, a mental health appointment in the city centre, and a home visit with a health visitor in the south-east. All this travelling is just as mentally (and physically) exhausting as the work. Interpreters have to negotiate traffic at peak times, find time for lunch, and worry about arriving late for appointments, even if we make every effort to allow for interpreting and travel time. Although I work for a local authority whose remit includes health interpreting, I am classified as a freelancer and, as such, I am paid for my travel time. Being on the move does have one benefit, however: being left to my own thoughts. Listening to 'nothing' is a luxury in my profession. My mother calls me the Flying Interpreter, yet the fact that our work involves going from one location to another is often overlooked by health professionals. Many are tied to one location and forget that others need to move from A to B to C – all of which takes time. Once, I was at an appointment in a mental health unit when I was asked to attend in the general hospital. The first appointment took longer than anticipated, so I was 20 minutes late. As I walked in, I heard someone ask 'where's that damned interpreter?'. I took immense pleasure in retorting 'the damned interpreter is here, having just finished in the mental health unit'. The comment had come from the doctor in charge of the patient, who did A 12 The Linguist apologise. If it looks as if an appointment is going to run over, I seize any chance I can to ring the office, but I don't do so during the consultation itself. Very often, I have little or no time for breaks, much less comfort or meal breaks. I learned early on to carry a bottle of water with me, and to have cartons of juice and some dried fruit in my car, in case I can't take a meal break. Of course, if I am in a consultation I cannot access these refreshments, so I sometimes leave an assignment tired, hungry and thirsty, and with a headache. But it's straight off to the next job. Finding space In the consulting room, I have learnt not to expect to have a chair. Sometimes I might be lucky enough to be able to perch on the consulting couch; otherwise I have to stand. I often have to direct the patient to sit in the chair closest to the medical professional, as nine times out of ten they will want me to sit there. Not having a seat, especially for long consultations, can be tiring, which makes it difficult to concentrate on what is being said. On the other hand, I have found my eyelids drooping during a pregnancy scan session, when the room is darkened and the voice of the sonographer sounds like a lullaby. I have even resorted to pinching myself to remain alert when I was particularly tired. There is almost never a table on which to rest my notebook or diary, except if it is, say, a mental health tribunal, which is a more formal setting. It is tricky having to write with a notebook on one's lap or in one's hands, while also carrying a diary and/or handbag. The floor is not always the best place to put these items. The notebook and diary are important 'tools' of the trade, which also include medical dictionaries, a mobile telephone and at least two pens. I also keep some post-it notes in case I run out of note paper. The diary is essential for successful timekeeping, which helps to keep that aspect of the job relatively stress-free. The notepad is for note-taking during consultations, so that I don't forget dates of birth, how long the condition has been going on, names etc, and generally as an aide-mémoire. I have a reporter-style notepad with a pen in the cover for easy access. Small distractions Another issue is patients' children. I have to anticipate that the client may be accompanied by children, who are often cranky and hyperactive, and want to explore every nook and cranny of the consulting room. This distracts not just the interpreter and the medical professional but also, and TAKING NOTE Rekha prepares for an assignment OCTOBER/NOVEMBER

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