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

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 12 of 35

FEATURES ON LOCATION Rekha in the consulting room with doctor and patient most especially, the parent/patient – invariably the mother – who struggles to listen to what the medical professional is saying to her via me. How do I cope? I have to remind myself to remain calm, but an ID badge is also a good distraction for the child during the few precious minutes I need to convey the information. Sadly, it has been known for health interpreters to be seen as glorified babysitters. At one clinic, when I stood up to accompany the patient into the consulting room, the doctor asked me to look after her toddler outside. I informed the doctor that I was there to interpret, not look after children. He was rather taken aback but I stood firm and followed him and the patient into the consulting room. The child then proceeded to wail through the entire consultation. Disease, trauma and stress Apart from these types of distractions, we must also be aware of potential infections and take appropriate measures – be it a face mask or a flu vaccine – because, even though we don't have physical contact with patients, we are nonetheless considered to be frontline. I rarely take time off, because that means no pay, but I also have to be sensible about my health. I take either Echinacea tablets or a vitamin drink to help my immune system and if the illness is worse than a common cold, I take a day or two off, because it could have a detrimental effect on a patient with a compromised immune system. Another, hidden part of our work is stress, (compassion) fatigue and even trauma. When I am asked to present my work as an interpreter, I always mention the aspect of 'vicarious trauma', which has been widely researched.1 When someone listens to Vol/52 No/5 2013 What about imparting bad news? Often we are given little or no notice, and have no training in this area stories of torture, rape, trauma or depression on a daily basis, they can gradually begin to become affected themselves – emotionally, psychologically and behaviourally. Medical professionals know where to get help; health service interpreters, especially freelancers, often do not have access to an occupational therapy department or an immediate line manager who can help them to 'get things off their chest'. I am lucky: in my case, this service is available. What about the issue of imparting bad news, sometimes of the worst kind? More often than not, we are given little or no notice, and have no training in this area. Once, I was asked urgently to attend at a local hospital. No information was given, other than the name of the patient and the person who had made the booking. I arrived to be told that an interpreter had been requested in order to tell the mother of a young woman that there was nothing more they could do for her and that she should be taken home to spend the last few days of her life with her family. The patient's mother had flown across from France to see her. That was all the pre-job briefing I was given. We are caught in this emotional turmoil but at the same time are in limbo; we feel powerless and helpless. What can we do? Some of us turn to family, friends or colleagues who work in the same field. We must, however, maintain confidentiality at all times. Dangerous situations Just as frontline medical staff face dangers from violent or aggressive patients, so do interpreters working in the health service. I was once left alone with a mental health patient who had set fire to his room, had been seeing people with animal faces and had said that voices were telling him to kill them. I left the room quickly and waited in the corridor until the mental health professionals returned. As an interpreter in the health service, you run the risk of being spat at or hit. I do what I can to minimise this risk, taking my cue from the medical professionals involved. The guidance from management at the local authority where I work is not to enter a room if a medical professional is not already present. Where possible, I also leave some distance between the patient and me. So, do I do it for the money? The answer is an emphatic 'no'. If anyone thinks that working as an interpreter in the health service (or any other field) is a doddle, then I would ask them to walk a mile in my shoes. I do it because of my love for this profession and for the incredible satisfaction I get from doing a job I have wanted to do since I was 14. Notes 1 See, eg, Spelvins, K A , Cohen, K, Joseph, S, Murray, C, Bowley, J, 2010, 'Vicarious Posttraumatic Growth Among Interpreters' in Qualitative Health Research, 20:12, 1705-1716; Valero-Garcés, C, 2005, 'Emotional and Psychological Effects on Interpreters in Public Services' in Translation Journal, 9:3 OCTOBER/NOVEMBER The Linguist 13

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Linguist - The Linguist 52,5