Recently, an interpreter posted the following to a discussion group on FaceBook:
“I heard this quote today at a conference:
“If you treat me like a number, I will treat you like one, too.”
Interpreters: May your 11:15a appointment tomorrow be with “Susan who is experiencing pain and facing knee surgery.” or with “Tony who is nervous about his upcoming History test.”
Consumers: May interpreter 2518 on your VP call be “Jennifer who is worried about her sick child at home.” or the interpreter for your 3:30p staff meeting be “Joe who is anxiously awaiting NIC test results.”
We don’t have to bear each other’s burdens but we can certainly respect the person behind our daily “numbers”.”
Rebecca Sipe Buchan
I love that!!
I read it and it rang like a bell in my soul.
It also got me thinking of the times when I have been the problem and others when I have been the solution.
Anyone who imagines they have not played both roles while taking the stage in this ongoing melodrama we call “interpreting” lies, first to themselves, then to others.
Mostly though it made me smile. It reminded me of my favorite “right place, right time, right question” moment.
Just to steady hearts-before I posted this I contacted the Deaf Client and sent a copy of this Note for their approval before I published it.
A Doctor came into the Deaf Client’s hospital room, surrounded by medical students, and the entire time this “murder of crows” was in room the Doctor never once referred to the Deaf Client as anything but their illness. NOT ONCE.
No name. No gender. No eye contact.
It was as if the Deaf person was no more than a prop to be used to teach a lesson to medical students.
The Doctor, still ignore the humanity of the Deaf Client, began quizzing the medical students on the “next steps.” The medical students began shouting out tests that could be administered to the “illness in the bed” and each were met with a gruff but approving nod or a decimating head-shake of disapproval from the Doctor.
When all of the tests had been discussed, they left- without so much as a backwards glance.
The Deaf Client looked at me and asked, “are they doing all those tests today?”
I just sort of shrugged and replied, “it sounded like it.”
The Deaf Client’s brow furrowed and they asked, “are you staying to interpret for them.”
“No,” I replied. “I have an appointment in less than 40 minutes.”
The furrow deepened. “Will they have an interpreter for me?”
Again, I shrugged, “I’m not sure, do you want me to go get them so you can ask?”
The Deaf Client sighed, “I will tell you honestly, I’m too tired to have that argument,” then the Deaf Client looked at me, “will you go ask and if they are jerks about it find my nurse?”
I told the Deaf Client I would ask and get the nurse if needed, and I stepped out of the room.
The cluster of Doctor and med-students were just outside the next door down the hall. The Doctor was zealously berating one of the students for mispronouncing the name of a medication (I remember that specifically). When he finished I cleared my throat and his eyes zeroed in on me.
“Excuse me,” I said, “I am interpreting for [I made a point to say the Deaf Client’s name] and they were wondering if you planned on running all of the tests you discussed today?”
“Of course.” The Doctor snapped and, one hundred percent true, physically waved me off.
“If you are planning on doing those test,” I persisted, “you will need to schedule an interpreter as soon as possible to make sure one is available at the time you plan to run them.”
I had busted the Doctor’s groove and he did not like it. Not one little bit. “Well go ahead and do that then.”
“I am actually not allowed to schedule from the field,” I answered, “that is both the hospital and the agency’s policy. There are steps that the hospital follows,” I put on my most helpful tone of voice, “If you can give the nurse’s desk a time frame when you will be conducting the test then they can…”
That was just a bit too much for the Doctor. “I don’t have time this,” he snarled, “it’s just some tests and I really don’t see why we would need you in the way waving your hands.”
I smiled as warmly (as I could), “well, you won’t get me. I have another appointment, but you will need someone. Specifically you need to consider if any of these tests require ‘informed consent.’ There is also the ADA and Section 504 to think about. [I said the Deaf Client’s name again] has a right to effective communication…
“OH,” The Doctor’s eye narrowed as he prepared to administer, what he expected to be, a devastating blow, “SO WE’RE A LAWYER NOW?”
I smiled again and replied, “I realize that you were being facetious when you said that, but as it turns out I AM.”
You could taste the awkward silence.
“Um, really?” The Doctor finally stammered.
“Really, really,” I said a little too shortly.
There was another pause, during which I observed the best moment of the medical students’ lives play out on all their faces.
The Doctor composed himself in a flash. “Well,” he stated openly to any audience who happened to be nearby, “well, of course we will get an interpreter for…”
I said the Deaf Client’s name.
The Doctor sent one of the medical students with me to the nurses station to make sure it was all arranged.
I went back to the room and reported back to Deaf Client.
We have chuckled about it ever since.
That. That right there made the hardest parts of law school worth it. Every. Last. Minute.