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Off topic: rude health care "professionals"
Thread poster: Lynda Tharratt

Lynda Tharratt  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:37
Member (2006)
Spanish to English
+ ...
May 1, 2008

Hi,

I'm just trying to get something off my chest. Have you ever been in a situation where the Service provider doesn't like the answers they are getting from the Non-English (or non-other language) speaking person so they take it out on the interpreter? Luckily, the company that I work for tells us not to let ourselves be bullied. I provide interpreting services in all kinds of different settings (hospitals, courts, clinic, shelters for abused women, immigration etc.) and rarely run across problems. However, when I do, it's nearly always in a health-care setting. This they blame on "stressful" jobs. Ha! That's absolutely no excuse as far as I'm concerned: a) interpreting is a very stressful job at times; b) I'm often working 6-7 days a week sometimes up to 10 hours or more a day interpreting and translating and you don't see me biting people's heads off for no good reason; c) they are health "care" professionals, and they are being paid a heck of a lot more for what they do than I am.
Anyway, I just came back from interpreting at an appointment for an 8-month pregnant woman who has only been in this country for around 6 months. The doctor is asking her when she had the last ultrasound and where it was done. She says that it was done in the same hospital. He says, "no, where did you have the ultrasound done, was it at this hospital?" So I repeat the question again and again and the woman keeps responding that she had it done at the hospital. He has then decided that I am obviously not asking her the question correctly. Hey, I can't help it if the woman is confused, she also didn't know what her address was or even what month she arrived in the country. But no, it's obviously my fault! He was very rude to the patient too. Anyway, she then remembered that it had been done at another clinic, so I informed the doctor of this. He shouts at ME "Why would she go to another clinic when she had an appointment for the ultrasound at this hospital?" Like I would know, I just met this woman 15 minutes ago! Anyway, her sister-in-law remembered that another relative would know where the clinic was so she made a phone call and told me where the ultrasound was done. I conveyed this information to the doctor and he says to me "Well, why didn't you tell me this before!". Now this appointment was getting extremely stressful because the woman had brought six relatives with her, none of whom spoke very much English and there were two nurses and a doctor involved. So now I had to let everyone know what was being said and the non-English speakers wanted to know why the doctor was shouting at a pregnant woman and why he was so upset. By now, the pregnant woman is feeling faint (partly the blood work being done and partly because she was confused by the doctor's rudeness).
Later the doctor gave me a half-hearted apology to which I made a rather snippy remark.
I fully plan to tell the agency I work for that I will not do any more appointments for this doctor.
I have heard that some of my colleagues, in particular those with "non-native" accents, have an even worse time with these so-called professionals.
Has anyone out there had a similar experience? Who are the best service providers to deal with when interpreting? I find that the womens' shelters are always very appreciative and I've mostly had good experiences in the courts, although I have seen other intepreters go through rough times.
Lately, I have been trying to decide whether I want to give up interpreting all together. On the one hand, I enjoy what I do most of the time, I like to feel that I am providing a valuable service to people and it gets me out of the house. On the other hand, I can make much more money translating, I enjoy the work and I don't have to deal with situations like the one above. Also, it always seems that I miss out on translation jobs when I'm out interpreting.

So, rant is over, let's hear your opinions on the matter.

Lynda "don't kill the messenger" Tharratt


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Juliana Starkman  Identity Verified
Israel
Local time: 11:37
Spanish to English
+ ...
I have given up on a lot of my offers for interpreting May 1, 2008

because I had one too many experiences like the one you described (but think insurance check-up after an accident) in which elderly patients (non English speaking) and their faithful interpreter (moi) were bullied and even shouted at. I finally lost it and told one therapist that I hoped she never found herself injured in a foregin country, because then the term "karma" would start to become clearer to her.
I try to stick to translating, which I enjoy much more, and the occasional IRB session, though these also leave me feeling dreadful, but at least they are interesting...


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Lynda Tharratt  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:37
Member (2006)
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
oh, that reminds me... May 1, 2008

I had a pretty horrible insurance one once where the occupational therapist asked me in front of the family (who spoke varying degrees of English) whether their dirty house was because of their "culture". I wanted to die on the spot! Insurance interpreting is pretty bad because the insurance companies automatically assume that all non-English speakers are scamming them.

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Luisa Ramos, CT  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 11:37
Member (2004)
English to Spanish
Immigration Court May 2, 2008

Some of my interpreter friends, in fact, my interpreting instructors and mentors, have quit working for the Immigration Court. They say the way people are treated there is inhumane and denigrating. I am talking here of top, certified federal court interpreters who simply refuse to go to that venue.

I know it is difficult because doctors are always short of time, but we should strive for a pre interview conversation about the role of the interpreter; at least "everything will be interpreted", and something along the lines of "I am here just to convey, I know nothing, I am 'transparent'"; and position yourself just behind the patient (not being in the middle makes it less personal between you and the physician, and more dificult for him/her to take it on you).


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Lynda Tharratt  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:37
Member (2006)
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
good point Luisa May 2, 2008

When I was trained as an interpreter we were made to memorize a very good speech along those lines and I try to use it whenever possible, but more so to reassure the non-English speaker that all their personal information will be kept strictly confidential as I may not know him/her personally but you can be sure that I know many of the same people as they do.
We were also taught to never be left alone with the non-English speaker but in reality this is not often possible, especially in hospitals where you are always in someone's way!
But, I hadn't thought much about the positioning of the interpreter. I generally try to place myself in the middle to facilitate listening (and to show a more neutral position).
One thing about interpreting though, it is rarely boring! I love court for some reason and seem to be sent quite often because it is rather unpopular among my colleagues! I haven't done Immigration Court though because there is no immigration court in my city.


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Marijke Singer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:37
Dutch to English
+ ...
When in hospital May 2, 2008

I met a very rude doctor when I was myself in a hospital in Tenerife. The hospital had an interpreting service and the wing we were in was for foreigners. The person next to me had had serious lung and heart trouble and came from Belgium. She did not speak a word of Spanish and had a very broad Belgian accent. The interpreter who was Dutch had serious difficulties understanding her (which was not really surprising) and instead of admitting this, she interpreted but not fully (and even incorrectly at times). Neither the interpreter nor the doctor realised I spoke perfect Spanish and Dutch and could follow the whole situation perfectly. The doctor was rude but so was the interpreter. The poor lady who was so ill was being stressed beyond belief. When the doctor and interpreter left, I asked to speak to the manager of the interpreting service. When I did and told her of my concerns, the interpreter was never sent to our room again! I do not know if she was sacked but she deserved it. The doctor too but at least his care was good. I was very glad I could do my own 'interpreting'.

[Edited at 2008-05-02 05:47]


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Ken Cox  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:37
German to English
+ ...
tough situation May 2, 2008

It seems to have become bon ton in the US (and apparently in Canada as well) to dump all over anyone who says something you don't like (perhaps in the wake of Russ Limbaugh and his ilk). Pure jungle mentality IMO. And of course, traditional doctors are notorious for having the world's largest egos.

Ideally, in such a situation you should step outside your role as 'transparent' interpreter and tell the other party, politely but firmly, that they are making things difficult for everyone and that you are not prepared to submit to this form of abuse. It would probably be best to do this privately with the person concerned (e.g. you could first say 'Excuse me, could I speak privately with you for just a minute?'), so they don't have to lose face (even if they deserve to...).

That's not easy to do -- it takes a fair amount of brass. But if you can manage it once, it will be easier the next time, and you'll feel a lot better. Your clients will also benefit.

[Edited at 2008-05-02 08:20]


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Daniel Bird  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:37
German to English
This might help you cope... May 2, 2008

... we all like to bust an inflated ego, so here's an article that might help. What the quacks don't realise is that the "slang" also applies to them!

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/3159813.stm

Big

Dan
(Not an interpreter)


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Jenny Forbes  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:37
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
Devil's advocate May 2, 2008

Although as a patient I have myself experienced rude, arrogant and callous "health professionals" (especially "consultants" and physiotherapists in hospitals), I'd like to make a point in their favour.
I was asked to accompany an old Polish lady (aunt of a friend) to a big London hospital when she was afflicted with an unknown condition. She spoke no English at all, Polish of course (which I don't speak) and a little French. She was extremely nervous and upset. I did my best to interpret for her English/French/English, and the staff in the emergency department couldn't have been more gentle, patient and sympathetic, so I guess some of them are not so bad.
Regards,
Jenny


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Luisa Ramos, CT  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 11:37
Member (2004)
English to Spanish
Transparency May 3, 2008

[quote]Ken Cox wrote:


"Ideally, in such a situation you should step outside your role as 'transparent' interpreter and tell the other party, politely but firmly, that they are making things difficult for everyone and that you are not prepared to submit to this form of abuse."


--------
By 'transparent' I meant make a point of explaining to the doctor beforehand what is the role of the interpreter: do not address me, do not look at me, do not tell me to tell the patient, do not tell me "ask her"...

I agree, one should not remain passive if abusive behavior is encountered.


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 17:37
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
"Should I translate that?" May 5, 2008

Lynda Tharratt wrote:
He shouts at ME "Why would she go to another clinic when she had an appointment for the ultrasound at this hospital?"


I hope you responded by saying "Should I translate that?".


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Lynda Tharratt  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:37
Member (2006)
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
I did translate it May 5, 2008

I interpreted exactly what he said. But that would have been a good thing to say. I received a call from the agency after this, asking me what had happened and I told them everything. The doctor had called them to complain because of my response when he "apologized". Thankfully, the agency is very understanding and backs their interpreters. Nevertheless, I have never had any complaints before about my services so it upset me. The agency just said that it would be best if I didn't interpret for him again, to which I replied "gladly".
Oh well. On a lighter note, I once interpreted for one of the supervisors on a large construction project over a period of a couple of weeks. It was one of my first interpreting assignments. This gentlemen liked to have a bit of a laugh, he was German so he had a very dry sense of humour. He was inspecting some work that had been done. One of the workers said "We have had a problem here with these pipes, we haven't been able to weld on the inside because there is no way to access it, the opening is too narrow." To which he replied, dead-pan, "well, there is a solution..." The workers waited for the answer, relieved. "...you just have to find a little, tiny welder". I repeated his words exactly as he had said, without cracking a smile. There was silence while this answer was contemplated, then laughter


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Jonathan Downie  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:37
French to English
+ ...
Do conference work! May 5, 2008

This is precisely why i chose conf interpreting over PSI! You get your own booth and very few people shout at you.

I have done liaison work a few times and always found that almost all non-linguists don't understan the concept of "professional neutrality" and use rubbish like "can you tell him/her that?" "What do you mean 'I don't understand'?" etc etc


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juvera  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:37
Member (2005)
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Detachment is essential May 8, 2008

Lynda Tharratt wrote:
....Hey, I can't help it if the woman is confused, she also didn't know what her address was or even what month she arrived in the country. But no, it's obviously my fault! He was very rude to the patient too. Anyway, she then remembered that it had been done at another clinic, so I informed the doctor of this.
He shouts at ME "Why would she go to another clinic when she had an appointment for the ultrasound at this hospital?"

Like I would know, I just met this woman 15 minutes ago! Anyway, her sister-in-law remembered that another relative would know where the clinic was so she made a phone call and told me where the ultrasound was done. I conveyed this information to the doctor and he says to me "Well, why didn't you tell me this before!".


At the start you have to tell both parties in a couple of sentences that you are only the facilitator of their communication, and that means they talk to each other, they should address the other person, not you, and everything will be faithfully interpreted.

It seems from your remark:
He was very rude to the patient TOO.

…that you reacted to his rudeness, therefore he continued being rude.

He shouts at ME "Why would she go to another clinic when she had an appointment for the ultrasound at this hospital?"

If you translated what he said without the slightest reaction, - and equally the answers of the unfortunate woman, - he may have realised that you regard EVERYTHING he says addressed to the patient, and that he was behaving less than reasonably.

When one of the parties tries to provoke you, even without realising it, you can resort to asking: "Excuse me, do you wish to speak to ME?!" And if he says yes, you just repeat your explanation about your role, and that you are not listening or speaking for yourself when interpreting. As a professional, you cannot do more, nor less. Then ask: “Do you wish to continue with the patient?” – (or whoever), and it would have to be a very dim individual not to get the message.

Your situation was a typical example when you were made a scapegoat, and it hurts. In that case detachment is very difficult, but it may actually diffuse the situation.

But think about the following questions. Was the sister-in-law part of the discussion? Did the doctor sanction that? Were there any discussions between the two women, and between them and you without you interpreting everything to the doctor?

In other words, confusing situations can lead to everybody’s frustration, and the interpreter’s role is to pre-empt that happening, in her own and in everybody’s interest.

It is equally difficult, when you think you could help the foreign person because of your understanding of cultural differences, circumstances, etc. but the interpreter must resist the temptation to get involved. When you realise that there is no clear understanding between the parties, the best thing to do is to ask the question to be rephrased - to make the other person understand it better! (I mean it is also possible, that the question was inadequate, but you cannot say that) - and repeat it that way, and there may be a better response.
If the result is less satisfactory than you hoped for, you cannot help them more, you have done your best.

[Edited at 2008-05-08 22:22]


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