* * Anonymous Doc

Friday, September 25, 2009

I think I've blogged before about the translator phone, which we use when patients don't speak English-- we call a service, we get a translator, we put the translator on speaker phone-- which is awkward for the doctor and probably even more awkward for the patient, especially if the patient is trying to talk about a problem of a sensitive nature. It's awkward enough to have to look at someone's anus. Having a disembodied voice on the phone moderating the conversation makes it practically absurd.

So it was sort of nice that a patient today brought her own translator with her. She came into the office with a friend-- the patient had been here before and I guess she didn't like the translator phone, and was trying to avoid it.

"You don't need to phone the use," the friend said.

"Maybe I should call, just to be sure we get everything right?"

"No, I speak the English."

"Okay." I didn't want to offend her. And, frankly, it's easier and faster without the phone, so why use it if I don't absolutely have to?

This did not go well.

"What kind of work does she do?" I asked.

"No," the translator said.

"She does not work?"

"Every day."

"Okay. What kind of work?"


Eventually we figured that one out. We started talking about the reason the patient was here. She was having headaches. I asked if they were strong enough to wake her up from sleep. Standard brain tumor question.

"She sleep?" the translator said.

"No, do the headaches wake her up?"

"She sleep every night and then she wake up."

"Does she wake up from the headaches?"

"Yes, she sometimes wakes up with a headache."

"No, does the headache wake her up?"

"I do not understand what you are asking."

I tried acting it out. Closed my eyes, put my hands next to my head-- I'm asleep. Then hands on head, "ow!" Then wake up. This did not work. Playing charades with the patient who doesn't speak English does not work.

"I should use the translator phone."

"I am phone the better."

"I'm going to call the translator."

"I came here to help this."

"I know, and you've been very helpful. Thank you for being so helpful. I need to call the translator."

I called the translator. Turned out the patient didn't really have a headache. I mean, she had a headache, but she had a headache because she hit her head. She fell and hit her head. No brain tumor. You'd think the friend would have figured out this was relevant before we spent fifteen minutes chasing my brain tumor theory.

I don't hate the translator phone quite so much anymore.

1 comment:

  1. I thought it was policy to never let a patient bring their own translator, even if that person is a family member. You can never be sure they are translating correcting or telling you everything the person said.