* * Anonymous Doc

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

In clinic today. Patient is talking into the translator phone. The translator translates:

"I think I have fluid in my bones."

"Yeah, I'm not sure what that means. Can you ask her to say that again?"

"I think I have fluid in my bones."

"Can you ask her if there's another way to describe what it is she's trying to say?"

"My bones feel like there is fluid in them."

"I'm still not quite sure I understand. Can you ask one more time?"

"There are bones in my body, and I sense that some of them are made with fluid."

"It's just getting more confusing each time you ask. Do you think there's a word you're not quite translating properly?"

"Doctor, this is the translator speaking for myself. I am translating exactly what she is saying, and I take offense to the idea that I am not telling you her words."

"I'm not saying you aren't translating properly. I'm just not sure what the patient is trying to tell me. Maybe there's a idiom in your language that isn't coming across?"

"This is the translation. I'm sorry if you don't like it, but all I can do is translate the words she says."

"I'm just trying to help the patient."

"And I don't appreciate being insulted."

"I did not mean to insult you. Can you please ask the patient one more time, and ask her to give me a little more detail about the problem?"

"I think I have a bone fluid in my body. It's coming in from the bones, and makes me feel like fluid."

"Is there a different translator we could try?"


  1. well don't leave it there! did you find out what it really was?

  2. I hope you have some way to report that translator. I've worked with ESL and immigrant services for years and in my opinion the response you describe was neither correct nor professional. That person should be looking for alternative employment.

    - KrisW

  3. It might actually not be a translator problem. Some people just don't know how to express themselves better. In this case, the last translation might actually be quite accurate about how the patient FEELS. After all, the patient does not have a clue about "western" medicine.

    In IT, we experience this all the time, and must continually reinterpret what people say, because they say what they FEEL the problem is (instead of telling us what the symptoms they experience are) - often contradicting themselves from an IT terminology point of view.

    "Internet doesn't work" often means "I am online, I can access the intranet, but I seem to have forgotten my password to log onto the economy system."

  4. To me it just sounds metaphorical. After my hernia surgery I called the surgeon about a sensation like burning fluid was leaking into my hip. Subsequent experience revealed it was just a nerve that was tweaked during the operation because I'm skinny. But I can still feel how the twinges I get, when they were four times worse, felt like burning liquid leaking into my hip.

  5. Hhaahhaahhahaha!! This is hilarious!!! I can't imagine what else was going through your mind. Sooo, what happened next?! Did a new translator come on the line? And did the insulted translator give you another piece of their mind? Lol.