* * Anonymous Doc

Monday, February 14, 2011

Daughter comes in with her 60 year old mother. Neither speaks much English, but the daughter speaks a little bit. I ask her what language they need on the translator phone. She names a fairly obscure language. So I dial the number and get someone on the line.

And I notice the daughter is doing all the talking-- answering all of the questions on her mother's behalf.

"I'd like your mother to try answering the questions herself."

"Oh, she doesn't speak [this language]."


"Yeah, I speak it, but she doesn't."

"Why didn't you tell me a language she speaks?"

"You didn't ask."

"Can we switch to a language she speaks?"

"She doesn't speak anything."


"She doesn't know any languages."

"What? How do you communicate?"

"Oh. She speaks [another language]."

"I thought you just said she doesn't know any languages."

"Yes. She doesn't read it, she just speaks it."

"Okay, well let's switch to the language she speaks."

"Oh, I hate that language."

"Yes, but your mother is the patient."

"I refuse to speak [that other language]. Goodbye."

And the daughter leaves.

And I get the other interpreter on the phone.

And we discover the mother has an entirely different set of problems than the daughter was telling me she had.

And people wonder why it takes three times as long to see a clinic patient who needs to use the translator phone.


  1. That's awesome that you figured it out though. A lot of doctors a) don't bother with the translator phone, and b) wouldn't have bothered with figuring out that the mother wasn't doing any talking.

    I guess I'm congratulating you for the bare minimum of what they teach us to do in med school.... Haha.

    Still, I'll bet that patient got better care than she's gotten before in this country.

  2. I applaud you for having the patience to do that. My other thought was: I wonder what issues are going on in that family? How can a daughter "hate a language" to the point that she refuses to help her mother?

  3. Oh, but every time you mention languages, I get so curious what language you encountered this time! :)

    Hating a language can be politically motivated, especially if it is the language that has been used by an occupying force. (I.e. Russian in Estonia, English in Quebec, etc)