ON HAND: Interpreters at the doctor’s office

This originally appeared in The Tactile Mind Weekly in Trudy’s ON HAND column.

I was a bit nervous. For the first half of my life, I always had my mother, who can speak very well, interpret for me at the doctor’s office. When I became old enough, I wrote for myself and made Mom stay in the waiting room. Even when the Americans with Disabilities Act went into effect, I didn’t feel quite comfortable having an interpreter in the room–I wanted my privacy.

I also didn’t like to ask for an interpreter–the doctor was so good and so sweet that I felt as if asking for an interpreter would be adding undue burden to his office financially. I was afraid he’d suddenly find me to be a loathsome and costly patient, and even refuse to see me. So I always stuck to writing back and forth, even if it took forever.

Over a year ago, I moved to Faribault, a deaf-friendly town. When I called the doctor’s office, they asked me right off the bat if I wanted an interpreter. I hesitated for a few seconds, and then typed, “Yes. That’d be terrific, thanks.” I went to the appointment, wondering if I knew the interpreter and if I’d be bothered by her presence.

The interpreter was indeed someone I knew well, but I didn’t feel embarrassed. For the first time in my life, I was told what my blood pressure numbers were, and what they represented. The nurse was very chatty, asking me how I liked Faribault and making small talk–something she would have never done had we used paper and pen.

Doc came in. The communication was flawless. He joked with me and I joked back. I got to know what Doc’s personality was–something I had never been able to do with other doctors. He explained throughout the examination about why I had to take deep breaths as he listened to my lungs and heart, why my neck hurt when he pressed on it, and so on.

I now realize just how stupid I was all these years for not wanting an interpreter. I also cringe when I think about how much information I missed in the past, especially when I was sick.

Today, for minor appointments (i.e. getting prescriptions refilled), I don’t bother asking for an interpreter. But never again will I go without an interpreter for more serious visits or hospital stays. I’d be an idiot to do that.

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This will be my last column for The Tactile Mind Weekly. Thank you, dear readers, for allowing me to rant for the past 63 columns.

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