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.

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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