Doctor, I don’t think he’s hungry.

It must be tough to work under life-or-death time constraints, hobbled by a language barrier. Add to that a measure of conceptual naïveté, and you’ve got a puzzling night in the emergency room. Here is an anglophone doctor’s account of using a professional medical translation service to inform an adult Spanish-speaking patient that he would require an appendectomy:

I hate using interpreters – especially the phone ones. It’s a cumbersome process of handing a phone back and forth…. [but nonetheless], I am fairly detailed and complex in the instructions and explanations I give patients, and I do not stint the non-english-speakers.

So for this patient, I explained what appendicitis was, that he would need surgery, described the surgery and recovery, and briefly outlined the potential complications…. All with the interpreter flawlessly going back and forth in the background. Finally, the translator broke the “fourth wall” and said to me, “Doctor, I am sorry to say that I do not think your patient understands what I am telling him. I explained that he would need surgery, and his response was, ‘I’ll eat anything you give me.’ So I tried to explain what an operation is, several times, and all he has to say is that he isn’t hungry but if you tell him he has to eat, he will eat anything you say. I am very sorry, but I really don’t think he understands.”

Huh. Full post is at All Bleeding Stops.


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