Interpreting a Visit to an Emergency Department

Your Assignment…
…Should You Choose to Accept it?

Imagine that you are at dinner. The phone rings and it is the local hospital on the line informing you that they have a Deaf patient at their emergency department and are in need of an interpreter. What questions do you need to ask prior to accepting the assignment?

Given the realities with privacy concerns and confidentiality, it is important to gather information needed to make your decision with as much discretion as possible.

Here are some questions that I ask in order to gather information I see as critical to both accepting the assignment and mentally preparing for it if I choose to go. I ask them in this general order to limit the amount of information I get if I do not choose to accept the job.

1. How critical is the patient?
2. How long have they been waiting?
3. Is it a situation appropriate for a male interpreter?
4. If child care or other issues present a challenge for me going, how many other interpreters have been called prior to my being contacted?
5. What is the name of the patient and what is the specific reason for their coming to the emergency department?
6. I also give them an estimate of how long it will take me to make it to the hospital. If I have a commitment that makes it impossible for me to get there within 15-20 minutes, I usually let them know that right away so they might call another interpreter if they feel that those early minutes are crucial.

At times, the person making the call may not have the information to answer all of these questions. And I do not always ask them all. (Part of it depends on what is happening for in my own life at the time of the call.)

One thing to raise here related to interpreting in emergency settings is what Eileen Forestal (2005), an interpreter educator from New Jersey, calls the “Messiah Trap.” It is important to recognize that if we feel we are the only option in these situations, we run the risk of falling into the trap of accepting assignments for which we truly are not qualified. We may also accept jobs at times when we are not mentally or physically up to the challenge. So, for those of us who are already interpreting in these settings, we need to do the work of identifying other individuals who are qualified and willing to work in these settings and make sure they have been called before we accept an assignment that we should not take. For those who have not started interpreting in ER settings, know that you are a welcome addition to the list of people willing to do this work, but that you are not alone and be aware of the other resources out there as you make decisions about whether to accept particular assignments.

Given all that, you have decided that for this given setting, you have not fallen into the messiah trap, and you are both qualified for and willing to provide interpreting in the emergency department. Here is the information you have received:

The Deaf patient is a 70 year old male named Rudy Kurtovich. He is complaining of chest pain and a racing heart beat. He is not in an acutely critical condition, but they still need to assess whether he is having or had a heart attack. They have called 3 other interpreters and he has been waiting approximately 15 minutes. They have proceeded with registration and are doing their best at communicating while they wait for an interpreter to arrive.

Preparing for the Assignment:

In a real-life situation, you would probably not have time to do any background research. For ER calls, I generally just wrap up any loose ends at home, change into something appropriate, and head off to the hospital. I use the travel time to the hospital as an opportunity to predict what demands I might encounter in the situation related to both the medical symptoms and any previous experiences I have had with this particular patient.

However, this study packet does not require that you accept this assignment in the next 15 minutes. You have the luxury of doing more preparation now so that if a situation such as this actually does come up, you can simply mentally review what you know about it as you make your way to the hospital. So, before moving on to working with the video, please do some background research related to the symptoms that this patient is exhibiting.

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