Internal Medicine – Day 24

I am once again confronted with the huge, enormous weight of language in medicine. Today I had a long conversation with a patient regarding the long-term implications of her potential diagnosis (pending some studies). I feel like I did a decent job at communicating in a patient-centered way through a translator, I can only imagine how much more effective it could be if I spoke fluently. A lot of the non-verbal and inflexion gets filtered through a translator, and sometimes it’s hard to tell if what I’m saying translates well into whatever language I’m translating to. My Spanish has definitely improved, but it’s definitely not at a point where I can do a whole patient encounter on my own (except in some cases when where the patients are experiencing a significant change in mental status).

The other day we had a Korean-speaking patient and we needed a translator to talk to his family. It took an hour before we were able to get one on the line through the phone interpreter service we used, and they probably have been doing back to back translating for the whole day.

How many times do we label patients “poor historian” simply because we can’t communicate with them properly. Perhaps they don’t feel comfortable speaking through a translator. Perhaps our words don’t translate well. My dream is to be a polyglot primarily because the connection you are able to establish with people through language is really unlike any other.

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