I saw a man the other day who mostly spoke Spanish, but who also spoke relatively okay English. So I came to see him and, because of his limited vocabulary in English, had a very "business only" encounter with him. Because of his pride, he didn't want me to go off to get an interpreter. And so. I saw him and evaluated him. And that was that.
Another patient on the same floor spoke pretty much only Spanish. So I called the interpreter line and sat quietly at a computer charting while waiting for the interpreter to come to my rescue. After about ten minutes, up comes my blue-smocked comrade Ana, poised and prepared to bridge the gap between his Espanol solamente and my English only.
Ana was great and things went well so all was fine. We prepared to leave and Ana kindly bid me adieu. But just then, someone spoke words to her in Spanish from across the room. She walked a bit closer and we learned that my first patient, upon seeing me with an interpreter, had a change of heart about not communicating through his native tongue. Ana was super gracious and obliged.
And so. I will keep this simple. Here are ten things I learned about my patient today after I'd already evaluated him but then returning to him with an interpreter. Some of the details are changed, of course, to protect anonymity.
- He has been married for 38 years.
- The part of Mexico that he is from is right in the center of the country which helps him to not mind about how landlocked Atlanta is.
- The key to staying married for 38 years is to talk things out and share your feelings. Even if you get into a big argument, listen to each other and don't just walk away. And always stick together.
- Sons can be trouble. Girls are easier.
- He has 9 children, 5 of them sons. But fortunately only one is really big trouble. The girls are all angels.
- He has 29 grandchildren and more on the way. As in literally more on the way.
- Atlanta has been his home for the last 25 years but since his whole community is Spanish speaking, he hasn't fully mastered English. But he has come a really long way.
- Even though his daughters are easier, the child that takes care of him the most and is the most helpful is one of his sons. (Who has 3 kids of his own and one on the way.)
- Dialysis is frustrating.
- Family gatherings at his house never have any less than 100 people.
And for the record? Not a single thing changed about my assessment and plan. But I know for certain that coming back to him and truly humanizing him was therapeutic for us both.
What I sent my ward team after that encounter. I wanted them to understand why it's important to get an interpreter for the human connection.
"Read this to understand my feelings about the power of getting interpreters. It explains better than I could today on rounds.