After a decade of interpreting exclusively in courts, I went back to a combination of medical and court interpreting, mainly because I needed to secure my finances from the ups and downs of full self-employment. By working at a hospital as a 50% employee, I was able to have the best of both worlds. Now that I do all my interpreting from home, I have been struck by just how different the sound and view quality is between the two settings. Some is due to the equipment and platforms used, but the very physicality of medical work, all those bodies in motion, is a large factor, especially with in-patients and doctor teams.

During an Intensive Care appointment with a pregnant COVID patient this week, I was getting queasy as the foggy video on wheels (encased in a protective plastic bag) moved first through the hall, then was pushed in a zigzag pattern around all the moving targets in the room, from staff to IV poles to a table and more. They settled me on a view of the ceiling, then at my request lowered the angle so I could see the patient’s face. That lasted a few sentences, only to have someone abruptly grab and swing the machine to the wall as they moved in to adjust the patient in bed. No warning. Whoosh. Eye wrench.

With the camera now facing the wall, I spent some time calling out what I could hear from the team such as “there you go” and “this way” and “let me grab your pillow” and “do you want your head more up?” (and what I dearly hope was a mumbled “uh-huh” on the part of the patient). Then one of the many nervous residents in the room reached out and used the video remote as her personal fidget toy. Wall. Sink. Wall. Sink. Wiggle. Jerk. Wiggle. Jerk.

For the record, this is a very common occurrence. I called out that “someone seems to be holding onto and moving the video, which affects the sound and view quality!” The camera lens jerked upward as it was released and settled on a very nice dangly earring peering forth from beyond all the masks and protective gear of one of the nurses. It was a bronze crescent with an intricate tree and root carving. Then the room abruptly spun again, I scanned the ceiling and was suddenly face to face with the patient who was now safely on her side and covered again.

With a steady face-to-face view, as I interpreted vital medical information about the unborn baby for the visiting Labor and Delivery team, the ICU team walked in off camera and began to discuss the case amongst themselves – while I was mid-sentence interpreting. I had to interrupt to call out that “the interpreter cannot not hear everything that is being said because there are people in the room off camera talking over us!” An invisible someone called out sorry, and so the Labor and Delivery team was able to continue their session with less background noise and better accuracy. And the screen was blessedly still for a few precious moments.

In my favorite court, the cameras are steady and well arranged so that each party on the WebEx call is clearly visible and audible as needed. It is organized, formal, and predictable. We are not dragged around on a pole or flipped around on a laptop. We are on our own steady systems at home. Upon virtually entering each courtroom as pre-assigned, we check in via the chat feature with the bailiff, on mute with our cameras off until our case is called. We can see each party present in the courtroom, and have a view of the whole courtroom as well. No one is adjusting or moving anything, and every speaker is facing their mic. It is a quiet and respectful working environment, with excellent and reliable quality.

What a difference! No feeling like a circus performer as the room spins and shakes. No staring first at an earring, then a left bare buttock, then the ceiling. No one ever stands obliviously directly between me and the person for whom I am interpreting. And whenever anyone talks too long at a time, or attempts to interrupt or talk over me, the judge immediately admonishes them to allow for the interpreter to “do her job!” No one in court has ever dared to “practice Spanish” or interrupt my interpretation to gleefully call out, “I understood what they said!” followed by their own broken interpretation, proudly rendered. The absence of chaos in court, like the stillness of my screen view, is restful indeed.