As a person who prefers to have doctors who share my genitalia (not literally of course) I have sometimes felt apologetic and awkward when assigned to accompany men getting prostate and urology care. I have worried at times that they may feel “weird” about me not having the same equipment. Especially as I work with a population who tends to have deep-seated body shame.
Depending on the patient preference, I sometimes compensate for this by chatting with them in the waiting room (never about their health care of course) letting them know we have curtains in all the rooms and the interpreter will of course stand behind it, and just generally making them as comfortable as possible.
Last week, a urology appointment was delayed for some time – we were on hold for pending lab results, so I could not leave. So we just chattered on affably about nothing in particular. I watched this nervous man relax into comfort and even genuine amusement as we talked and joked. Even though we were waiting moment by moment for the lab results, he felt seen, heard, and may I humbly suggest entertained in the meanwhile.
By the time I was finally interpreting for him with staff, he was relaxed and open enough to truly hear about the invasive procedure he was going to have. This was a breakthrough for him. He went on to ask relevant questions to further his understanding. When the nurse asked if he had any more questions, he told her he had understood everything wonderfully, and he was really happy with his care – including the interpreter.
Another nice reminder that waiting room chatting, when done appropriately, can be a healing for the patient. The strict style of “never saying a word” that isn’t originated in the mouth of another staff person has its place, especially in the courtroom, but can add to the cold and unfeeling atmosphere in a huge hospital. As long as we are squeaky clean on the content of our talk, never moving into any advising or opinions regarding their care, I do believe there is a limited and cautious place for it.
As a staff interpreter, I consider myself a member of a care team, and earning the patient’s trust and adding to their comfort, while maintaining professionalism, is part of my job. As interpreters, it is a line we must walk with infinite care and awareness, always putting the patient first and keeping our professional guidelines in sight. But I remember the smile on the cancer patient’s face, as he felt increasingly safe about getting his care at our hospital. His face was lit up with hope and trust.