//Why Do I Need an Interpreter? A Nurse’s Perspective

After working as a trauma nurse for over twenty years I decided one day that I was done. Little did I know that a past experience would lead me to a new career that I absolutely love and that I am very passionate about. I now recruit interpreters!

As an emergency trauma nurse I saw it all. I learned that life can change in an instant. But on one unusually slow night I met a family that I would not soon forget.

We received a radio call from local EMS that they were transporting a highly combative patient from a car accident. As we prepared the room for this man’s arrival I begin to ponder the possible causes for his combativeness. Is he drunk or high on some drug? Has he had a head injury? The list of possibilities is long.

The squad arrives and soon thereafter the triage area is bombarded. We now know the cause of this patient’s reaction to treatment. He does not speak any English. Neither do his friends and family that were quickly filling the waiting area.  They are all frantic with worry and the triage nurse is unable to calm them down.

I can only begin to imagine how frightened this young man must have been. Not only has he been severely injured in a horrific crash but now a dozen people have filled the room and are touching, prodding and hurting him further in an attempt to save his life. I can only stroke his head and whisper “shhhh” in an attempt to comfort him.

The triage nurse calls for an interpreter and is told one is on the way. In the meantime a woman who we now know as “Madre” is becoming more frantic as is the rest of the ever growing crowd that has come to be with her.

The interpreter arrives. She wastes no time. She speaks quickly to the family and then follows me into the trauma bay. She quickly approaches the young man and calmly starts to speak to him. The change is instantaneous. He becomes still and focuses his attention on her. We are finally able to explain to this young man what needed to be done and why. We are able to tell him that, yes his family is here and would be allowed to see him in a little while. I was then able to go with the interpreter to the triage area and explain to them what was happening and that their son would live.

So when I hear people ask “why do I need an interpreter” I think of Madre and her young son. I think of how an interpreter bridged the gap between cultures, exactly what our Vocalink interpreters do every day in their field. What began as a frightening situation was quickly brought under control by her knowledge and professionalism.