In Dire Need of Interpreters

It’s incredible how important good communication is in a hospital environment. Without it, you could sign away your health, or that of your loved ones, without even realizing it.

There are so many stories — too many stories — about deaf people getting screwed due to a lack of qualified interpreters.

How hard is it to offer an interpreter? - Image from via Google Images

Qualified interpreters do exist. Hire them, hospital staff. It’s the law! – Image from

I was just reading this book, Seeds of Disquiet, which briefly mentions some medical horror stories, featuring uninformed consent and misinformation as the most devastating problems:

  • A deaf man’s mother was very ill and in the hospital. He had to sign papers to authorize her surgery, but he had no idea what the papers said, because he had trouble reading them, and there was no interpreter available. He later found out that the documents also made him responsible for paying all of her medical expenses out of pocket! “I never forgot the anguish in his eyes when he told me about all the things his wife and children had to do without while he paid off his mother’s medical bills.” (p.160)
  • One woman was devastated to find that she had unwittingly signed papers authorizing a hysterectomy even though she desperately wanted more children.
  • Another woman was given a suppository, but because she didn’t understand the instructions the nurse gave her, she took it orally instead. Her health worsened dramatically.

Another book I read described a man whose deaf father had to be rushed off to the hospital alone. Because there was no interpreter available, and the hospital staff were so totally out of touch with deafness, his father had no way of communicating with them, either to make decisions about his medical treatment or to notify his family. He was moved from room to room, with little idea of what was happening to him and no way to contact his son.

Finally, his son figured out what had happened to him anyway and rushed to the hospital. He tried desperately to figure out what room his father was in, and to demand a professional interpreter, but the hospital staff refused to provide one. By the time he found his father, he had already died. He had no chance to say goodbye.

Stories like this break my heart and make me sick at the same time.

I’m starting to feel a major pull toward becoming a medical sign language interpreter. I don’t want anything like this to happen again, especially when it is so. easily. preventable!

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