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Managing Waiting in an Exam Room

Editor’s Note:  In the comments to Jimmy Beldon’s previous post, someone raised the possibility of stepping out of the exam room to wait for the doctor or nurse in the hall to be sure they were familiar with how to work with an interpreter. Here is a follow-up commentary by Amy Williamson-Loga posing some questions about that very issue.

by Amy Williamson-Loga

I have a question I’d like to pose to all of you. During a medical appointment, the nurse generally starts in the examination room taking vitals, like pulse, temperature, and weight, and then asking preliminary information about what is wrong with the patient, This all happens before seeing the doctor. Generally, the nurse, after getting the information, then leaves the room, leaving the patient to wait for the doctor.

My question is how do you handle this waiting time. Do you stay and talk with the patient? Do you leave and wait outside for the doctor to come? And with these two choices, how do you interact with the patient? Do you ask them if they’d like you to stay or leave? Or do you just leave? Or just stay and engage them in conversation?

For me, it really depends on the individual and what my relationship with them is, but I’m really wondering how you handle this part of a medical appointment.

Translation by Doug Bowen-Bailey

Managing the Waiting Room

by Trudy Suggs

Translation by Doug Bowen-Bailey

For me, one of the things I detest about medical appointments is dealing with the waiting room. Obviously, there is the challenge of trying to know when I am called. But in regards to interpreters, there is a list of challenges. I’ll share a story about an experience I had.

I went to the doctor for something minor like a cold, I don’t quite remember what. I didn’t know who my interpreter would be, so when I arrived, I scanned the waiting room looking for someone who fit my picture of an interpreter dressed in black or dressed professionally. I didn’t see anyone who looked like an interpreter. Actually, there were very few people that day. Sitting across from me was a woman, a bit older, who wore a hoodie with a shirt underneath and jeans.

I didn’t really give her a second thought, and after waiting a bit, I took out my pager. The woman asked if I was Deaf. I replied that I was and she said she was my interpreter. I was a bit taken aback by her casual clothes, but I talked with her some and her signing skills were okay; they were at least acceptable for this particular appointment. So I politely chatted with her. Our conversation dragged on because she wouldn’t stop talking. I felt the need to be polite, though I really wanted to go back to my pager. This went on for almost 15 minutes until the nurse finally called me.

That experience made me think about what I look for or what some of the things interpreters should do. One thing I know that interpreter education programs stress is the need for an interpreter to meet with the consumer prior to the appointment to assess the consumer’s language usage. But programs don’t often convey the flip side that consumers also need the opportunity to assess the interpreter so that we can figure out if the interpreter is a good fit for us. Sometimes, an interpreter’s skills may be good but she or he may not be a good fit for me. Or maybe the interpreter is a good friend of mine – the town I live has many deaf people, so many of the interpreters are friends with us; it’s almost like an extended family. So if I went to an appointment of a personal nature, like an OB-GYN visit, I would prefer not to have an interpreter who is a good friend interpret for me. So it depends on the situation.

For me – this is my preference, and other Deaf people may have different preferences for themselves – but I prefer that, when an interpreter comes to an appointment, she or he wear a name badge identifying her or him as an interpreter, along with the name. This really is a top priority. After the interpreter notifies the staff of her or his presence, if it is not too public a setting, I’d like the interpreter to introduce himself or herself to me. This will allow both of us to assess each other’s language usage. Then the interpreter could go somewhere else, like into the back area of the doctor’s office and leave me to read, use my pager, or do whatever I want to at that point. Sometimes, I just need that time to myself. It doesn’t matter if the interpreter is a friend or not; for me, it is good to maintain clear boundaries between work and friendship. Then when the nurse calls me, it’d be good for the interpreter to come out with the nurse so I don’t have to struggle with trying to figure out when my name is called.

All of these steps really depend on the situation. Sometimes I haven’t seen the interpreter in a while and want to chat, and sometimes I’d just like to be left alone. The bottom line comes down to a few steps: interpreters need to dress appropriately, wear a name badge, and understand that even if the interpreter and I are friends, certain medical situations can be awkward for me, and for the interpreter too, because medical appointments are so frequently personal.

The three things I mentioned are various factors for medical situations and the waiting room that interpreters should consider.