We received a question from an interpreter who works often in a hospital setting wondering how to manage the waiting time if a Deaf patient is in a hospital room? If there is no preference expressed by the patient or hospital staff, should you sit in the room with the patient? Or sit out in the hallway?
Please share your insights into your own practice with this question. Recognizing that a situation may depend on many factors, what is your standard mode of operation in this situation? And what factors does your decision depend on?
I think every interpreter has to use their discretion and experience in these situations. I base my own on several things. Is the consumer DeafBlind? If yes, then I am more apt to stay in the room because the consumer can more easily get my attention. If she/he wants to call for the nurse it is much easier if I am in the room, “on hold” then to try and get my attention if I am out of the room. Also if the patient is elderly or in much pain then I will tend to stay in the room to add to the “comfort” level of the patient. But I always ask what the patient prefers.
Sometimes the patient and I don’t agree. They would prefer that I stay and I would prefer that I am in the hall. Specifically if there are crying and upset children in the room, I will want to wait in the hall simply to give my ears a rest. Sometimes the patient wants someone to keep them company and visit with them. If I am doing an on call, Emergency assignment, I often have interpreted during the day and am on call as an extra assignment for the evening or overnight. I need the break between the nurse, doctor, x-ray, blood draws to keep myself in top form for the interpreting times. So I often will communicate this with the patient and explain why I prefer to stay in the hall, when they would prefer me in the room.
Where I draw the line and always stay in the hall is for any kind of mental health patient. I believe that the interpreter does not need to be in the room and have a separate relationship with the patient. Especially for mental health situations, I believe that the patient needs to develop a rapport with the hospital staff and I can interfere with that if I am in the room when the staff are not. This can be tricky, especially if I interpret for the patient in other non mental health related settings. What I often do is to explain to the patient, that for this time, when they are being evaluated for mental health reasons, I need to be in the hall. So that in other situations, we might be chatty, for this time, I need to step back and let the hospital staff lead the relationship. This is not because I am scared or wary of the patient. I interpret often in mental health Emergency room situations where patients have gone off their meds or are in a crisis of some sort. I just believe that the doctor, nurse, psychiatrist, therapist etc. are the trained personnel who need to develop the rapport with the patient and not me.
Again, I think this is a very delicate issue and needs to be handled carefully with alot of thought and care. The medical/mental health assignments deal with very personal issues and an interpreter can add or detract from the comfort level of the patient based on their skillful ability to navigate their needs with the patients wants.