Case Study

Imagine yourself in the following situation. You’re going about your daily errands when suddenly something doesn’t feel right. It feels like there is pressure in your chest. Maybe it’s heartburn from that breakfast burrito you ate. But soon the pressure becomes a dull pain, and it’s not just in your chest anymore. You can feel it in your arms and neck.

It dawns on you that you might be having a heart attack. You’re finding in harder to take in a full breath. You feel sweaty and clammy and slightly nauseous. You sit down, and this is where things start to get fuzzy. Did you call 911, or did somebody else? There’s a lady speaking to you in a calming voice telling you you’re going to be alright.

You hear the sirens coming and feel some sense of relief that help is on the way. Next there’s an ambulance and a stretcher and the EMT asking you questions. He sounds sure of himself, like he knows what he’s doing and has done this a thousand times.

And then you’re on your way to the hospital. You have a sense of speeding down the highway, but the man by the stretcher speaks to you in an even tone and you feel assured. In just a few minutes you’re at the hospital.

There are doctors and nurses and one of them explains that you need open-heart surgery. You should feel panicked, but you keep hearing things like, “the best medical care,” and “top-notch surgeon.” That’s the last thing you remember before waking up to a woman rearranging some tubes next to your bed. When she sees you’re awake, she smiles and starts filling you in on everything you missed.

The Fear of Not Knowing

Now imagine the exact same thing happening, but this time, nobody says a word to you. There is no lady with a calming voice. There is no EMT asking you questions. No “best medical care,” no “top notch surgeons,” and when you wake up, a lady smiles at you, but she doesn’t let you know what in the world is going on. You’re deaf, and since nobody at the hospital knows sign language, you are left there to wonder what just transpired.

That is what happened to Patricia*. In 2007, she had a major heart attack and was rushed to her local hospital for open-heart surgery. There were no ASL interpreters onsite and no video interpreting technology to help her at that time. It wasn’t until after her surgery that an interpreter was there who could communicate with her.

Having an Advocate is Critical

Patricia ended up with kidney failure as a result of her ongoing illnesses. She needed to go back into the hospital to have a hemodialysis catheter placed in her chest in order to go on dialysis. This time however, Patricia’s daughter Nicole called Language People and asked that they help provide an interpreter for her mother. Language People called the current medical provider and arranged care for Patricia.

The hospital hired an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter through Language People who was available to translate for Patricia everything that the doctors and nurses were saying. And it’s a very good thing that they did. Prior to getting communication and clarification of her situation through the interpreter, Patricia was under the impression that the hemodialysis catheter, rather than preparing her for dialysis, was actually the device that was going to filter her blood.

Had Patricia not been given the opportunity to communicate with her doctors and ask questions through an interpreter, Patricia would have gone home thinking her latest medical procedure had fixed her kidney problem. In other words, Patricia would have likely gone home and died.

Complete Understanding for All Involved

Language People realized that Patricia’s health, her life, was dependent on fully understanding her medical situation and the steps she needed to take moving forward. They advocated on Patricia’s behalf, along with Patricia’s family, to have interpreters available not only for the catheter placement, but also at the dialysis clinic.

The hospital and dialysis clinic agreed that the patient’s thorough understanding of her situation was crucial. Patricia had an interpreter available upon beginning her dialysis treatment to make sure she understood what she was going though, how important the treatment was, and how life-threatening her situation would be if she didn’t without dialysis.

Patricia’s story has a happy ending. She got the medical attention and interpretation services that she needed in order to survive and thrive. This happened because a lot of people were advocating for her. Everyone deserves this level of attention and advocacy. Interpretation for the Deaf can serve to make someone feel better is a horrible and stressful situation. It can also save lives.


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* Names have been changed to protect client privacy.