High school Spanish.
A foreign language was required for college, and I loved Spanish.
I never dreamed I’d be speaking it on a daily basis.
There have been nights at work when that is the only language I speak.
I’m not fluent by any means, but my Spanish is respectable. I can triage in Spanish and give discharge instructions for most conditions. Speaking Spanish is one thing, comprehending what is said back to me is another.
I’ve learned to let the words flow over me, to not try and grasp each individual word. That is the key. I can get the gist of the conversation, relying on facial expressions, body language and tone of voice to help me.
We have translation services via language lines, occasionally the patient will bring someone in who speaks some English or we can use someone in the department who is a native speaker if they happen to be on that night.
None of those are perfect solutions.
First, it puts a third party between me and the patient.
Health care is a private matter, and there are sensitive, personal questions that need answers. It’s hard enough discussing these issues one-on-one, without going through a third party. How much is not shared because of the use of an additional set of ears?
Second, you can’t be sure how your words are being translated, or how the patients words are being translated back to you.
Not all languages have exact word-for-word translations. Did the patient hear exactly what you wanted them to hear, as you wanted them to hear it? Were their exact words given back to you without commentary or editing?
Of course, my limited knowledge and comprehension of the language isn’t perfect, either, so I wind up using a combination of the services available.
The one thing I try not to do is use family members for translation of information if the patient is alert and oriented. I want the patient to be able to speak freely, and there may be information the family doesn’t need to know. Also, the patient may not want to admit fear or anxiety in front of family or friends.
It’s not just Spanish, of course. This is true of any non-English speaking patient. Our area is very, very diverse. We have patients who speak Mandarin, Cantonese, Farsi, Japanese, Hebrew, Vietnamese, Russian and Arabic!
So much of what we do as nurses takes place when we are alone with our patients, talking with them, listening. Patients tend to open up to us. That’s hard to do if the nurse doesn’t speak their language and they have to go through a translator to say they are anxious, scared or have zero clue about what is happening to them.
So, even though I do need help on occasion, I am grateful for my Spanish knowledge, grateful to my four years with Miss Felice and grateful to my patients who help me expand my vocabulary.
Even if my pedi patients sometimes giggle at my pronunciations!