This week, I had the chance to use my fantastic chiropractic deal (yay groupon!). When I called Chiropractic Art and Science to make my appointment, I requested an interpreter as I usually do. I could tell by the receptionist’s reaction that it’s not a request they get often (or perhaps ever). She kept telling me they didn’t have one on staff, and wasn’t sure how to find one.
Because I needed to get in and use my deal in a hurry, I told her not to worry about it, as long as they were willing to write things down and work with me we’d be fine. An interpreter would be ideal, but we’d work around it.
The next day, I arrived early to fill in my paperwork, just as I’d been told to do. When I got there, I was greeted warmly by the receptionist… who breathed a visible sigh of relief when I understood her greeting. She turned and gave the chiropractor the thumbs up, I’m sure to pass on the message that I’m NOT terrifying and he could relax a little. And then she handed me out the intro spiel that she had written out for me before I arrived… A full two pages of big, happy scrawl telling me what to expect, what their process is, and what I needed to fill out. And then she set up text reminders for my appointments. I could have hugged her.
When they needed to get my attention, they walked right up to me instead of calling across the room. They made sure to look at me when they were talking to me. And any time I looked confused, they carefully wrote out what they were saying. For part of the exam, they had to stand behind me… so the chiropractor set up signals to let me know when I needed to move. A little tap on the left shoulder, bend this way, little tap on the right, bend that way. Easy. They let me keep my hearing aids until the very last possible second during XRays. They made sure they always explained everything clearly before doing anything. And always, the willingness to use pictures, writing, and demonstration to make sure I understood what was going on.
It seems like a simple thing, doesn’t it? They were surprised by how pleased I was that they were willing to write for me… but all too often, I’m met with resistance if I don’t understand and ask someone to write instead of speaking. There are confused looks, repeated unintelligible words, sighs of irritation. In my experience, it’s the worst in medical situations. I was told by one doctor, “Well, you seem to be lip-reading really well, we don’t need an interpreter.” (Apparently, he decided I only needed to understand 10% of that conversation.) One of my nurses during that same visit flat-out refused to write anything down, and getting her to talk directly to me was almost impossible. It made the whole experience frustrating, isolating, and scary.
For those of you in the health industry (or service, or anything other industry really) – it really doesn’t take much to bridge the communication barrier. All it takes is a little bit of kindness, some patience, and willingness to meet in the middle. To you, it may seem like a small thing, but you have no idea what a difference it makes on the other side of things.
Do you have experience trying to juggle communication barriers in a medical setting? How did you deal with it?