It was 7 a.m. on the first Saturday of December. For the last week, I had been anticipating this day—my first 24-hour call of my third year in medical school. I was on the OB/GYN service, and I had no idea what to expect. The day started with a successful C-section and progressed with numerous cervical checks and emergency department (ED) consults. With the blink of an eye, it was 7:00 p.m. Twelve hours had flown by.
“As a bilingual Latina and trained medical interpreter, I volunteered to interpret for the nurses and physicians…”
At this time, a Spanish-speaking patient, accompanied by her 5-year-old daughter, arrived on the labor and delivery floor. As a bilingual Latina and trained medical interpreter, I volunteered to interpret for the nurses and physicians during this encounter. The patient was a 29-year-old female in her second trimester who had been complaining of “vaginal bleeding and belly pain” for the last three days. She had been seen at the ED two days prior and was discharged with antibiotics and given a diagnosis of a urinary tract infection (UTI). As per the patient, the medication did not improve her symptoms, which is why she decided to come in. She was distraught, unsure if what she was experiencing was normal during pregnancy.
The pregnant mom was greeted by a labor and delivery (L&D) nurse who hooked her up for fetal monitoring; however, she was unable to obtain the fetal heartbeat. During her second attempt, this time with an ultrasound machine, the patient excitingly stated in Spanish to her daughter, “Look at your little sister mama.” Little did they know that the outcome was not looking promising. As time progressed, two residents unsuccessfully attempted to obtain the fetal heartbeat. Throughout this process, I was ensuring that the patient understood what the physicians were looking for. After multiple failed attempts, it became evident that the fetal heartbeat was non-existent.
At this point, I felt it was necessary to take the patient’s daughter into the hallway to provide the physician and patient with privacy. As we walked out of the room, the patient’s mother arrived. I explained what was occurring, and she decided to take the little girl into the waiting area. Upon returning to the patient’s room, I saw that she had been told the bad news by the resident, who could also speak Spanish. She began sobbing and saying “Why did this happen? How could this happen to my baby?” She was confused and distraught. After the resident explained the potential causes to the patient, including genetic conditions, she seemed to be in a calmer state. She was then prepped for a vaginal delivery followed by a D&C. Within 20 minutes, the unviable fetus was delivered. Throughout this process, I stayed at the patient’s bedside to interpret and comfort her and her boyfriend.
“…I was able to appreciate the importance of communication. Regardless of patients’ language, ethnicity, culture or social status, it is important that they receive quality healthcare and support…”
I could feel her sadness and confusion. Throughout this vulnerable time, I made it my responsibility to provide her with as much comfort and clarity as possible. It was my priority to ensure that she understood everything that was occurring. I did not leave her bedside and accompanied her in a prayer with the hospital’s chaplain.
Through this experience, I was able to appreciate the importance of communication. Regardless of patients’ language, ethnicity, culture or social status, it is important that they receive quality healthcare and support, especially during vulnerable times. I was saddened by this experience, but at the same time extremely grateful that I was able to provide this family with the support they needed and deserved. Although the hospital offered translator services, I could not imagine how the dynamics would have been if the patient was communicating using a phone. I felt that the patient deserved to have an in-person interpreter during such a sensitive time. She needed not only translating services but comfort as well.
As a future bilingual family medicine physician, I aspire to continue to advocate for my patients and be the voice for the Latinx population. Communication, comfort and trust are three extremely important aspects of medical care that every patient should receive, regardless of the language they speak. I hope that in my future career, I will remember the importance of these values and ensure that my patients always know that caring for them is my highest priority.