What Really Matters

April 17, 2012 No Comments   

There are two things that have been near and dear to my heart for most of my adult life: access to quality health care and the Spanish language and culture. I have been blessed to have found a ministry with Saint Joseph Health System that enables me to combine those two passions.

In my 10 years as coordinator of Interpreter Services, I have come across many different patients and families. In assisting with health care access you never really know what you are going to get. One day a medical interpreter might help a patient get prenatal care so the expectant mom can have a better chance to bring a healthy child into the world. The next day, she may be the conduit for the delivery of bad news, of a terminal diagnosis, and she becomes a small part of the shattered world this news tends to leave behind.

The majority of my interactions with patients and their families has been upbeat and has lead to positive health outcomes. This part of my job brings me much joy and satisfaction. The difficult times bring that, too, although, as expected, they weigh much heavier on my heart.

A patient in his early 30s was having a liver scan. It was early October and he hadn’t been feeling very good for a month or so. In talking to him, we discovered we had mutual friends. He was a former co-worker of my husband and his sister was well-known to my family as well. His liver scan quickly led to a liver biopsy which led to a diagnosis of inoperable liver cancer.

It was hard for me to hide the fact that I felt devastated as well, although not to the same degree as the patient and his grieving family. Plans were quickly made to get his mom to travel from Mexico to be with him before his untimely death. I interpreted for Alejandro and his family several times between early October and late November. His family came to me to ask my help in extending his mom’s travel visa through the Mexican embassy. As a medical interpreter, this request went far beyond a simple conduit of information, yet I was glad to be of assistance in their great time of need.

The last time I saw him he was in Hospice care here at the hospital. I stopped by to make sure the family’s needs were being met. How he had changed from the robust young man I had met just weeks ago! He had a vacant look in his eyes as I asked him if he needed anything. The family thanked me for coming and I left. Sometime over the Thanksgiving weekend we got the news that Alejandro had died. His sister had rocked him and wept as he passed. That image has never really left my mind in the five years or so that have since gone by.

Being a friend of the family, my husband and I went to the funeral. His mom went out of her way to thank me for all I had done for them. Although we all had tears in our eyes, we all knew that the best outcome had materialized: that we had all worked together to give Alejandro the best possible final days of his life.

Soon after the funeral, his brother-in-law set out to drive his body to the Mexican border. This was the culmination of the selfless acts that I had been a witness to by this close-knit family. They taught me a lot about love, sacrifice, letting go and gratitude. Although we as medical interpreters are trained to be impartial conduits of information, often times this is an impossible standard to uphold. And if I had chosen to maintain that strict position of neutrality, I may not have come away a better person for it.

Lynn Fors, MA, AHI
Coordinator of Interpreter Services
Saint Joseph Health System

Saint Joseph Health System, Saint Joseph Hospital

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