I got a chance to work as a translator for a team of doctors this last Sunday, helping out with a medical mission down in the coastal lowlands near my site. It was hot, tropical and a great learning experience…plus great people and lots of free snacks! The coolest part, however, was getting to watch intricate surgeries from about 2 feet away.
This guy had a cataract removed, and what you see is a doctor SEWING UP HIS EYEBALL (modern medicine is amazing)
Of course, hanging out in the operating room was just a perk; obviously there’s very little translating necessary for people under heavy anesthesia :) The rest of the time I stayed extremely busy during clinical visits, where I’d help Guatemalans make themselves understood to North American doctors with minimal amounts of Spanish. I spent a bunch of my time with Vaji (OB/GYN) and Aditi (otolaryngologist aka ear, nose and throat doctor).
Yes, I did get to wear scrubs. I had to change midday because it was so HOT.
The work was really rewarding; cracking the language barrier to help someone deal with their health issues creates immediate goodwill, especially seeing that lots of patients traveled from far away and were likely pretty poor. Also, you have to take into account that U.S. caliber medical services would probably cost a fortune and although the mission was charging for its procedures, I’m sure their prices were generous.
I learned how exhausting translating can be. The patient’s explanation of their symptoms would enter my ear in Spanish and leave my mouth in English, with the same vice versa for the doctor’s advice or questions. I did one straight 3-hour stint and, in addition to the sweltering humidity and coastal heat, all that switching back and forth just wore me out. The thing is, with the urgency of getting the translation right (this isn’t some simple miscommunication; you really want to help people with their problems) makes you concentrate really hard. I drank a lot of water.
No joke though; people really needed help. This was an ovarian cyst that they pulled out of this one woman, which measured about the size of an …..orange (whoa)
I’m going to let you watch this video though – watching a surgeon open up someone’s body with a cauterizing wand is pretty incredible…..