Empathy, resilience and a sense of humour: working as an interpreter

Interpreter and AUSIT ACT committee member, Eirlys Chessa, shares some of her experiences working with the Italian community in Australia.

As an interpreter and translator, loving and understanding your community is a major prerequisite. So is empathy, resilience and a sense of humour, as the stories you hear will often be highly sensitive or confidential.

Not all are tragic or stressful however. Our presence, however brief, often relieves the tension and helps clarify minor issues!

The role of the interpreter and translator is often misunderstood, and sometimes even misrepresented, so here are a couple of examples from my experience, which I hope will give you an insight.

I work mainly with elderly members of the Italian community, who have been here 50 years or more. One day, I was called to the Emergency Department to interpret for an elderly Italian-Australian, adamant she needed an interpreter.

The nurse could not understand why, as the patient spoke excellent English! I introduced myself and she immediately said: “I have lived here 45 years! I speak English! But I can’t understand HIM!” (pointing at the doctor).

The doctor repeated the question that was the issue : “..’re y’in pin? ” He was speaking with a heavy Gaelic accent that reminded of a scene from “Chicken Run”.

I smiled politely and interpreted: “Are you in pain?/ Ha dolore?”.

“YES!”, she said. That’s all it took and the rest of the ED assessment went smoothly. I really thanked my Scottish-Irish-Italian ancestry that day.

On another occasion, the pre-admission nurse called me to assist a patient who some months before, had been consented with his daughter summarising the doctor’s explanation (the daughter had power of attorney).

I overheard him talking to himself in the corridor, and realised that he had not understood the nature of the operation. For months, he had been convinced his ear would be removed, instead there was only going to be a small graft to close the hole in his eardrum.

I immediately told the nurse, and we described the entire procedure again, showing him pictures of the procedure (which his daughter had avoided doing at the time, so as not to “worry” him, fearing he would not consent).

He emerged happy, grateful and hopeful that his hearing would finally be restored, while his daughter finally realised why he had been extremely depressed for months in the lead up to the operation.

Sometimes, it is the small details that count.

Click here to learn more about AUSIT. This article has been reproduced with permission from Volunteering and Contact ACT.

Published: 12/05/2016