Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Having no interpreter is an Inconvenience Especially in Life of a Deaf Mommy

Being Deaf does stir up some excitement in my life. Life is definitely not ordinary. A simple thing can become a big deal or dramatic in my life. Most of the time, I just have to roll with punches, and suck it up because things like this can be inevitable. Fortunately, I am pretty good at adapting, and plucking out tools out of my belt to quickly assess the situation before shit hits the fan. This is one of those moments when I am grateful for knowing how to write and read English well. It is also one of those moments where I feel injustice and oppression which infuriates me beyond words.

You see, my son, Forrest, had a skin condition. I was pretty sure he had Eczema. It was no big deal. I've had Psoriasis, albeit very mild case of it, all of my life, and I did anticipate some kind of skin issue to crop up with Forrest...and it did. It was no big deal. I used Aveedo Eczema therapy for babies, and it had been miraculous. Worked like a charm. However, due to Forrest's excessive drooling, he had developed red, cracked and bleeding sores on his neck. I wanted it to be looked at by our pediatrician, Dr. J, and treat it immediately to avoid an infection. I called Dr. J's office and learned that he was really booked for next few days in the week. The only opening he had was on the following day in the morning at 9 am. 

I debated briefly whether I should sign up for 9 am appointment or find other opening in next few days--if there was any or wait until next week. My guy was not feeling well. He was fussy, and crying quite often. He didn't want me to touch his neck. It was smelly. No way I was going to wait. What I resented in this very moment was that I HAD TO think about it. 

You see, as a Deaf mom, I demand to have a sign language interpreter to have a full access to communication for situations like this. I want to be able to fully understand, and obtain right information. Most doctors view Deafness as a medical condition rather than a cultural thing. It's just a part of their medical training, and a part of ignorance as well. Many doctors, in the past, expect me to be able to fully read lips without complications, wear some hearing aids, and be able to keep up with information. Many times, when I am faced without an interpreter; a doctor will just look at me with an expression of if not securing an interpreter was my problem...and talk without bothering to write down. I have asked them to write down the information for me. Nope. They continue to talk, and brush off my request. They don't have time to write. They feel I am an inconvenience to them because I chose not to speak, or attempt to read lips without asking for any clarification. Sure, try read lips and catch all fancy medical terms. Whatever.

Because of my experiences like this in the past, I often schedule my appointments in advance, between 48-72 hours, to secure an interpreter. Even so, I still show up to the appointments, wondering will I have an interpreter or not, and most of the time, I do have an interpreter. Sometimes, I don't. 

Anyway, my son was not feeling well. No way, I was going to wait 48-72 hours or next week to have him looked at. What if it gets worse? The receptionist on the phone put me on a hold while she called an interpreting agency. I fretted for a moment. She returned to me, and told me there was an interpreter. Great. Whew. Glad it worked out. 

I arrived the next morning with a fussy boy in my arms. Poor guy wanted to snuggle and browse his face into my neck. I savored that closeness for a minute, breathing in his fresh baby scent on top of his head, and approached the receptionist. I was running 5 minutes, okay. I tried to be on time. A long train caused me to be late. Oh well. That happened. I scanned the waiting room for a professional looking person. Nobody. I internally rolled my eyes. No interpreter? I asked the receptionist. She glared at me, and told me to go in immediately. I asked her where is an interpreter. She shrugged and shook her head. I glared at her, and said thanks. 

I entered the small patient room with a sweet nurse. I liked her. She had 3 boys. So she was very comfortable with handling Forrest. I began to write that I was sorry for not having an interpreter. Then it occurred to me. Why should I apologize? It was not my job to secure an interpreter. I did my part; I had requested for an interpreter, and it was the office's responsibility to obtain an interpreter. The nurse saw what I had began to scribble down on a piece of scrap paper. She smiled and replied, Oh that's quite alright. I bet you can't wait until Forrest gets a bit older and sign well so he can interpret for you?

I smiled graciously as possible and bit my tongue. I could have corrected her, but I didn't have time with a poor sick baby in my arms. 

Pet Peeve #1,570: Yes I do have many pet peeves. I do not find it appropriate to rely on a child to interpret for an adult conversation. Foreign speaking or Deaf parents have a right to get full access to communication, and should not rely on their children to interpret for them. It's the office's job to obtain, and pay for an interpreter. To assume that a family member should interpret for a Deaf or foreign speaking person is way, way flawed. I've had family members, bless their hearts, to try interpret for me in the past, and guess what? I hated it. 

Using family members are bad because they have A) withheld information maybe because they don't understand or feel you don't need to know, B) skipped out on information because the person is speaking way too fast, and they don't have sufficient language knowledge to fully interpret everything--face it, interpreting is A HARD JOB--even harder if this Deaf person is very heavily fluent in ASL and has limited understanding of English, C) face it, it's not cool to have a parent, or family member interpreting for you when you are 20-something and you are perfectly capable of handling it on your own, and D) it enables other people to view you as a lesser than an intelligent person. 

Besides, interpreters are here for a reason. Never will I use Forrest as my personal interpreter. It's just really tacky. It's not his job to take care of me. It IS MY job to take care of him.

The nurse informed me that Dr. J was going to be in a minute. I nodded my head. A minute melted into 5 minutes....ten minutes....fifteen minutes...and finally thirty minutes later, he showed up. The whole time I was bouncing a crying and hungry baby. I was not sure if I can sit down and feed Forrest because hello, I had no interpreter to notify me if someone was at the door asking if we were presentable. How lovely. I decided to give Dr. J a benefit of doubt; maybe it was not because I had no interpreter, but because he was busy. That happened. 

Dr. J arrived. I was a bit nervous. What if he was one of those doctors that insisted on talking instead of writing? Fortunately, my anxiety faded away when he pulled out a paper and smiled then started scribbling as fast as he could. I mentally sighed to myself. Of course, he was in a big hurry due to his schedule. That meant no time for me to write down the questions I wanted to ask him. If there was an interpreter present, all this writing back and forth in time constraint would have summarized in 2 minutes conversation instead of five to ten minutes of writing. Thankfully, Dr. J was a good sport about the whole situation. I appreciated that--it made my life easier. 

Unfortunately, he didn't inform me what kind of OTC medicine I can use for Forrest during our mad scribbling conversation. Fortunately, I had plenty of help from mommies out there to help me find a right medicine for Forrest's neck. 

Now, if this is just for me at my personal appointment, then I would not have cared as much about not having an interpreter. I have tools to fall back on. I can write well. I can understand English well. I roll with punches without really worrying about it. 

But when it comes to my child...that's a different story. I will morph into a mama bear. I do feel I am entitled to have full access to communication without relying on my child to interpret for me. To have that expectation that my kid is going to grow up to be my interpreter is what pisses me off the most. Again, that's not his job to take care of me. It is my job to take care of him. 

Some people look at this and tell me that it is not a big deal. 

Yes it is a very big deal. And yes, you do have to be Deaf to understand. 

This does not mean that, if you are not Deaf or have some kind of hearing loss, you can't empathize or understand this to an extent because I know you can relate on that very basic level of dealing with hassles. I do thank you for your empathy and support. It means a lot to me. 


  1. Ash I will always remember your patience in working with us and teaching us sign language in college. I can't imagine how frustrating it is when all you want is to make your little guy better and I do think us "hearing" people take for granted how many challenges we don't have to deal with on a daily basis! I love your blog and I love reading about your adventures with your beautiful family! Keep being Awesome! Love, Jenn Woodrow

  2. This is another eye opener to how people should think before speaking. With our own journey I have really gathered my own pet peeves and has made me in some way mindful of others situations. It's refreshing to see how others feel with their pet peeves.

    I hope that Forrest feels better. Did they ever give you any explanation as to why they didn't get the interpreter. I to feel that you should be given that access to communication and feel it's utterly unfair to almost have that need 'brushed' aside.

  3. There are lots of ways in order to communicate with someone, but they may have limitations. Communicating with them can be hard if there are no interpreters around. This is why I’m really thankful for them. With them, communications have become easier.