Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Lost in Translation

Today at work we had a little patient who was Spanish-speaking only. I was getting my iTranslate app fired up on my phone but then found out the family had brought along their own translator. That worked out just fine but it reminded me of something funny that happened when I was a nursing student.

It happened during my clinical practice in pediatrics.  I was at a hospital in Las Cruces, New Mexico and my first patient was a six year old little boy. I don't even remember what he was admitted for but I remember that I was told he spoke no English. His mother was by his side all day but she also spoke no English. There was another boy in the room who was bilingual and eager to act as my translator. Since I had only one patient (remember, I was just a student), I was in that room quite a lot. Other than some awkward pointing and such, the communication was all through the other little boy in the room.

Until...

The second day I was there, the little translator helped me convince my patient's Mom that if she wanted to go down to the cafeteria or something, I would stay in her son's room until she returned. She trusted me enough to leave his side. The moment she left the room, though, her son turned to me and said, "Would you read a book to me?" Yes, I mean he actually said those words. The little translator in the other bed laughed and laughed at my shock.

I didn't understand this. The little guy begged that I not tell his mother. He didn't want her to know he could speak English. I tried to convince him that she would be thrilled but he was pretty insistent. So, I read a book to him and when his mother returned, we continued looking to the little boy in the other bed to translate. It was strange but oddly, kind of fun. Besides, I was bound by patient/nursing student confidentiality, right?

Later, I was talking about it to my supervisor and fellow students. One of the other student nurses, who happened to be Hispanic, shed some light on the situation. She explained to me that in her culture, it was considered extremely rude to show a parent that you knew something they did not know. In this case, the little boy was showing respect to his mother by not letting on that he knew something she did not yet know. The other student told me the mother likely already knew anyway.

So, what do you think? Wasn't that an interesting little lesson on cultural differences?

(You are invited to stop by Cinnamon Rose Cottage. She was kind enough to allow some free advertising for Wyoming Rose Boutique.)