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Suffer the Children... - Stop using CODAs to interpret medical appointments

Updated: Mar 8, 2021

Recently, I read a post on the Limping Chicken Site which talked about a "Daughter forced to interpret father’s terminal cancer diagnosis".

It made me think about my personal experiences as a CODA interpreting for my parents in their daily lives. Like many other CODA children, I have found myself interpreting in situations where I really should not be!

I really hope that by sharing these personal experiences, I will be able to raise awareness and bring about a much needed change. It will certainly help to exorcise those inner demons and finally process some painful memories. It may also help other CODAs to feel they are not alone!

Like many other Children of Deaf Adults, I have been forced (and I do not use that word lightly – I had no other choice as no professional Interpreter was available) to interpret in a wide variety of situations.

Sometimes I felt fascinated, for example the time when I was 8 years old and I went with my father to the bank. He needed a mortgage and I was there to interpret.

I was truly amazed with the environment, so elegant, stylish, professional... I thought that I was entering the White House! I remember talking so proudly about this experience to my schoolmates.

However, it never entered into the Bank’s thinking that at 8 years old I was totally unsuited for the world of high finance, no matter how fascinating it was! What if I had misunderstood? What if my interpreting resulted in unsuitable or punitive financial arrangements for my parents? At such a tender age, could I really be held accountable? Looking back, this scares me!

Other occasions have been frankly embarrassing. Once at a GP appointment, the Doctor asked me to ask to my mum if she was sexually active. Seriously? I am not sure whether it was me or my poor mother who was more devastated at this point! Do I really need to know this? Does my mum need to live with the knowledge that I have access to the intimate details of her marriage? I think not!

Sometimes I have felt totally confused! When I was 10 years old I had to explain to my grandmother over the ‘phone that my mum was being made redundant. What was that word? What did it mean? More importantly, why was my grandma so upset about it and should I be worried?!

Sometimes I felt really scared. When I was 13 years old my younger sister (who was then 8) was diagnosed with diabetes. Everything was very unexpected and she became very sick extremely fast, as the Doctors discover the illness quite late and I had to interpret this serious diagnosis to my parents.

To this day, I still don't know if there wasn't any sign language interpreter available at the hospital, or whether the option simply was not considered.

Me, my parents and 3 doctors and nurses were in a room sitting around a big table. It was very daunting…. They were explaining the situation to us and they told us that she was diabetic and that she would now have to use insulin. Diabetic!? I have to admit that this was the first time I heard that word. Actually, my answer to this was "For how long?". “Forever”, they replied. It was a shock.

I really saw myself and my family living that experience forever and ever, and it was horrible as I felt the full weight of this responsibility. I knew that after such a diagnosis, my sister would never recover from this illness. However, in that moment, I really had to make an effort to get myself together and explain everything to my parents. Inside I was crying and shouting at the Medics and I just wanted to run away.

Even at the tender age of 13 I had to be strong for my parents who were suffering just like me and could only get all the important information the Doctors and nurses were telling them if I played my part as Interpreter. I had not choice but to carry on.

At no point, during any of these scenarios, did anyone stop to ask “are you OK?” and I feel strongly that no child should be put in these situations – ever!

Perhaps these experiences have helped me to become stronger as an adult, to be a firm support for my family, but at what price to a young child?

It is very important that the full role of the Interpreter is always taken into account. They do such much more than merely interpret the words and their presence provides a vital support to a whole family unit in often extremely difficult and private circumstances. They are specially trained, keep confidentiality and work to a Code of Conduct with a wealth of experience to bring to any given scenario.

This role is not something that should be asked of a young child or close relative – ever!



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