Linguists tend to revel in the absurd mistranslations that blow across their desks on a daily basis -- silly advertisements, gaffes, total gibberish -- but I was recently forwarded a fascinating article by Dr. Glenn Flores, "Language Barriers to Health Care in the United States," in the New England Journal of Medicine on "killer" translations (in the literal sense and not being facetious here, for once).
In the article, Flores recounts the case of a Spanish-speaking 18-year-old who stumbled home and told his girlfriend he was "intoxicado" (nauseated), which the paramedics then took to mean "intoxicated," and the patient was subsequently treated for an alcohol and drug overdose. However, after more than 36 hours in the hospital, the patient was re-evaluated and diagnosed with a blood clot in his brain, which resulted in quadriplegia and a subsequent $71 million malpractice settlement.
Despite the National Health Law Program dictating that each state must now have a minimum of two legal provisions related to language access in the context of healthcare services, language barriers still clearly present an impediment to effective care with costly -- and potentially fatal -- consequences.
"Sitting back and just saying, 'God, I just wish these people would learn English' isn't enough. A hospital has got to do more than that if we are going to continue to saves lives."
I couldn't have said it better myself.
Follow the jump for a full interview on the NEJM site with Dr. Flores.