Meghan and Craig Stalker prepared like many other parents-to-be for the arrival of their child. They picked a hospital, set up the nursery, took birthing classes. But unlike most parents, they had one more detail to consider — a detail that in the past had caused them anxiety and frustration.
Craig is deaf, and he needed the services of an interpreter during the delivery.
The Stalkers worked closely with UCHealth Interpreter Services to make sure the birth of their second child was everything they had hoped for.
“It is our obligation to provide interpreter services — it is the law — but in our mind it’s also the right thing to do,” said Peter Nava, interpreter coordinator for UCHealth Interpreter Services at Poudre Valley Hospital, who also started the department more than a decade ago. “Our job is to provide the best care possible to our patients, and this is an important component.”
UCHealth Northern Colorado has eight employed interpreters who serve Poudre Valley Hospital, Medical Center of the Rockies and its more than 40 clinics. At MCR alone — where two interpreters are stationed — there’s an average of 300 interpreter service interactions monthly. Along with UCHealth interpreters, health care providers use outside services, such as Deaf Communication Services and video remote interpreting (VRI), which uses a secure, live Internet video connection.
“An interpreter is not the voice of the deaf person but is ensuring their voice is heard, and it works both ways,” Meghan said. “An interpreter is a tool — a communication facilitator.”
And in the world of health care — with its complicated terminology, potentially serious decisions and life-changing events — this communication tool becomes ever so important.
“It’s a very scary experience when you have to visit with a doctor for a health issue and you have no idea what they are saying,” said Iliana Quintero, interpreter services coordinator at MCR. “It’s nice to be able to understand what is being said and ask questions. An interpreter is almost like an advocate for them, as it can lead to major errors if things are not understood.”
During the birth of their now almost 3-year-old daughter, Everlyn, at a hospital outside the UCHealth system, Meghan and Craig experienced the fear and frustration that can accompany inadequate interpretation services. After 25 hours of labor, Meghan had to undergo an emergency C-section. The couple was told they wouldn’t be provided a live interpreter until Meghan was 7 centimeters dilated — they were only offered a VRI prior to that benchmark — so as things became more complicated, Craig found himself more lost in a world of silence.
“My wife was in labor, and the nurses came in and left, came and left, came and left,” Craig recalled, as interpreted by Meghan. “A VRI can be a great tool but was worthless in that kind of situation. So my wife had to interpret for me to let me know what was going on. … I can’t even imagine how my wife was able to hear the information and then explain it to me while she was so heavily medicated or while she was in pain of the labor. It was very frustrating. I felt very frustrated. And it was not fair to my wife.”
Dr. Natalie Rochester, an obstetrician and gynecologist with UCHealth in west Greeley and Loveland, performed the C-section for delivery of Meghan’s second child at MCR this past year, a healthy baby girl named Finnley. A live interpreter met the couple at the front door.
Rochester said it’s important for patients and family members to have a live interpreter for a delivery and she prefers to use UCHealth’s Interpreter Services.
Having an interpreter present allows both the patient and the loved one to actively participate in the care.
“It’s impossible to be an active participant when you are also the sole means of communicating it for someone else,” said Meghan, who went to college to be a teacher of the deaf. “It’s like watching a YouTube video on how to juggle and doing it at the same time. … The doctor might ask how you feel about this or that, but you can’t even respond to how you feel about it because you are repeating the question and someone else’s answers.”
Meghan recalls how terrified her husband was when he finally found out what was going on during her first delivery — that kind of situation is “not rightfully deserved for anyone,” she said.
Nava agrees, and it’s providing that understanding that makes his job so fulfilling.
“Many of our patients come into our hospitals and clinics not knowing what to expect, as many come from countries where medicine is practiced completely differently,” he said. “The ability to help them understand and having them ask questions lift a burden for them. It makes them feel like they are not blindfolded anymore. They are able to ask questions and they smile — and you see that smile. It’s not a nervous smile. It’s an, ‘I got it. I understand what’s going to happen,’ smile.”
About 80 percent of UCHealth’s Interpreter Services work in northern Colorado is for Spanish-speaking patients, Nava said. The other 20 percent mostly include requests for sign language, Mandarin and Chinese, Arabic, Korean and Vietnamese interpreters.
“We can’t always provide an on-site interpreter, but we try hard to in situations where things can change so quickly, like deliveries,” he said.
Even though Meghan’s request was a bit unusual because it wasn’t she who needed the interpreter, that didn’t diminish the importance of their need, Rochester said.
“Oftentimes we don’t focus on dad much, but there are three people involved,” she said. “Because of the interpreter, dad could understand what was going on and support mom during that delivery.
“There are a lot of sounds that go on during a C-section. He couldn’t hear those, but to have the interpreter there interpreting that excitement so the father could understand — I think the situation made mom even happier because the father was made an equal part in that delivery day. It’s a testament to why these services are so important.”