Beyond Words :: A Day in the Life of a Medical Spanish Interpreter


English to Spanish interpretationMy alarm goes off at 6:00 a.m. It’s a normal weekday morning in the Trammell household, which can look like either pure chaos to an outsider or a normal, messy, rushed morning to the mom who is in the thick of parenthood like we are.

Crazy Mornings

You know the one I’m talking about mamas. The mornings that are just hectic. The ones when the 18 month-old old had a blow out in his diaper overnight so cleaning that up will take away the 10 minutes you set aside to actually fix your hair before leaving for work. Or maybe your oldest needs you to read a book to him while he’s pooping so there goes the other five minutes you set aside to brush your teeth and pack a lunch for yourself.

All this to say, it’s always a race against the clock to get everyone ready and out the door by 7:20 a.m. After the boys are dropped off, and I start my commute to work with a short prayer. Not knowing what the day will hold or which patients I will come in contact with, I put my faith in a higher power and pray peace and protection over all of the families who will walk through the door at Children’s Hospital of Alabama.

If I am being completely honest I oftentimes pray to not have to be the bearer of bad news. I selfishly hope that all of my encounters will be filled with cheerful updates and sanguine prognoses, even though I know that the likelihood of a day jam packed with the task of only spreading joyful news and lifting spirits is not very probable when you work in a hospital.

The Job

On a good day, when time is on my side, I’ll clock in at 7:55 a.m. and get to work. The phones in our office start ringing at 8:00 a.m. on the dot every morning without fail. “We need a Spanish interpreter in room 712 for rounds.” As soon as I hang up another phone call comes in, “we need a Spanish interpreter in the emergency room-bed 3.” Another call comes in at the same time, a Spanish speaking parent on the line wanting to make an appointment in the orthopedic clinic. The phone calls continue coming and we are rarely fully staffed but always prepared to attempt to fulfill any requests that come our way.

My job can include any of the following requests:

  • Interpreting for a family in the ENT clinic whose daughter needs a tonsillectomy
  • Running to help with a psych consult on a patient who came through the emergency room overnight for a suicide attempt
  • Making rounds with the palliative care team on the oncology unit to discuss end of life care for a leukemia patient who has had two failed bone marrow transplants
  • Helping with in-house asthma educations, admissions, and discharges
  • Family conferences for a child going home on a ventilator
  • Diabetes education teachings for a newly diagnosed type 1 diabetic
  • Working in the dental clinic to interpret for new dental consults and cavity treatment cases.

By now you get the gist of our workday pace here in the hospital. We go everywhere, and we see everything. All of the uplifting good news, the heartbreaking bad new, the spirit boosting happy news, and the most painfully soul crushing sad news. As interpreters it is our job to render the message that the provider conveys in a clear and concise way. Being the go-between person means that the news or information the provider is delivering hits us first. This ultimately leaves us to process the message at lightning speed and verbally interpret it to the patient or family.

Lessons Learned

Over the years, with lots of mental practice and inevitable failed attempts, I have learned how to keep my emotions mostly in check throughout the day. Yet, if this job has taught me anything during my 8 years, it’s that the role of an interpreter is so much more than speaking in a different language all day. Most days our job looks like trying to balance the heaviness of the cases our eyes bear witness to with the mental stress of answering phone calls and running from one end of the hospital to the other. It’s also realizing the importance of our presence during patient encounters, as we aren’t machines sent to “just interpret,” but rather a comforting face to an individual who hasn’t understood anything going with her child until we arrive.

It’s a job that brings with it a feeling of empathy as a mother myself but also a feeling of guilt for having healthy babies at home. It brings with it the feeling of helplessness, because, as interpreters, we’re technically only supposed to offer our interpretation and nothing more. This is a task easier said than done after telling a family their daughter has a rare genetic disorder and probably won’t live to see her second birthday.

Serving Others

While most days I clock out of work carrying the weight of the stories I have heard and interpreted that day, I have to constantly remind myself of the beautiful reality that my words serve a purpose inside these hospital walls. They serve to bridge the initial unfamiliar gap between the patient/parent and provider. They also serve to maintain a trustworthy relationship on both sides throughout the duration of their treatment. Our words hold so much power, and no occupation has proven that truer than my role as a Spanish interpreter. We are more than interpreters. We are what can make or break a patient’s experience within our healthcare system.

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Meet Hannah Trammell! She was born and raised in Birmingham, and while college took her away to Kentucky, she eventually found her way back home to the magic city after graduating. She and her husband currently reside in Roebuck springs with their two wild and crazy boys Franklin (4yrs) and Amos Jon (17mo), and their sweet German shorthaired pointer Leita. They’re an outdoor loving family and some of their favorite memories together have been made hiking, camping(both of their boys went on their first overnight camping trip at 3 months old) taking cross country road trips out west, exploring national parks, and riding bikes. During the week Hannah is a Spanish interpreter at Children’s hospital. This month will mark 8 years since she started working at Children’s, and while this occupation has proven to be extremely mentally and emotionally challenging at times, especially once she became a mother herself, she states that, “it has been an honor to use my language skills to directly serve our Spanish speaking families who walk through our hospital doors.” Her childhood was filled with Latin influence thanks to her precious Puerto Rican abuela, but her love for the Spanish language really flourished in college. Now, 8 years later, she is a Nationally board certified medical interpreter. Her husband Taylor is also in the medical field and owns a small independent retail pharmacy in Crestwood (Crestwood pharmacy and soda fountain) where he operates as the best community pharmacist she knows! When she’s not spending time with her family or working, she finds joy in thrifting and making old treasures new, running, reading, dancing, and in savoring a cup of super hot and creamy coffee at home. She has always enjoyed writing and feels that she expresses herself best when she can get her racing thoughts written down on paper. Hannah is so excited and thankful to be a part of this group of diverse Birmingham mamas and she looks forward to sharing her words with other moms in Birmingham


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