February 04, 2008

Found in translation

Interesting story in the Washington Post about a potentially pork-borne illness. What fascinates me is the role language played:

The 33-year-old woman who worked for eight years working with Spanish-speaking patients at a medical clinic in southern Minnesota noticed something familiar as she translated the story of a young meatpacker last September.

Earlier last summer, she had heard a version of it from two other workers at the same slaughterhouse, and had told it to their doctors, who were different from her current patient's. When the consultation was over, she pointed this out.

The interpreter's insight set in motion a story, still unfolding, that may be making envious the ghost of Berton Roueche, the legendary chronicler of medical mysteries at the New Yorker magazine. A new disease has surfaced in 12 people among the 1,300 employees at the factory run by Quality Pork Processors about 100 miles south of Minneapolis.

I often wonder about this -- when you tell a doctor about symptoms, you use language to describe what's going on. Suppose I say I feel numbness in my arm when what I really feel is pins and needles in my elbow? (Fortunately, I feel neither, but that's besides the point.)

I'm always worried I'm going to end up in an iron lung because of something I said...

Posted by Ideofact at February 4, 2008 12:02 AM