For Susan, So She Knows I Have a Backbone…

Irritating Self Important Co-Worker starts talking to one of my deaf co-workers without waiting for me to be turned around to interpret. The following sassy ensued…

Me: I’m sorry, I missed that.
Irritating Self Important Co-Worker: I was talking to HER.
Me: I know that, and I can’t interpret what you said to her if I didn’t HEAR it. What did you say?
Irritating Self Important Co-Worker: (rolls eyes) Right.

She then repeated herself. GAH! Y’all, it’s not a complicated thing. Person A is deaf, Person B is not. Does Person B REALLY think that Person A is just going to magically be able to HEAR because Person B has something to say?


Tick tock, tick tock, y’all. 2 hours more and my vicarious trauma ends…at least here in Alabama, right? I’m still an interpreter after all…

Reflections on a Month

For the past four weeks, I have been the only interpreter at the hospital. (Now to be fair, I was gone for five working days in the middle, so technically it’s only been three weeks.) Today, in honor of surviving that month without a single fatality or screamingly huge contract interpreter bill (well, other than the week I was gone but I digress), I wore a striped shirt and tennis shoes along with my jeans for Casual Friday.

For those scratching heads at the moment, interpreters tend to NOT wear stripes or plaid or anything other than solid, non-distracting, colors that contrast with one’s skin tone.

There were days that I didn’t sit down but once or twice all day. There were days that I was literally ready to fall asleep while actively interpreting just because I was so tired. Some days I could spell trazadone but couldn’t spell my name. But it’s over and Brian will be back on Monday.

I’ve learned that I know myself pretty well when it comes to my job. My flat out refusal to interpret anything longer than 45 minutes without a team interpreter does not come from laziness, as I’d feared, but rather from the fact that the message DOES indeed suffer when my brain and hands start to tire.

I’ve learned that I’m not as afraid of my job as I thought recently. It’s hard to be worried that you’re going to get socked in the teeth when you’re running 90 to nothing all day long. Just doesn’t occur to you.

I’ve learned that I really love interpreting and really don’t want to do anything else. Ever. I don’t want to be a teacher or a psychologist or a social worker or a secretary or anything…I like what I do, I know how to do what I do, and I feel that I do it pretty darn well.

I think I’ve earned a sick day next week…


I was on my way to the psych hospital for work when the first plane hit. I had switched from my normal NPR to a local station here in Greenville, SC, and I clearly remember the first report followed by the DJ saying that it had to be either a joke or a small plane, as others have said. I switched to NPR to see if it was real, but was pulling into the parking lot and was running late (as usual).

The patient at the hospital at the time was a minor, a boy who was chronologically 13 and mentally about 5. I headed in to do the community meeting on the unit. I opened the door and all the kids and staff were huddled around the TV in the day room. I remember thinking “Crap, late again and this time I’m going to have to interpret a video!” I remember the looks on their faces. I remember how kids that would shy away from even catching a staff person’s eye under normal circumstances were sitting there, clinging to other kids, to staff members, to each other. And I remember my client waving me over and asking me why the TV keeps showing the same movie over and over again…

I remember when the second plane hit because we were watching the TV. Immediately looks were exchanged among the staff and you could see the question hanging in the air…”Do we turn this off?” Thankfully they didn’t, and when the kids asked questions the staff members were open and honest with them. They even came to enlist my help to ask my client if he understood what was going on. He had some questions that one would expect from a very young child: “Why did the plane hit the building?” “Why did the pilot not pay attention and fly right?” But the one that I can still see in my mind’s eye when I think of 9-11 was the one that no one expected from him: “Where will they crash next? Here?”

I was still living with the ex then, and I don’t think our TV was turned off for the next few weeks. It was always on either what I call the Shouting Channel (FoxNews) or the Green Channel (CNN). I didn’t switch away from NPR to any other station on the radio for a long, long time.

Passive Aggressive Workplace Vengeance…Almost

Allegedly (pending successful progress with the Alabama Licensing Board for Interpreters and Transliterators) I will be leaving the SC DMH at the end of this month. As is the unfortunate (in my perspective, anyway) custom in Deaf Services, there is a “farewell” party thrown for people that leave us at the monthly statewide meeting called Deafnet (unless the person really doesn’t want one or leaves on bad terms).

Why do I say unfortunate? Because I HATE HATE HATE events that call attention to me like that. Ask anyone that was unlucky enough to be near me when I was planning my wedding…they got a lot of “I don’t knows” and “whatever you wants” as answers to their questions because I was so incredibly uncomfortable at the THOUGHT of all these people coming to one place just for me (well, and Scott too but you see my point) that I couldn’t think. I blocked out most of the wedding but I remember clearly wanting to fly away at the end of the reception but still being concerned that everyone there was still having a good time, that everything would get cleaned up and put away, etc etc etc. I was so worn out from the stress of that experience that for the first several hours of my honeymoon I did nothing but cry.

Man, if that wasn’t a clear indicator I don’t know what is…but I digress…

Sooo if I can reign in my ADD brain a bit…The dreaded Farewell Party For Nancy has been planned for the August DeafNet meeting. Our administrative assistant, Shannon, asked me at the beginning of the week if I was scheduled to work the Friday before I leave for Britain. You might as well have asked me what the square root of an imaginary number is. “Ummm I don’t know, did I request to be off?” was my answer. No response from her.

Yesterday at lunch with our psychiatrist Jill, my supervisor Tressy, Shannon, and our new children’s counselor Dana, I was asked the same question. I again referred them to my leave slip. Tressy then told me that I was working that day and that I was to make sure I came to DeafNet. The point was still bouncing off my pointed little head. See, I don’t go to DeafNet usually…it is more a staffing for the clinical personnel and quite honestly there is a LOT of clinical information that I don’t want to know for fear that it might skew my interpretation.

But suddenly one of those thoughts that was skipping around my head like it was a maypole found purchase. “Oh no, you guys aren’t thinking of something for me because I’m leaving?” Knowing smiles and nods all around. Tressy reminded me that my supervisor had told me to attend. I was trapped.

Let me stress again how much I hate anything that puts me at the center of attention like that. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I like having the floor just as much as anyone else does, but then I’m happy to give it to someone else. I’m totally not cool with thinking that someone has gone out of his or her way for me, it’s just how I’m wired.

About 4pm I was sure that I had gotten my revenge. They said at lunch that my punishment for leaving was that I have to attend this DeafNet thing. Fine.

Holly (regional coordinator for the Columbia area, tends to plan DeafNet because she’s central): Where would you like to eat for DeafNet on the 18th? What’s your favorite kind of food?

Me (twisting my moustache evilly): My favorite? Sushi. Ha HA, thought I, no one likes sushi but me!!! I will have my revenge because THEY will have to decide where to eat rather than making me subject others to what I want for lunch!! Take THAT!

(and NO, I don’t really have an evil moustache…)

(I don’t have a friendly nor benign moustache either, thank you.)

Holly: GREAT! There is a wonderful sushi place in Columbia!! They even have cooked food for the non sushi eaters!

Me (after scraping my last shred of comfort off the underside of the cosmic sneaker): Great. Sounds like a plan.

What did I learn from this? Four things:
*Don’t tell anyone you’re leaving till you turn in your notice.
*Not everyone hates sushi.
*Farewell parties are as much for closure for those left behind as they are send offs for those leaving.
*I work with some of the best folks in the world.

Making Things My Own…

They say that once you have used a word or phrase in original thought it has “become your own” meaning that you understand it and it has become part of your personal language/vocabulary. There are two things that have crept into my mental dictionary and they have both come out in my interpreting recently…and one of them I can blame on my Canadian friends…

1. If you like Carlos Mencia and you’ve ever seen his show on Comedy Central, you know about Dee-Dee-Deeeeee. This phrase refers to someone who is kinda…dumb…? There are several levels to it, and different ways for it to be used. I used that during interpreting recently, as there is a sign that means just all out stupid, which looks like this: take your hand and bend it at the wrist, then repeatedly bang that hand into the center of your chest. I was interpreting and the jist of what the deaf person said was “They must think I’m some kind of idiot to think they can put that past me, but I’m not.” She used the above described sign and *I* said “They must think I’m Dee Dee Deeeeee to try to put that past me, but I’m not.” The hearing person looked at me and just grinned. I wanted to die.

2. The Canadian one…just today the deaf person said said, “Yes, we’re really showing him our best today, right?” I voiced almost exactly that: “Yes, we’re really showing him our best today, HEY?” I don’t think the hearing person noticed.

*by the way, when I say that a deaf person “said” something, I’m giving you the meaning of what was signed…it occured to me that it might look a little weird that I’m not voicing exactly what I just said the deaf person said…GAH welcome to the weirdness of my job. Dee dee deeeeeee, hey?

The Truth Needs No Translation…?

I had an interesting experience last night. I had a headache so I skipped my normal Friday night’s Everquesting and watched a movie instead. Some time back I had bought “The Interpreter” on DVD because my boss had recommended it to me, but I hadn’t even gotten around to taking it out of the shrink wrap until last night.

If you are a doctor or a lawyer or even a mental health professional or a teacher, you can find movies that are written about your profession. It is very rare that I find movies about my profession unless they are mainly about Deaf characters with interpreters as necessary evils, thrown into police stations or at the moment that the Deaf protagonist stands up to his or her hearing oppressors and gives a speech. I found myself identifying with Nicole Kidman’s character in her professional role but on a different level than I do with the interpreters in the movies I just described.

I got into my field because I love languages, not because I have Deaf family members or because I have this burning desire to HELP. (Heh, I got into mental health because of the desire to HELP! Just kidding…sorta…) I have always found it fascinating to watch spoken language interpreters work. One of the best interpreting jobs I ever had was to work with a Russian-English interpreter when a former leader of the Soviet Union came to speak at the University of Georgia…I was more interested in meeting his interpreter than him!!

Anyway, back to the movie…One of the things that struck me was her reaction when she overheard the people talking in the GA after hours. I know now that part of the reason she didn’t tell anyone right away was her connection to the situation, but that wasn’t revealed until much later in the movie. Without that knowledge, I saw someone struggling with the same kind of ethical decision that interpreters are faced with on a regular basis. I think it happens even more with signed language interpreters because there is NO whispering in a signed language…and our consumers trust that we are ethical and competent professionals and that we won’t run tell things that we see communicated that were meant to be private.

However, I also applauded her coming forth the following morning to report what she’d heard, even though it was against her own personal and political convictions to do so. I have faced similar situations, obviously not of the same magnitude, but I know it is a very tough call to make and even tougher to follow through on to go against your training and expectations as an interpreter and report something that you “overheard.”

All in all I would highly recommend the movie, and that’s saying a lot because I don’t care for crime dramas and political thrillers normally. But this one hit close to home… I only wish I’d seen it sooner.