No matter how experienced an interpreter is or how adept he or she is at simultaneous or consecutive techniques, the first day of an assignment is always scary, exciting and totally unique, to say the very least. So, here I am, with my client and booth mate, at the breakfast table in our hotel. It’s all about regular pleasantries and the simple things of life: how the trip had been, the weather, the hotel room, the Brazilian Delegation…
We get to the Training Center and after the initial struggles with the sound equipment, the frustration at how brand new and expensive the equipment had been, a few switched sound cables, the absence of a sound technician, some phone calls and 2 hours later, hooray, we’re in business. Although plan A had been to start in simultaneous interpretation, we had been keeping up with the presenters by doing consecutive interpretation, giving me an opportunity to brush up on my long-consecutive technique. After a brief introduction, we’re off to a great start: it’s all warm welcomes and an interested and captive audience.
All is smooth sailing until lunch time, when the unthinkable happens. One of the Brazilian Delegates is diagnosed with SEVERE altitude sickness, also known as acute mountain sickness (AMS). Now, if you happen to come to Colorado from sea level, the first thing anybody will tell you is “Welcome” and the second one is “DRINK PLENTY OF WATER.” Some people who do not drink enough water get severe headaches or migraines, dizziness or light-headedness, extreme fatigue, nausea or vomiting, shortness of breath, discoloration of the skin and coughing. Unfortunately, this is exactly what happened to one of the Brazilian Delegates and luckily, a smart executive decision to immediately take her and one of the interpreters, me, to Emergency Room.
Given the severity of the situation, I have to switch gears very quickly from interpreting at a month-long training course for an international delegation to medical interpreting at a hospital. I appreciated the well-meaning staff member at the hospital trying to build rapport with the Brazilian patient by speaking some Spanish, but, again, given the severity of the situation, and the fact that I was there interpreting, it didn’t quite work. A diagnose for AMS is made and an IV is ordered. Everything is going to end up OK, but what a scare!
And then, we had a few cultural notes to keep up with: when the American Admissions Official asked if the Brazilian Delegate had a living will or durable power of attorney, she was confused, to say the least. After all, in her own words: “In Brazil, we think about living, not dying”.
We go back to the Training Center, I’m relieved to see that my booth mate has been holding down the fort for the past 2 hours by herself. Working alone creates a situation of fatigue for anybody, but I’m just hoping that they gave her plenty of breaks, which was the case.
Now that the worst is behind us, we all know it’s going to be a great experience for all. As I come back to the hotel room, I just want to hug my pillow and rest, but I can’t help think about some of the roles we play: besides bringing knowledge, interpreters help save and improve lives, and participate in education and history. Now, that’s plenty to humble me until tomorrow…