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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Translation Troubles

In today's society it's common to talk to people who learned English as a second language. Sometimes their grasp of English is minimal, which makes communication difficult, especially if you're having to discuss potentially complicated medical issues. Now, I could go on a rant about how you should learn basic communication in the language of whichever country you're living in (this goes for Americans living abroad also), but that's not my reason for writing. Several years ago I had a rather awkward situation involving a translation, and one that I can now laugh about.

A Hispanic woman came to see me with her cocker spaniel for routine vaccines and preventative care. She didn't speak or understand much English (if really any), so she brought her daughter with her to help translate. I guessed that her daughter was about 9 or 10 years old, and did have full fluency in English. The visit was pretty routine, and I went through the vaccines, heartworm testing, and so on. The dog was overall healthy, so there weren't any complicated issues to discuss. Or so I thought.

You see, the dog wasn't neutered. And I felt that I couldn't overlook the recommendation to neuter him, as I feel that this is an important surgery that can prevent health problems. Realize that "neuter" is the polite and commonly used term. What we're really doing is more properly called castration, since we're completely removing the testicles. And remember that the mother didn't speak English.

So there I was, needing to recommend that the dog be neutered (castrated). The mom couldn't understand me, and the little girl was translating. Somehow I had to tell the girl that the dog should have surgery so she could tell her mother. This was a bit awkward (to say the least!), as I didn't know what the girl might or might not know about "the birds and the bees". Yet I had to get her to tell her mother to have the dog's testicles removed! Sheesh! I think I finally stumbled around and said something about having surgery so he couldn't make any babies. I'm not sure how much the girl or the mother really understood, but not speaking a lick of Spanish myself I did the best I could.

If anyone has friends who don't speak English well, please recommend that they learn the language before going to the vet. Not only will they be able to understand more about their pet's health, but they might just save their vet a ton of embarassment!