If you’re ill and need to access the healthcare system you need somebody with you who can speak English. This is especially important when you first come into the hospital. In many North American
We see it time and time again when someone from a non-English speaking culture becomes a patient and is either alone or the family member also does not speak English.
So it’s very important that non-English speaking patients have somebody readily available who will advocate for them in English. It’s also better if they have more than one person who would be available. The English speaking person has to be willing to stay in the hospital for the first 24 hours that the patient is hospitalized, and depending on the gravity of the situation they may have to stay for a longer time.
A non-English speaking patient with a brain injury or who’s had an operation on any part of their brain would find it very difficult to communicate how much pain they are in or if they feel their symptoms are getting worse. A nurse would be assessing the patient hourly to see if their level of consciousness is appropriate. The nurse may have been given basic words on how to ask the patient to show their thumb or wiggle their toes in their language. However, after many hours of this,
If the patient had spoken English the nurse could have asked them why they’re not wiggling their toes or showing a thumb or encouraged them to obey another command. But because of the language barrier, it could take longer to realize if the patient was just very sleepy or going into a dangerous coma. If a family member who spoke English was accessible either at the bedside or nearby, it would’ve been much easier for them to ask the patient to obey and to notice a change in their behaviour and tell the nurse or doctor of their concerns. This is a great help if it is a new staff member taking care of the patient and the patient is still very sick.
Your advocacy for your relative will help overcome the language barrier if they become hospitalized. Plan for the future, sign up on our home page and get your free “Hospital Handbook”. Have a discussion with your family member about it now, not later. It would be the best thing you could do for them.