March 28th, 2012
Translating Health Problems For My Dad Brought Us Closer

My parents spent more than 40 years in this country; they never felt compelled to learn English. Sometimes I feel that my parents had children in order to have translation services. I should be grateful to the monolingual staff at the DMV who would roll her eyes at my father’s gasping attempts at broken English – otherwise I would not be here today. The other reason why I am grateful is because I had a holiday any time my parents had a doctor’s appointment.

I was far too truthful, in the sense that I would not cover for my parents. In the eyes of America, my parents had no explanation as to why their cholesterol levels were higher than the Gross National Product. In reality, my mother used so much lard that it would eclipse what the food she was cooking was originally supposed to taste like. My father was told that he needed to watch his weight, so naturally he switched over to Bud Light. He had me tell the doctor that he never touched a drop of alcohol — unless it was a social event. (For the record, asking me what Dodger score was on a Friday night totally counted as a social event.)

Consequently, my sister became the official family translator from childhood to adulthood. She would drive my parents to their medical appointments, and sorted through their medical prescriptions. One time, my sister did not want to tell my father he needed a prostate exam. She knew that he was not going to cooperate, so she helped him change into his hospital gown, started holding his hand and did not let go. Then he felt a discomfort he was unfamiliar with. My father always recalled the story with all the anger and remorse of a man who had bitten off more than he could chew. He would never forgive my sister, as if she put the doctor up to it.

My father was a wooden man who worked so hard he could give a donkey an inferiority complex. He never got to enjoy his retirement, because as soon as he stopped working he was diagnosed with renal failure, which in turn became dialysis treatments three times a week. My sister was there with him as he argued with doctors and rejected their advice. He would eventually follow their advice, but I think it made him feel better to send them to hell. It was disheartening to watch the downward spiral, as hospital stays grew longer and longer and came in shorter intervals.

It was inspiring in a kind of way you know you should not be inspiring, but it fills your heart with courage. Throughout the grimace-inducing pain, memory lapses and countless needles, my father still had the time and energy to comment about the nurse’s physical attributes. The nurses always wanted to know what he was saying, but that was something we kept to ourselves, because the meaning was bound to get lost in translation.

[Image Courtesy Stethoscopes]

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