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Vulnerability and Medicine

aaxinn's picture

Thomas Couser’s piece discussed the ethics of life writing from a biomedical perspective, touching on some themes I’m familiar with from a weeklong externship I did with Dr. Howard Trachtman at NYU Langone. Dr. Trachtman works as a pediatric nephrologist and treats a range of city kids with rare kidney diseases. There is no abundance of medications that treat pediatric renal disease so Dr. Trachtman runs clinical trials to test out new medications to improve treatment for his patients. While I was shadowing him, I got to witness multiple children signing up to participate in the clinical trials and observe the process that regulates informed consent. Each time, Dr. Trachtman provided the family with a description of the trial, discussed the significance of their contribution to medical research, and ensured the child and the family that participating in the clinical trial was in their best interest. After that, he asked the family had any question and once that was taken care of, there were many forms to sign.

 For one of his patients, this process was a little harder. She was a fourteen girl old year with kidney stones and neither of her parents were fluent in English. The clinic had arranged for a Spanish interpreter to assist, but the interpreter was running late and Dr. Trachtman had patients waiting to see him in the waiting room. I watched the faces of the girl’s parents as Dr. Trachtman spoke to her and saw how nervous they looked. Their daughter was a vulnerable subject and consequently they were too.

Observing this encounter showed me the importance of medical interpretation. In order to abide by ethical standards, I believe that everyone in the room must be understood. Language creates barriers that muffle understanding and it is the responsibility of medical practices to provide interpreters. Minutes later the interpreter rushed into the room and I watched the relief wash over the mother’s face. She was going to be understood and everything was going to be okay.