It was 3pm in the afternoon when I received the text. I was at home sick with the flu. The text was from my friend who had admitted themself to hospital because they were experiencing a mental health crisis. My friend, who is deaf, was trying to get an interpreter to attend the emergency department. My friend had admitted herself the night before. Apparently multiple attempts had been made to contact the emergency interpreter number that night and these attempts had failed. Eventually, it seems, contact had been made and an interpreter was arranged.
What happened from there is bit vague. Suffice to say that by 3pm the next day my friend was still in emergency. Consistently my friend had asked when an interpreter would be there so that they could communicate with the doctors and nurses properly. Through writing the emergency staff managed to inform my friend that they had tried to get an interpreter but it seemed that no one was available. My friend, by this time extremely agitated, refused to believe this. It was my friend’s view that the hospital was lying.
The hospital wanted to move my friend to the psych ward so that proper assistance could be provided. My friend did not want to go until an interpreter was present. Rapid fire texts to me indicated that my friend’s anxiety was rising. Notes had been exchanged with emergency staff by way of communication for nearly 8 hours and my friend was at the point of exhaustion. My friend’s English skills are OK but English is not her strongest language. There was always a possibility that misunderstandings might occur.
My friend was adamant. She did not want go to the ward until she could speak to a doctor with an interpreter present. The hospital were insisting that they had tried but had been told that none were available. My friend was in an agitated state and really in no state to see reason or to be able to advocate for herself. Meanwhile I am receiving rapid fire texts pleading with me to help. My friend was of the view that the hospital were trying to lock her up. In desperation I typed out a text and told my friend to show it to a doctor or nurse. The message simply said that my friend had asked me to advocate on her behalf. I advised against commencing any treatment or medication until an interpreter was present as it was possible that misunderstandings could occur. I provided my SMS number and encouraged the emergency staff to text me for assistance.
After sending this text I contacted a very close friend who is a very skilled and experienced interpreter. She also has had experience interpreting in mental health situations. I asked my friend if she was available at any time that afternoon or evening. She said that she could be available from 7pm onwards. I asked her to lock it in and told her I would then attempt to get her booked officially through an agency. Using my contacts I managed to make an agency aware that a booking might be forthcoming. I told them my interpreter friend was available from 7pm onwards. This was tentatively booked in.
After making these arrangements I was surprised that the emergency nurse actually did text me seeking advice. They were getting very frustrated because they could not get my friend to agree to move to the ward and were asking me for assistance to convince my friend to move. I notified the nurse that I had managed to get an interpreter on standby and that the interpreter was available from 7pm onwards. I provided the nurse with the number of the agency so that they could officially book the interpreter. It was particularly important that an official booking be made so as to protect everyone from any possible legal ramifications. Mental health cases are not to be trifled with. It is important to get a very experienced and qualified interpreter involved and have this interpreter booked properly, particularly for insurance reasons.
The nurse assured me she would make sure the booking happened. I asked the nurse if she could get wifi to my friend’s iPad so that I could speak with her via Skype using Auslan. The nurse was wonderful and actually got this set up. Unfortunately the wifi was not of sufficient quality. I suspect that Skype may have been firewalled by the hospital. In the meantime I was sending texts to my friend to let her know what was happening and gently persuading my friend to move to the ward. I promised that I would continue to work on the interpreter issue.
Eventually my friend agreed, reluctantly, to move to the ward. True to her word the emergency nurse followed through and booked the interpreter using the contact that I had provided her. Knowing that an interpreter would be present from 7pm onwards convinced my friend to cooperate. The interpreter arrived close to 7.30pm and through the interpreter the Doctors explained to my friend that a consulting psychiatrist would meet with them the next day and that an interpreter had been booked for that session.
From there things calmed down. That was until the next day. The psychiatrist and his team arrived for the meeting and there was no interpreter …. What happened from there will be told in part two …..
There are many gaps in our current Mental Health System. There are also positives as can be seen from the way that the emergency department personnel were willing to both seek and act on advice.
If you find this story fascinating or concerning you may want to consider attending the Lets Talk About – Deaf People and Mental Health Conference on the 16th and 17th of November, 2015. For more information click on the link below.
# Please note my friend has given full consent for me to tell this story.