Sabit Kurbaev is upset. And it doesn't require a translator to
communicate that. The soft Russian syllables fall from his lips with
escalating speed and tone, but the expression in his eyes and the
urgent gestures of his hands adequately convey the feeling, if not
the substance, of what he's trying to say.
His salt-and-pepper beard is closely groomed and his Adidas
windbreaker and blue jeans are crisp and spotless, making it hard to
believe Kurbaev had been living in a sixth-floor waiting room at
Oklahoma City's St. Anthony Hospital since Oct. 4, when his 16-year-
old son David underwent brain surgery to remove a tumor. The boy has
yet to awaken from the operation.
Last week, Kurbaev continued his vigil at David's bedside,
fussing over little details, readjusting the sheets, combing the
boy's short, dark hair. The Russian translator mentioned that many
times Kurbaev has remarked that his boy does not look ill. David
looks like he's sleeping, and any moment he could get up and walk
out of the hospital.
David looks like a beardless, younger version of his father. In
his passport photo, David is dressed mannishly in a suit and tie,
but his huge brown eyes instantly betray his youthfulness. His
father's eyes are also large and brown and expressive, growing
stormy as he points to the ventilation tubes running into David's
neck. The elder Kurbaev then crosses the room, pulls a chair away
from the desk in the corner and points accusingly at the dust fibers
stuck to the bottom of the chair leg.
"Sabit feels the hospital is not taking proper care of his son
David," offers Kurbaev's friend and translator for the day, Aleksei
For months, Kurbaev has criticized the care his son is receiving
at St. Anthony, contacting political officials in both America and
Russia, as well as anyone else who will listen, trying to draw
attention to his son's condition. Kurbaev thinks the neurosurgeon
made mistakes, and he fears that the hospital plans to cover the
error by simply letting the boy die. He wonders aloud if American
doctors are in the habit of bringing in foreigners to perform
experiments upon them.
Even when the doctor and patient speak the same language, at
times communication can pose a problem in their interactions. When
the doctor/patient relationship is further complicated by the
barriers of language and culture, the results can be particularly
unpleasant for all involved. But local hospitals are taking steps to
try to close the communication gap when their patients are not
fluent English speakers.
Though the cost can be substantial, several local hospitals
provide translators for their patients though a program offered
through the state Department of Health. Begun in October 2005, the
State Certified Health Service Interpreter program provides 20 hours
of direct contact instruction in both language and cultural aspects
of communication, followed by a written exam in English and a verbal
exam in the target language selected.
OU Medical Center in Oklahoma City, which serves a significant
population of Spanish-speaking patients, requires all translators
working for the hospital to obtain the state certification, said
Magali Salazar, interpretive services coordinator for the hospital.
Alan Postin, spokesman for OU Medical Center, said the hospital has
found that the value of the interpreters' services far outweigh the
cost of providing the service.
Sandra Payne, executive director of marketing for St. Anthony
Hospital, said the hospital takes on the responsibility of providing
translators as part of the cost of providing care. Several
translators, who were properly trained for the task, were provided
for Kurbaev. If a translator is needed at odd hours of the night, a
phone service allows a translator to be available at any time.
But in Kurbaev's case, something was still lost in translation.
While in Russia, the Kurbaev family was befriended by an American
missionary, who, when he learned of David's illness, recommended a