I prepare to this day for assignments with term lists and a good breakfast under my belt. Yet, what I expect to happen can quickly change course without a moment’s notice. That happened the other day at a pediatric cardiology appointment. I researched at MedlinePlus, a trusted source of health information in English and Spanish.

Is an EKG the same as an echocardiogram? Nope. Dr. Ahmed, an interventional cardiologist at The University of Alabama, cleared up the difference right away. Thank you, Doctor and trusty iPhone. The echocardiogram is an ultrasound that shows the structure and function of the heart. An EKG draws lines on a graph that display the heart’s rhythm. Two different tests. I walked into the exam room with the parents, the little one and bam! The assignment turned on a dime from holes in the heart to feeding difficulties. A simple question* initiated the switch. 

Medical Assistant: *What are your concerns today?
Parent: Oh, when she drinks her milk it comes out through her nose and she cries.

(Medical Assistant, nose buried in computer, continues with questions)

Medical Assistant: Does it appear that she is any pain today?

Parent: No, she’s fine.

Medical Assistant: Does anyone use tobacco products, either inside or outside the home?

Parent: No, no one does.

In the meantime I saw white stuff pouring out of the infant’s nose and sensed mother’s concern. In order to maintain transparency, I asked the assistant if I could ask mom a question.

Me: When did the nose problem and congestion begin?

Parent: Oh, she’s had this for over two weeks now. I try to feed her and she hardly eats anything at all. She’ll get frustrated then start to cry.

I interpreted mother’s concern and the assistant assured her that the doctor would discuss the troublesome feedings.


When the Dr. Cardiologist entered, he asked about the feeding problems and promised to notify her pediatrician. He explained that his specialty was hearts, not feedings. Mother said that her little one had an appointment with the  pediatrician the next day. Parents relieved and back to cardiology.

Doctor: What brings you in today?

Mother: When Verónica was born there were to holes (agujeros) in her heart. Will they get better?

Quick interpreter note: Do I use agujero for hole as the LEP did or switch to the more formal term orificio? I learned orificio from a native speaker years ago. Why confuse the issue? I’m not there to improve someone’s vocabulary but to facilitate communication. Agujero it is. Dr. Heart Guy read the EKG results and ordered an echocardiogram, a longer procedure. In the meantime I learned the proper term for a hole in the heart: Atrial Septal Defect (ASD) comunicación interauricular, a congenital heart defect AKA “a hole in the heart.”


All three of us schlepp the stroller, baby bag, knapsack and little one wrapped in a pink blanket into the EKG room. Once on the exam table the technician notices that Baby Cardiology Patient would not sit still for the exam.

Technician: Mom, do you have a binky (pacifier)?

Mother: No lo recibe (she won’t take it).

What to do? Wiggly baby = no echocardiogram. The magic of the Internet to the rescue. In order to pacify this squirming infant, the technician fired up her iPad with funky veggies on Baby Sensory Lively Latino music and dancing vegetables appeared on the screen. Miss Cardiac Sonographer continued with the exam while salsa music played. The parents smiled and looked my way.

Me: We’re laughing because broccoli, a radish, carrots and peas dance on the screen. (Or, perhaps conga.)

Technician: My five-month old loves Baby Sensory. It’s a life saver.

The parents smile again and dad finds the Baby Sensory website on his phone. How do you calm a child when there is no binky? Distract with merengue. Crisis averted and echocardiogram completed. We return to the exam room and Dr. Heart Guy announces that the little one will probably grow out of the holes, but he’ll keep an eye on her in the meantime. Parents are relieved and I turned on a dime from baby milk spit-up to dancing vegetables.


  • Angina pectoris (chest pain)
  • artery
  • Cardiologist
  • EKG electrocardiogram
  • Feedings (infant)
  • Heart attack
  • Heart condition
  • Heart murmur
  • High blood pressure
  • Medical history
  • Observe, monitor (Monitorear vs. vigilar)
  • Palpitation
  • Pulmonary stressors
  • Shortness of breath
  • Spit up (milk)
  • Stroke
  • Tachycardia

A shoutout to our colleague Yuliya Speroff who offers medical interpreter materials. More terms available here .


Have you ever walked into an assignment expecting one thing and another happens? Intervened on behalf of a patient?

Published by The Interpreter Fellow

I am an Ohio State Certified Court Interpreter and Certified Healthcare Interpreter in Spanish. MA Translation from The Institute for Applied Linguistics at Kent State University. Currently I serve Akron Children's Hospital Pediatrics and local courts.

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