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09 Sep The Seventy-One-Million-Dollar Word

Florida, 1980. One of the most controversial and talked-about misunderstandings in history related to medical translation services took place with important consequences. A poisoned patient, a no-qualified medical interpreter, and a Spanish-English gap star this story with an unhappy end. What happened there will be remember forever, and will be also used as an awareness-raising exercise due to its repercussions.

Willie Rodríguez, a 18-years-old patient, was admitted to a hospital and entered unconscious. His Cuban family had English linguistic difficulties, so they explained – in Spanish – the situation in the emergency room. They said that Willie was “intoxicado”, which means “poisoned” usually by something one has ingested. There were no offered translation services nor a qualified medical interpreter in the hospital, so a bilingual employee decided to take part in the conversation. He came up with a false friend and wrongly understood that the patient was “intoxicated”. This mistake completely changed all as Willie was treated for intentional drug overdose instead of intracranial haemorrhage. The real problem remained unknown for 2 days, resulting in quadriplegia.

Willie’s family started a law suit for this tragic event. Judge declared that this fateful mistake could have been avoided with quality translation services, so the hospital have to paid $71 millions for liquidated damages. How different would have been things with a professional interpreter in the room!

Just a misunderstood word completely changed Willie’s forever – no turning back. This clear example is illustrated for showing how translation services must be chosen with special care and attention. This kind of tasks should always be performed by a professional instead of “just” a person speaking both languages, otherwise consequences could be catastrophic.

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