Hospital Mistranslations — The Dangers behind Translating “Intoxicado” as “Intoxicated”

Medical translators and hospital interpreters are increasingly employed every year, as healthcare services acknowledge the benefits of providing linguistic support for their culturally diverse patients. The dangers of using impromptu interpreters who are not trained in the provision of medical language services are now widely recognized. But back in 1980, hospital interpreters were more difficult to find, so when the comatose Willie Ramirez was admitted into a Floridian hospital, a staff member who could speak both English and Spanish was called upon to interpret.

A Terrible Consequence

The main problem arose when the impromptu interpreter used “intoxicated” as the English translation of the Spanish word “intoxicado.” Although the two words sound very similar, the connotations of each are very different. At Day Translations, our first-class language professionals can detect the little tricks that language can play on us, and our medical training indicates that “poisoned” is the accurate translation of “intoxicado” in this context.

In English-language settings, “intoxicated” is typically applied to drug and alcohol cases, and because the symptoms are similar, the doctors treated Ramirez for an intentional drug overdose, rather than the food poisoning he was actually suffering from, thereby delaying the appropriate course of treatment. Tragically, the misdiagnosis resulted in permanent quadriplegia for Ramirez, while the malpractice incident cost the hospital $71 million in compensation.

At Day Translations, our experts specialize in the provision of accurate medical translations and hospital interpreting services in hundreds of cities around the world. Our undying professionalism means that we are well aware of the consequences that a mistranslation can cause when human lives and health are concerned. Have you ever had to make do with an impromptu translator in a hospital setting? Do you know of any other similar cases? Please leave your comments and questions below!

Image credit: Original source image, luckybusiness / 123RF Stock Photo.