“Can you ask her about chronic illnesses, diabetes and all that?”
Conversations about chronic illnesses, diseases running in the patient’s family, as well as specific medical record questions are frequent in medical encounters. In the United States, as in most countries, these conversations frequently occur between culturally and linguistically diverse patients and providers, and many times they are brokered by an interpreter. In this study I present a transcript that captures a typical healthcare-­provider-patient conversation about chronic illnesses and medical history and run it through the lens of critical discourse analysis. I examine the power differentials between interlocutors and the role the interpreter plays in mitigating or reinforcing such power. I look at the co-construction of the meaning of “chronic” among the interlocutors, and the way in which the three orchestrate team efforts to de-construct and re-construct the notion of chronic illnesses exploring a life in-between countries and medical traditions. The data is part of a larger ethnographic study (Angelelli 2001 and 2004a) conducted in a public hospital. Interpreters work for Spanish-speaking patients and English-speaking healthcare providers in face-to-face and over-the-speakerphone interpreted communicative events (ICEs).