Coming full circle: giving back to the place I was born
Anne Crook was born at Vanderbilt and works at VUMC as a medical interpreter for Spanish-speaking patients. But what happened to her in a tiny hospital in Italy has shaped her life.March 12, 2018
Editor’s note: Anne Ferrier Crook is a Certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, AADP, Certified Birth Doula, CD(DONA), and Certified Medical Interpreter, CMI – Spanish. Her writing has recently been published in the book “Thresholds: 75 Stories of How Changing Your Perspective Can Change Your Life.”
Twenty-eight years ago, much to my surprise, I landed in a rustic hospital in Pisa, Italy. This was not my plan. I was beginning a European study abroad program, several friends and I were seeing some sights during our fall break, and I got really sick. I was riddled with body aches, my fever spiked to 104 degrees and my alternating chills and sweats became so intense that I soaked through all my clothes.
My best friend from childhood with whom I was traveling was concerned and decided it was time to get me to a hospital. One quick catch. There were not many hospitals around. We were in the lovely Italian countryside around Pisa, best known as the home of the famous leaning tower, and not known for a multiplicity of medical facilities.
Spending four days and nights in a small Italian hospital where no one spoke English was a crazy ordeal. It may have been that experience that led me to a career as a Certified Medical Interpreter.
However, we found a good local hospital that had an Emergency Room. That was the good news. The bad news: none of the doctors spoke English, I spoke no Italian, and my friend spoke beginner’s Italian with no medical terminology.
As we were checking in to the hospital, a lovely Scottish woman named Shona Dryburgh happened to be arriving and caught wind of our situation. She was kind enough to get me settled into the right place, and even returned the next few days to take me under her wing and became my medical interpreter. Wow, was I grateful! Spending four days and nights in a small Italian hospital where no one spoke English was a crazy ordeal.
The fever eventually broke and I recovered and went back to school. But I never forgot Shona’s kindness and the importance of having a qualified medical interpreter. I am not sure what I would have done without my good Samaritan and guardian angel, Shona.
It may have been that experience that led me to a career as a Certified Medical Interpreter.
Ten years after my experience in Italy, I began my medical interpreting career in Portland, Oregon. Upon learning Spanish in Costa Rica and working in public health, I was excited to blend these interests. Speaking French in addition to Spanish, using my talents with three languages and spreading hope and healing to others is not just a career; it’s a deeper calling.
I was born at Vanderbilt Hospital, and have come “full circle” to work here.
I was raised in a medical family, and my father, uncle and grandfather were well-known physicians. My dad was an OB/GYN on faculty at Vanderbilt, and my uncle completed his residency in pediatrics at VUMC. They were both true pioneers in medicine. Following these roots, I went on to become a Certified Birth Doula and Certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, in addition to medical interpreting. These three roles weave together beautifully and have become the integral fabric of my creative purpose. I am passionate about carrying my dad and uncle’s legacy forward in the world, and being a “change agent” in healthcare to create greater wellness.
Working on the front lines with underserved communities has always been close to my heart. It is amazing to witness real life in action and be continually moved by the magnificent beauty of the human spirit. Whether it is overcoming chronic illness, reaching for a better life, or finding inner peace out of turmoil, I believe our humanity thrives on hope and triumph, and the belief that there is a greater purpose for all of us – one that weaves throughout the colorful tapestries of our lives.
I was raised in a medical family, and my father, uncle and grandfather were well-known physicians. My dad was an OB/GYN on faculty at Vanderbilt, and my uncle completed his residency in pediatrics at VUMC.
I have been a Spanish Medical Interpreter for 18 years now, and returned to Nashville in 2009 when I began working at Vanderbilt. As a Vanderbilt interpreter, I get the opportunity to be a bridge in people’s lives from all over the world. What really stands out is the diversity of Hispanic culture in this area. I find myself interacting with Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Guatemalans, Hondurans, Mexicans and Costa Ricans.
My job has become second nature. Day in and day out, I assist patients with their medical needs and communication. Serving as a Spanish Medical Interpreter has given me a personal glimpse into the lives of others from realities far different than my own. It makes me realize how powerful speaking another language is, and how learning French and Spanish are two of the best investments I ever made.
It has also taught me that being a U.S. citizen, I am blessed with basic rights that many people around the world do not have. No matter where we come from, however, those basic rights to quality healthcare, safety, a sense of belonging, and connection is for ALL of us.
A few summers ago, while camping on the island of Dry Tortugas National Park, 70 miles off the coastline of Florida, I had another amazing “full circle” moment. A park ranger mentioned that Dry Tortugas was a popular landing spot for Cuban immigrants, and talked about the perilous journey at sea that Cubans had to take.
By coincidence, we were snorkeling our last morning on the island before catching the ferry back to Key West. Suddenly, a group of 20 Cuban men arrived in two small boats. They had been out at sea for three days and nights without much food or water. There were National Coast Guard helicopters circling around the island and much commotion. Right after they were granted rights to stay in the U.S., I greeted several men in Spanish, and one of them shouted “Vive El Sueño Americano!”
“Long lives the American dream.”
As I hear his words echoing in my memory, I reflect on that brief encounter.
No matter what our situation, our humanity is the silver lining woven throughout the fabric of each and every one of us. I think that when we get in sync with that, not only does our own life reach greater potential, it transforms the world around us. Our lives become an open canvas for passionate and joyful living.
While many certified interpreters arrive the U.S. from their country of origin, I have a unique perspective being born right here at Vanderbilt, and having lived outside the U.S. on several occasions.
The message that comes to me is this: We are all in this dance of life together, no matter where we come from. Language has opened up countless opportunities, expanded my horizons, and propelled me forward.
Reflecting on these full circle moments, my thoughts drift back to Pisa, Italy and those four nights I spent in the rural hospital. Memories of that encounter with my medical interpreter come alive again. I realize there is a greater story unfolding in our lives – and a deeper purpose that comes with it.
As a healthcare professional, it reminds me to embody global citizenship and bring the “humanity” back into medicine with each and every patient I encounter. I love being a vital piece of this fabric in healthcare. It makes me proud to be a Vanderbilt professional, knowing that I play a unique role in people’s lives.