The lesson behind “You’re processing”

Years ago, I wrote about shifting a student’s thoughts about processing. The student went on to become a court reporter, and I wrote about her path again a few years later. Over the years, I have been contacted by students, reporters, and instructors to expand on the topic with my tutoring and coaching.

The sentence originated when I was teach­ing evening classes in the late 1980s. My stu­dents asked why they were not progressing in speed classes while putting in the hours, while enrolled in academics, while working full time, and while arriving after a long day for a four-hour evening. I saw their frus­tration as their expectations were not met. Students often “flew” through one speed to then “sit” in another. They were challenged by speedbuilding, by typing up tests, by aca­demics, and by nightly dictation.

My parents, both degreed instructors, always asked about my students. My father particularly enjoyed helping me with these challenges. He listened as a guidance coun­selor, social worker, and father.

“My students work so hard. Sometimes I think they’re working too hard. They be­come frustrated. Sometimes I think their frustration is part venting to progress,” I said one weekend.

Mr. Emmett, as my father was known to the reporting industry, replied, “The mind is like a sponge. The human mind has to take time to absorb the information. Tell your students that when you put a sponge into a glass filled with water, the sponge first ab­sorbs the water. This is a process. They came into the court reporting program with an empty slate, learned new skills, and learned thousands of new words with ‘steno lan­guage’. Now their brain, like that sponge in the glass with water, has to take time for the new information to be absorbed. If time is not taken for the absorption—or the pro­cess is interrupted—there is an overflow of water or a problem.

“I saw this when you were a student. You phoned from your dorm room, upset and frustrated. I listened, encouraged you to go back to work, and told you that it would come to you,” he continued. “Your students are learning a new language and new skills. When they fully process the information, they will progress. And it happens when a person least expects it. Yet the work has to be put in. Has to with court reporting skills.”

My parents talked about how very young children have a window of learning, and 4-year-olds are able to easily learn multi­ple languages with little effort. The window closes a few years later.

“Their sponge is filling their glass,” my dad continued. “They continue to learn but probably never at the same pace and with such ease. Kindergarten is the most chal­lenging year to teach.”

He offered me scientific and historical data that revealed how people develop ac­cents around the world—and also how chil­dren who were raised under harmful condi­tions may never have been taught to speak. “Windows close, and this is the same for all cultures,” he reinforced.

The conversation came back to my court reporting students. Mom and Dad discussed how people learn steno theory, progress through specific areas, and then perhaps park. “That is when they are processing in­formation. They have to process to move forward,” my dad said.

With my new understanding of sponges and windows, the next time I saw my stu­dents expressing their frustration, I said, “Your mind is like a brain. Your mind has to process information like a sponge in a glass of water. You’re not stuck. You are process­ing information. Once you fully process the information, you will progress.”

I was proud of myself until the class howled with laughter, “Your mind is like a brain? A brain? Oh, man, we’re going to put that on your tombstone. That was great!”

Maybe that was not my finest moment as a teacher, but each student “processed” that concept instantly.

That night and whenever I have had the opportunity to share this information after that first time, I have witnessed shifts in fo­cus.

Students saw the correlation and em­braced the lesson: “You are not stuck; you are processing.”

Perhaps the mind “is” like a brain with windows and opportunities as we then grad­uate, seek perfection in our writing transla­tion rates, and continue to advance our skills—always seeking accuracy, always progress­ing, always processing.

I wish each of you and your loved ones a grand Happy New Year and a “processing” 2014.

Beyond the comfort zone: The final frontier: Nolo contendere

Court reporters listen with laser focus. As I move through my world, when medical speakers finish long sentences often I am asked, “Questions?” Often, I shake my head. Not often, the specialist asks, “How’d you do that?”

Rarely will I share, “Degree in listening.” Often, I reply, “I listened.”

I was encouraged to write this as I trolled this topic past court reporters and students I am tutoring and coaching. Guilty.

The final frontier is the late chapter in my mother’s life. Professionals repeatedly prep me for the inevitable as Mom’s repeatedly gone to death’s door. Recently, white coats, “She’ll die if she doesn’t have surgery; she may die from surgery.”

Mom, in southern drawl, “I know I’m going to die; I’m not ready. God’s my roommate. He’s here all the time; my husband is with Him.” I maintain my reporter posture as others gasp. (I gasp in my car, sans witnesses.)

Dad’s health failed after taking care of Mom. I stepped forward and listened (on Dad’s path) as Dad worked to live, was not successful, and died. Meanwhile, Mom worked to live.

Now, as Mom’s guardian and following her path, I am asked to sign documents that require a witness 99 percent of the time. When I request a copy, I hear, “It’s for our file.” I do not sigh, and I do not bang my head on their counter. I count and say, “Attorneys prepped this. You require my signature and a witness. I request a copy.” Then I wait while a committee is formed to decide if I should get one. Guilty.

The phrase “not guilty, guilty, nolo contendere” has imprinted my thinking.

When Mom had her latest surgery, I witnessed the quickened pace of the O.R., then frantic ICU staff. I selected the teams; I had to trust them do their job.

After my mother’s complete deterioration from MRSA bacteria, the surgery became the least of our worries. Mom was abruptly discharged. (That was code for: “Medicare won’t pay.”) No facility wanted Mom’s required isolation. “We’d need to pull a bed. That reduces income.” I replied, “You’re kidding?” Nope.

Hours later, the surgeon opened a room. Hospital social workers spoke off the record. “You need to contact the county ombudsman. It’s against the law to tell you …” I focused on another gurney in Mom’s room.

Hindsight is a wonderful gift. Realtime is a shock, day after day.

Once the ambulance arrived, Mom, on oxygen, was crying. I needed to sign documents. Head down, I read the first paragraph. My first reaction? Deep sighs. Then I heard, “Just sign it. It’s important.” I pointed to “Patient Arrested.” EMTs who were gowned for isolation abruptly inhaled.

Me: “Arrested? Define.”

EMT: “We’re in a hurry.”

Me: “I can’t sign. I’m a court reporter. When I see ‘arrested,’ it’s for court exhibits. I’m not signing until the word is defined.”

EMT: “She arrested on the table. You’re not supposed to know. We must transport now.”

My court reporter discipline appeared again. Guilty. I will not be hurried when asked to sign documents. I read every line. I sat tall. Everyone was sighing, shifting posture.

Then I said, “Patient arrested? I am not to be told?”

“We have another ambulance on standby due to her arrest. We could get sued for telling you.” I signed — after I read every line.

The final frontier involves deciding when to stay on the sidelines and when to step forward. I listen to doctors, then write three words. Many ask, “Why only that?”

I softly say, “Data driven.” Thus far, that stumps everyone working to blow out of the room onto the next patient. Guilty.

Data driven. I listen to “we need to up meds” or “we need to wing-down.”

During symptom spikes, doctors do not return calls, and nurses are in report. “It’s being monitored” means “we’ll tell the next shift.”

Like many, I have marked many exhibits. Details are important, yes? I have found multiple incorrect confidential documents for other patients and incorrect lab reports with Mom’s papers. I am not stunned anymore. I simply hold up the document(s) — which I was encouraged not to take the time to read. Guilty.

Recently, I focused on professionals taking Mom’s blood pressure. When it reached 186/90, and a specialist said, “She’s just upset,” my focus shifted.

Thus, I phoned a cardiologist for an outside visit. Reactions were swift. Big mountains were moved within 24 hours. People were not happy. Oh well.

Perhaps the D.O.N. phoned, “Perhaps you’re not satisfied with our care here.” Perhaps I only listened. (Often, I choose when to word engage. I chose not here. That call told me more about them than me.)

Nurses and staff, “You really want to help your mother.” I avoid replying “gah” and am convinced it is our discipline. Guilty.

We are disciplined from school, work, and with each application using our skills. Individuals whisper, “You’re what we’re taught. You’re a textbook problem.” Me: “How so?”

“Patients with family members who ask questions and want answers are problems. You want questions answered. You listen and listen while they talk themselves blue. You don’t interrupt. You listen.” Guilty.

Professionals whisper, “You help me do a better job. Most people don’t ask questions. Your mother is alive because a family member picked up symptoms and med reactions quicker than staff.”

The final frontier involves many reporters, CART providers, captioners, and students telling me that they will not sign anything without reading every line. They insist on a copy of everything they sign, too. When they read documents, everyone sighs — while they read.

A high-profile official, “I took many hours to read mortgage papers. When I bought a car on installments the dealer closed at 8 p.m. I left at 9:30 p.m. Drives my family crazy.” Nolo contendere.

We are not rattled when we ask for information at work or regarding a family member. We have no shortcuts to listening. Guilty as charged.

Update: The cardiologist, after listening said, “She really slipped through the cracks.” I replied, “Mea culpa.”

I sat tall, softly asked, “Will you be top dog? I want all the other dogs to report to you. Doable?” Wearing scrubs, the nononsense cardiologist said, “Absolutely! I’ll write orders for daily details.” I almost hugged him.

When “transport” returned my mom to her room, I watched the scampering. “We sent wrong paperwork again? The doctor wants what? Really?”

I listened, softly said, “That specialist is now top dog. Thank you for making this possible.”

Now I have a top dog helping Mom. The final frontier necessitates continued attention to detail, continued focus, much listening. Guilty without an explanation.

The day after submitting this, a “care nurse” phoned to schedule a meeting. Me: “Sure. I request a list of all Mom’s diagnoses and meds.”

Voice pitched, she was off to the races. When she refused to give me this, I listened, believing I was not going to win this battle on the phone. She ended with, “This meeting is just for you to come and listen. It is not for chit-chat.”

We had our meeting. At the end, with my copy of meds and diagnoses, they asked me to sign a document.

Me: “I want a copy.”

Multiple people: “It’s for our files. Sign here.”

I leaned in: “If I sign, I get a copy.”

They actually said, “That’s okay, then.”

In a poker move, I put my hand on it, pulled it toward me. Court reporter here read each line with speed-reading skills. Then I lifted my hand. I stood, departed document-less, knowing they remain signature- less. Nolo contendere.

Beyond the comfort zone: Titanium technology and glaucoma effects

The registered nurse was speaking to me about my mother’s recent ICU discharge when overhead speakers broadcast a doctor’s page. He cupped one hand over the back of each ear. I watched, sans comment. I am witnessing many medical professionals with hearing loss. Yet these moments are far more frequent than years ago — especially during the past two years as I viewed my father’s care prior to his death.

Perhaps it is my antenna as I view Mom’s challenges to “avoid death’s door” (a term given to Mom) wherein I see many now working with hearing loss. He said softly, “Don’t tell anyone. I have hearing loss.”

I nodded, “I see that you have coping skills to assist you.”

“You noticed?”

“Yes, sir. Due to my work.” Mom tells everyone, every shift, “My daughter is a court reporter, a teacher, and an author.” I simply bow my head. On many occasions I have been so happy Mom is alive that I avoid the daughter sigh.

I was prepared to not pursue this topic. Yet I find 99 percent of people who have hearing loss do want to detail their world with me. I listen, humbled, learning from each.

He said, “Most people don’t notice. My wife’s worse! She’s the one I worry about. I’ll tell you tomorrow, okay?” I nodded. We returned to our task — required gowning with gloves and mask in the hall before entering.

The next day the nurse met me. “I’ve been waiting for you.” He asked how I was familiar with hearing loss. I shared “court reporter, CART provider, captioner, consultant.” This nurse said, “My wife and children have serious issues. I just have hearing loss. But I know what I want before I lose my hearing.

“My wife has glaucoma. When she was a teen she took glaucoma medicine to decrease her eye pressure. The medicine also decreases inner ear pressure and damages nerves. Her hearing loss now is from medicine long ago. What’s worse than that?

“Each generation then has hearing loss from the parent’s medicine. Our children have decreased hearing and so will their children. One son is 12. He has huge decreased hearing. I worry about our children.”

He paused before continuing. “Since their hearing loss is more severe, their treatments come first. I’ve studied genetics about this. The fear of losing eyesight and hearing is devastating to my wife and to our children. That’s why we’re not going to have any more children. And my work

…” his voice trailed off.

He beamed, “But I know exactly what I want. It’s state-of-the-art.”

My eyes were as big as saucers as I listened to this man talk about the glaucoma medicine and generational effects. He summed it up, “Tomorrow I’ll tell you what I want. I probably won’t get it. Yet I have to have hope. Right?”

The next day, this nurse sprang from his chair when I came to see my mom. “I’ve been waiting for you. I told my wife about you and court reporters. We know all about your work. We thank you and your profession for helping us. Once I tell you what I really want, could you tell me how to help my 12-year-old?” I nodded.

I whipped out my iPad, asked permission to write notes. He said, “Sure! Let’s go look at the latest and greatest. It’s not well known, but it could be once the price comes down. And with glaucoma patients and their children’s children — and their children — they’re all going to need your help.”

We hunkered together and looked up “tympanoplasty.” The prostheses resembles a small earring. Hearing must be present. He emphasized, “This is different than cochlear implants. It’s titanium. Implants require relearning sounds and have differing results. This titanium tympanoplasty device is shaped to fit into each ear. It originated in Germany.”

The nurse shared that his wife and children are not prostheses candidates due to their “glaucoma medicine–induced hearing loss” (the kids never had glaucoma, nor do they have the gene).

He shared, “Medical costs are $30,000; insurance doesn’t cover it — yet. But I could hear again with this. I’ve done my homework. Now I just have to find a doctor who will do the surgery and not want thirty grand,” he said tenderly.

Later that day, he found me in the hall way — staring at the floor — wearing the isolation gown – holding the required gloves, sans mask. Now he held a notepad; he asked how he could help his family. “One son already has problems. He’s been bullied. I taught him karate for discipline and confidence. His speech is now thick-tongued as pressure in his ears create hearing loss from his mother’s glaucoma medicine before he was born.”

Since English is each son’s first language, I shared about the Alexander Graham Bell Association. I shared AGB techniques. Children work with balloons voicing sounds. Balloons bounce and have specific reactions to vocal sounds and exhalations of breath. Older children (and adults) often work with lit candles. If the flame is extinguished, the exhalation was not appropriate for that sound. “Fascinating,” he said.

Now he took notes saying, “My wife insisted I ask you. Insisted!” I detailed the Hearing Loss Association and other groups. I shared that each association has chapters; chapters are wonderful resources for children and adults.

We shared information each time I visited Mom. The nurse expressed his gratitude for being able to share his dreams, his hopes with me, and said each time, “I have to help my wife and children before I help myself. It’s the right thing to do. Yet I know my time is limited here on the floor.”

Looking left and right, he said, “I have problems with phones when there are overhead announcements. External noises are hard to work around. Yet I know if I get that titanium device before I have another hearing drop, I’ll be able to hear. I do not have the absolute fear of going blind and also losing my hearing. That is the fear, you know.”

I softly replied, “Yes, I know the deep fear for many deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals is to lose vision.”

This nurse truly enjoyed helping me learn about glaucoma patients who will then pass their decreased hearing down to their children — and then to their children. He exacted a promise that I share. (Mom also told him I would write an article …)

He shook my hand, “Great! Now if I can get that electronic stethoscope — that’s what I call it — I can help others. I’ll do my darndest to help my family, myself, and to help others. Good deal, right?”

“And you promise to write about this? (I nodded.) Maybe I’ll get my titanium surgery when others know how important this is. And my wife and children need help, too. You promise?”

“Yes, dear,” I softly replied.

Then he quoted, verbatim, a lengthy Monty Python skit, complete with accents. The nurse bowed, “We’ve walked barbed wire fences together you and me.”

He sprinted down the hall. Again, I was tired, cold, and hungry. Yet I was charmed by this man’s energy, his hopes, and his goals. Mom’s overhead light went off (in isolation — not many rush to her room). And I headed back in to help Mom.

Suddenly, the gentleman called my name. He put his hand over his heart and paused. Watching, I placed my hand over my heart.

Slowly, we nodded once in unison. And now I fulfill my promise sharing with each of you — together.