By Tammy Stolle
Court Reporting is a very skilled profession. We are pretty amazing people, if you ask me. It’s a profession that uses your hands one hundred percent of the time. There are a few things that scare court reporters, like forgetting your machine for a deposition, dropping words, having a fast talker…but nothing could compare to the scare that I experienced on a quiet Friday morning in October. I had taken the day off to spend with the grandchildren and my husband’s family. The whole family would be at our house for the weekend to celebrate my mother-in-law’s 80th birthday. I had gotten home from exercise class and was preparing breakfast and cleaning the kitchen. I put my nutribullet blade into my base, and the blade fell flat into the base. Not wanting the grandkids to possibly grab the blade, I was going to pick up the blade out of the base to set it to the side. I always leave my nutribullet plugged in because I use it daily. See where I’m going? The pressure of my hand picking up the blade engaged the blender to start with my hand on the blade.
I thought that I had just slightly cut my hand. I went right back to doing my dishes and looked down and thought, “Oh, %$#^. This is not good.” My husband rushed me to the emergency room and he saw my hand for the first time because I had had it wrapped up in a towel. I said, “How bad is it?” And he looked at me and said, “It’s not good.”
Seven hours later, I was headed to surgery with the hand specialist, and I said to her, “I am a court reporter, please save my fingers.” I had three fingers affected; my index finger was severed almost completely, my middle finger severely cut and crushed, my thumb had tendons cut and tissue gone. She said, “I will try, but I can’t promise.” I had a high probability of losing both the index and middle finger, and I knew if that happened, retirement was coming sooner than I had wished.
I had a five-and-a-half-hour surgery. In the recovery room, when I woke up, my surgeon was there. I looked at her, and all she did was just shake her head indicating she hadn’t saved my index finger. I had learned that my index finger was not saved. To say I cried at that point isn’t necessary. I didn’t know I could cry so much. I knew my 33-year career was over, but I wasn’t ready for it to be over, damn it. I wanted to decide on my own terms when I was finished. There is no way a stupid blender was making this decision for me. It was then when I first heard of the possibility of a functional prosthetic, not a cosmetic finger, but an actual finger that would enable me, possibly, to return to my career. But still, doubt crept in.
Thanks to a friend of my sister’s, we found Naked Prosthetics (NP), a company that manufactures prosthetics for digital amputees. Game changer! I’ll get my prosthetic and, boom, be back to work in no time. WRONG. Besides the fact it was going to take five weeks to build the prosthetic after I healed and the swelling subsides, then I need molds and measurements taken; they also told me it would be weeks, if not months, of rehab. Also, NP had never fit a prosthetic for a court reporter before, so I also had to educate them on my job and show them my machine and how it worked. These devices are so precise that I had to go back three times for new molds to be taken because they are so specific to your hand.
Fast forward to getting my prosthetic. I am now 16 weeks post-injury. My prosthetist told me not to get frustrated because it would take a lot of patience, practice, and therapy to get the hang of the prosthetic. Well, I am special (or so I thought) and I went to court the very first day because I was running the FTR for our magistrate judge, and I thought, “What the hell, take your machine and see how it goes.” It was HORRIBLE. My thought was, “OMG, I am really done. This is not going to work. I am done. I’m done working. I am a big old loser who cut off a finger.”
After hiding in my office and literally crying (a.k.a. bawling my head off) the rest of that day, I put on my big girl panties and told myself to either quit or suck it up and start practicing. No one was going to do it for me. So I went to work practicing like we used to do in tape lab (if anyone remembers that). I found a gal on YouTube who has amazing videos with every speed of dictation that you could imagine. Here I am, a veteran court reporter and I am practicing dictation at 60 wpm. I practiced and practiced all day, every day, even on the weekends and in the evenings.
Practice pays off. Positivity pays off. Having a goal pays off. You can do really anything you set your mind to do. I am now 10 months post-injury and have defied all odds…and I am working full-time as a court reporter. Is it perfect? No, but it is darn close. There are some tweaks that NP is making for me, and I will try them, and hopefully my writing will improve even more.
I am now like the “bionic” court reporter. I am proud of this device I wear on my hand, and I am proud that I overcame one of the worst events in my life. But please always remember, UNPLUG YOUR APPLIANCES!
Tammy Stolle, RPR, is an official court reporter from Gronton, S.D. She can be reached at Tammy.Stolle@ujs.state.sd.us.