Overcoming challenges: An interview with Kim Falgiani

Kim Falgiani, RMR, CRC

Kim Falgiani, RMR, CRC, became a court reporter in 1980 and then became a broadcast captioner in 2002. After some years in broadcast captioning, she went through a series of medical situations, including tendinitis, that derailed her career and nearly ended it. She shared her story of how she overcame these challenges and offered some advice for reporters and captioners to stay at the physical top of their game.

JCR | What challenge have you overcome to be a successful captioner?

FALGIANI | Captioners must overcome many challenges in their careers. Longevity, professional fulfillment, and reasonable compensation are the goals. Everyone wants to be paid what they’re worth.

The obvious answer, which is true for every successful captioner, is the transition into quality realtime writing, staying relevant and updated in the profession, and keeping up with new technology. For me, the most difficult obstacle I had to overcome was tendinitis. Rehabilitation was a long-term process. Ultimately, I had to:

  • complete rehab successfully
  • regain my speed and confidence
  • regain my certifications
  • upgrade my software, paying back
    software support
  • upgrade my computer system and phones
  • renew my referral sources to find jobs as
    an independent contractor

JCR | How did this challenge make captioning difficult for you?

FALGIANI | The solution for tendinitis is rest, so I could no longer write. Recovery time surely varies, but it may stretch into months; it took me 14 months of rehabilitation to recover from bilateral wrist tendinitis, bilateral elbow tendinitis, shoulder tendinitis, adhesive capsulitis, and a strained neck. Within a few months of slowly beginning to write again, as an independent contractor now instead of an employed broadcast captioner, I suffered a dislocated shoulder and spiral-fractured my upper humerus. I chose a nonsurgical route with that break, so the rehab was a bit longer.

JCR | What strategies or changes did you use to overcome this challenge?

FALGIANI | I needed to find a way to stay informed and relevant in the profession. At that point in time, I had 30 years of progressing through our field as an official, freelancer, business owner, and then a broadcast captioner. I looked for a way to offer my skills without writing. I consulted on captioning programs, advisory committees, anything to not lose the “pulse” of the captioning field.

Everything I did while rehabbing led to me becoming a better and more health-conscious writer. I say better writer because I was always very stroke-intensive, so I began to incorporate writing techniques that reduced my stroke counts, better theory, and things like that.

Instead of captioning, or any writing at all, I started looking into how to help educate future court reporters and captioners. Fortunately, I was hired to be part-time adjunct faculty in a court reporting program in my state during healing time. After about another year of rehab, I began to edit realtime files for quarterly financial reports and rebuild some speed and endurance by writing offline files for projects, such as tutorial videos, etc.

Dealing specifically with my injuries, I took the advice and relied upon my doctor’s and physical therapists’ forms of rehab, but I also changed my diet to help keep inflammation away. This included juicing; finding suggested natural remedies, such as ginger, turmeric, and pineapple; and learning what foods are best. I started using wrist supports and support gloves. I avoided heavy lifting; anything that required any movement of my wrists or elbows now was a conscious thought. I paid attention to what foods really did make my fingers or wrists seem achy!

I found better ergonomic setups, such as monitors that didn’t make me tilt my head back but were more at eye level; I tried to be aware of sitting up straight! I switched from a traditional steno machine to the Lightspeed, but I was too far gone with the traditional touch to adjust to that, so the Luminex is what became right for me. The tilt and the touch on that is fantastic — I can position that machine where it is comfortable for me, and I don’t get that familiar wrist pain.

JCR | Did you receive any outside support in overcoming this challenge?
FALGIANI | I went into physical therapy three times a week for well over a year, before having to re-enter therapy just months later after my dislocated shoulder and broken arm.

As mentioned, I was able to become involved in a court reporting and captioning program as adjunct faculty. And the faculty was kind and patient. I had all the years of knowledge in my head, but they had the knowledge about how to help me express that in a classroom format. Kudos to our schools for educating our future writers!

I would love to name colleagues who helped me through this difficult time, but I fear I might miss someone and I don’t want to do that. But to my colleagues who stayed in contact, those who pared down my schedule, or hired me knowing I wouldn’t offer more than a few hours a week and then increasing my hours as I became stronger, I am forever grateful. To our community that helped me transition into remote and on-site CART captioning and internet and online broadcast captioning, I am so happy I found this part of captioning — thank you.

And as always, my husband, John, who has always been my biggest supporter, and our children. Without their support of taking over household chores, cooking, cleaning, listening to my frustrations, encouraging me to persevere, I could have easily faded out of the profession. Thank you for that never-ending support.

JCR | What advice do you have for someone else struggling with this particular challenge?

FALGIANI | Captioning is an investment in your future self, and tendinitis is a possible reality from all those hours at a desk and on a machine, so there are many things:

  • Stay healthy: If you are having pain in your wrists, arms, seek medical advice. Don’t let this get to a point that your career is in jeopardy. Use preventative measures. Learn what sorts of foods have anti-inflammatory properties. Drink plenty of water. Follow a healthy lifestyle.
  • Exercise: With so many hours spent at your desk, you need to be conscious of really stretching, getting up, and moving. Have a daily exercise routine, whether it is walking, yoga, biking.
  • Ergonomics: Assess your workspace ergonomically: the height of your monitors, the chair you sit in, your mouse, and your keyboard.
  • Stay informed and educated: If you must take time off for any sort of recovery, stay informed by reading articles, volunteering your time to our students, joining focus groups or committees, getting involved with the Deaf/hard-of-hearing communities as advocates, etc. Continue to earn your Continuing Education Units to ensure your certifications don’t lapse. (Retraining your mind to take Q&A testimony after strictly captioning can be a task for some reason!) Don’t let the ever-changing technology get ahead of you.
  • Avoid injury: Be smart about your activities, and try to avoid risky behavior.

But mostly, for me, after resuming a captioning schedule, it was more of a reduction in hours and/or the way my hours are spread out. There is always the question of employee vs. independent contractor. Independent contracting is allowing me to control my schedule so it works best for me.

JCR | Do you have anything else you’d like to add?

FALGIANI | Sitting all day can be a health issue, as well as the repetitive motion, so educate yourself on short exercise routines to do at your desk or in your surroundings, or just using a few extra minutes to stand up instead of sitting and waiting, if appropriate. Find your niche with either yoga, stretch bands, walking, something to keep you active. It is really easy to find information on things like one-minute workout routines, or seven 60-second moves, things like that. I haven’t tried a stand-up desk, but I have read that some really love that sort of thing.

When your shift for the day is done, make that stretching, at least, a part of your shutdown routine. And don’t get caught up in one form of captioning. With the forward march of technology, there are so many captioning opportunities. If you are able, keep a variety of jobs in your schedule just to help break up very difficult routines, and try not to work ten-day weeks.

Kim Falgiani, RMR, CRC, is a captioner in Warren, Ohio. She can be reached at kfalgiani@gmail.com.


Stand up for your health

By Debra J. Morris

I remember the day I woke up with a spare tire. Judge Gatreaux, the judge I worked for, had a penchant for the 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. legal marathon. I had a penchant for the Enchiladas Rancheras lunch buffet at El Tío Pepe with other famished court staff. At least, to my credit, I skipped the evening’s Happy Hour margaritas, only because the preliminary hearing transcripts were due in 10 stress-inducing days. Margaritas notwithstanding, it turns out those habits were a recipe for poor health.

Verbatim shorthand reporters fit neatly into the American Heart Association’s definition of a sedentary profession. We’re one with our steno machines until proceedings end. We commute to and from the day’s work. We edit, proofread, build our software dictionaries, research our next day’s case. When we finally declare it the end of the work day, we search for companionship on social media, unwind our minds with reality television, or order that margarita at Happy Hour. All of it sedentary.

Lunchtime workouts mean returning to work uncoiffed. Fatigue and family obligations undermine evening workouts. Morning workouts take strict discipline because of looming deadlines. It’s easy to self-sacrifice for our careers, hoping for the best when it comes to our own physical entropy. Verbatim shorthand reporting is the poster child of a demanding sedentary career.

“We spend a lot more time sitting behind computers than we used to. Movement is being engineered out of our lives, and the best advice is we need to sit less and move more,” said Deborah Rohm Young, Ph.D., in an article published by the American Heart Association News.

Dr. James A. Levine, M.D., Ph.D., explains in an article for the Mayo Clinic, that research links sitting for long periods with increased blood pressure, obesity, high blood sugar, abnormal cholesterol levels, and excess body fat around the waist, and as well as increasing the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer. These risks of sedentarism are separate from those commonly cited as causes of cardiovascular disease, such as smoking and high blood pressure.

Young suggests taking breaks from sedentary time. That’s great in theory, the assiduous among us will argue, but that means convincing our judges, clients, or family to comply. This can be akin to herding cats.

Levine recommends a different approach that removes the need to rally colleagues from the equation. Shorthand reporters can try these examples, or use them to brainstorm individualized ideas for taking breaks from sedentary time:

  • Stand while eating lunch.
  • Stand while answering emails or making those quick phone calls.
  • Raise your steno machine’s standing-height tripod periodically through the proceeding.
  • Scope and proofread from a high table or standing desk.
  • For off-the-record work, try specialized treadmill-ready vertical desks.

“The impact of movement – even leisurely movement – can be profound,” says Levine. Young agrees. Nudge yourself, she encourages, during downtime to plant yourself less on the sofa. Be mindful of the message and search for ways to sit less, move more, and stress the importance of being physically active, she says.

In today’s world of apps and Internet proximity to others within our profession, reporters could fight back against sedentarism as a group by logging on a social media platform the number of active minutes during the work day. We could start a YouTube channel of five-minute, in-office, physical activity segments. We should explore and share ideas within our professional community ways to improve our health.

I must admit, more than once I’ve cocked an intrigued brow at television commercials for nifty standing desks. While I’ve never succeeded at proofreading on a treadmill, I know myself, and a new tablet with all the latest features just might be the incentive to make that work. The good habit I have successfully established is committing to exercise before the career portion of the day. Admittedly, an hour at the gym once per day doesn’t negate the other 23 hours of sedentary living, but prioritizing that health comes first sets the self-management, good-habit standard that leads the rest of the day. A successful career is not possible without a healthy you.

Debra Morris is a freelance court reporter from Valencia, Calif. She can be reached at djmreporter@gmail.com.

Considerations when purchasing health insurance

Close-up view of doctor's lab coat with a stethoscope around the doctor's neck and and collection of pens in the pocketDetermining the right health care plan can be complicated, but help is available for NCRA members. NCRA has established a relationship with Mercer Marketplace, which makes an insurance solution available to members from the insurance agent and broker GetInsured. The open-enrollment deadline for health insurance, as required by federal law, is Dec. 15.

Members don’t have to examine each plan one by one because GetInsured considers all the available ACA-compliant health plans in their area and scores them by what individuals consider important:

  • Overall suitability
  • Monthly cost
  • Estimated out-of-pocket expense (e.g., deductibles and copays)
  • Which services are covered
  • Which doctors participate

Members can even narrow their coverage choices based on what matters most, whether it’s frequency of doctor visits, the number of prescriptions used, or other factors.

Comparing plans takes only minutes, and NCRA members pay nothing to use the online tool. Members are under no obligation to purchase anything, although they can secure coverage during the same online session (depending on where they live) or by calling the licensed GetInsured customer service agents at 866-454-6479.

Health insurance through Mercer is one of the many benefits that NCRA members can take advantage of. If you need insurance, don’t miss the Dec. 15 open-enrollment deadline.

YOUR HEALTH: Life after reporting

By Vicki Akenhead-Ruiz

My intention to return to the NCRA Annual Convention this year in August was driven by my desire to return to wonderful memories and reconnect with life-long NCRA friends. You see, I was installed as the NCRA President in Chicago in 1999, and seventeen years have elapsed since that time. I had not attended a reporter convention since retiring from the profession in 2008, and it was almost surreal to be walking through the Exhibit Hall again, seeing so many new faces and catching up with old friends. I don’t mean “old” friends in the literal terms, but let’s face it, it’s the direction we are all going, and in my opinion, life is moving way too fast.

I truly loved the reporting profession and devoted thirty-five years of my life to doing what I could to make a difference in it. I was an official reporter, a freelance reporter, a court reporting teacher and administrator, and, for 18 years, was a managing reporter for the Second Judicial District in Albuquerque, N.M. I was heavily involved at the state level with our appellate courts, worked with many states as a consultant, and served on numerous NCRA committees well beyond my year as Immediate Past President. I do not regret one chapter in my life as a reporter. It provided wonderful opportunities, challenges, and experiences, and most of all, very special friendships that continue to this day.

I chose a very different direction after leaving the reporting profession, and today, I am a licensed mental health counselor with a Master’s Degree in human behavior. I had no idea that higher education would lead me on this journey. I always knew that I wanted to return to school at some point in my life. At 57, I was suddenly running out of excuses and perhaps even time. My youngest sister passed away in 2008 at 46 years old – an experience that changed my life and me – and after her death, “time” took on a very different meaning. I remember going to receive NCRA’s Distinguished Service Award shortly after her death and re-committing to returning to school in honor of my sister’s life, as well as to figure out my own life. I never realized what a lofty endeavor this would become.

Returning to school was one of the most difficult challenges I have ever faced. I felt old and ill-equipped technologically. I was stepping out of my comfort zone. I remember sitting in my car in the parking lot on the first day, reminding myself of all the reasons I could not walk through that door. I then reminded myself that the first step is always the hardest; that, if I just put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward, eventually I could seek refuge in the very back of the room. It worked, and that was the beginning of another challenging and very rewarding chapter in my life. I completed my Master’s Degree, passed my state boards, and became licensed to practice in New Mexico shortly thereafter.

My sister’s death became the impetus for my desire to work with individuals struggling with life-long illnesses and, more specifically, children in treatment for childhood cancer. It is amazing how things work in life when you just allow for possibilities beyond your own designed plan. Children have taught me and continue to teach me more about life and myself than any textbook I have ever read. Children help me reconnect with being a child, with singing out loud, and with using my imagination to do anything or go anywhere I wish. I dance with them, create with them, and help them through enormous pain and fear – each time, allowing their experiences and our relationship to shape my life and how I live as a human being. Each one is a gift to me.

I also work with adults and families battling some of life’s most horrific losses and addictions. I work with depression, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, and PTSD, just to name a few. Each individual I work with becomes my student and my teacher. Each experience allows me to learn more about life and the resiliency and courage of people facing pain, loss, and enormous suffering. Each experience and relationship continues to allow me to heal and learn as well, so that this is no longer a profession or a career for me, but a way of life, a way of living, giving, and receiving.

I am challenged each day to focus on balance in my own life, to strive to remain emotionally and physically healthy so that I can be healthy for others, for my own family and for myself. This is not a blueprint that I follow, but a daily commitment to meditation, exercise, nature, time alone, and time with those I love. This requires a consciousness, a daily practice, that reminds me of the importance of “this day, this moment.” In addition, this requires a commitment to mindfulness, a commitment to being the best person I can be each day, knowing that imperfections, disappointments, and loss are all part of life. However, my focus now is on life, one day at a time, and all that life encompasses. My goals for life have changed since my days as a reporter, and while long-term goals can be wonderful mile markers to our future, my goals are daily goals with the focus of ending each day with a feeling of satisfaction for giving my best to others and giving the best to myself.

I have committed to writing another article that offers some tools for staying mentally and physically healthy. I will address how to be more mindful in our daily living so that we are conscious of what we can and cannot change each day. I know that stress that comes with the world of reporting and with life itself, and I also know, as you all know, that stress does impact our health and our lives in very negative ways. There really is no perfect plan to live a perfect life, but there are practices and tools that provide a way to manage stress, to strengthen our minds and bodies so that our lives are enriched in a way that we feel good not only about what we “do” but more about who we “are.”

I will end this article sharing the way I begin and end each day: by expressing my gratefulness for my reporting career, my memories, my friendships, and the lessons learned along the way. I am grateful to my family, especially my youngest sister, my wonderful friends, and most of all, I am grateful for laughter, love, and life.

Vicki Akenhead-Ruiz, RPR, CMRS (Ret.), is a past president of NCRA. She can be reached at vickifruiz@comcast.net.