Wednesday, February 22, 2017


There is a Word Press site that I visit once in a great while.  It's interesting that it posts a daily one word prompt designed to spark inspiration for bloggers looking for something to write about.  I often feel intimidated by the way people interpret the prompts.  I usually check out several of them and am rarely inspired -- my brain doesn't work in that way.

But today, I clicked on the prompt "translate," which has linked to nearly 200 blog entries sparked by that word.  It's interesting to see what people think of when they think of that word.  Some write poems.  

I have a hard time with poetry.  Most of it I don't understand. My brain doesn't think in high falutin' terminology.  I can write "there once was a XX named XX" and finish that quatrain.  And I often write haikus, though when Ned went to Japan and sent back haikus about his experience ...

...he learned that this isn't strictly speaking a "haiku."  Apparently Haiku has to do with seasons.  I didn't understand it, so I checked Wikipedia, but that was even more complicated.  I guess just the 5-7-5 syllables is not enough to qualify as haiku.  But whatever 5-7-5 is, I can write that, if not real poetry.

One entry talked about a dream and how to translate that dream into reality, another translated her cat's "language."  One talked about trying (unsuccessfully) to speak French, despite 10 years of lessons.  One was trying to make sense out of family conflict.  Not surprisingly, at least one entry tried to translate Trump.  One read a grave inscription and tried to figure out what it meant.

One took the word and talked about how we have lost the ability to relate to strangers and how we ignore pain and suffering around us and challenges the reader.  "Notice someone’s pain, take someone’s away, but there’s no good reason to cause anyone any pain."

Someone took a text by Stephen King and talked about the meaning behind the words.  One wrote a science fiction piece that I didn't understand at all.

I finally came to one that I could relate to.  It was about a woman who was learning how to translate medical jargon.  "I got a job as a USDA food inspector and started to learn a lot of really long words about chicken diseases, little did I know it would lead to where I am now."

She never became a medical transcriptionist, a job she found quite boring, but it did get me started thinking about my experience of some 30 years of medical transcription.

When I think of medical transcription, I think of my very first job.  I still cringe when I remember it.  A Japanese veterinarian brought a box of tapes from a conference to The Secretariat, where I worked.  He wanted it transcribed.  My boss explained that we had never done medical transcription before and he said that he knew there would be lots of errors, but something was better than nothing.
And so I took on the job.  I had tapes and a medical dictionary and it was my job for the next month or so.  All these years later, after I actually became a medical transcriptionist, I can't even begin to think of how horrible my translation of this conference must have been.

For one thing, even under the best of circumstances, transcribing a conference is the worst kind of transcription.  You don't know how many people are talking, you don't know who has what voice, there are people who talk on top of other people.  It's just awful.

Add to that the fact that they were speaking in medical jargon and that not all of them spoke English with an American accent and you get the idea.!  I think I did about 20-30 of those damn tapes and had to search the medical dictionary for nearly every word.  I'd love to read my transcription now.
The veterinarian seemed content with what I had done and we never heard from him again.

Later when I got a different job, working for The Typing Company, my boss, who was a medical transcriptionist, threw a dictionary and a tape at me and told me to learn it.  And I did.  She told me that when I knew how to spell cholecystectomy, I would know I was a real transcriptionist.  And I did.

But I also learned that the ability to translate the words of an orthopedist who spoke very clearly (and at great length) into a perfectly typed manuscript was NOT being a medical transcriptionist.  I went on to become the on-call transcriptionist for every medical office in town, when their in-house typist was ill or on vacation.  Going from orthopedics to gynecology was like going from French to Spanish and required a whole new learning curve.  Same with learning Internal Medicine or cardiology, or translating reports on lab tests.

Working for the medical lab was quite an experience.  For one thing, the typewriter was in the basement with the medical equipment.  I would get there at 6 a.m. and work until about 8.  I never saw anybody and nobody ever saw me.  I would leave my transcriptions by the machine and let myself out of the basement and go home.  I had some nice interesting reports to type, but my boss got the best one.

When you go to a lab, they have to report on anything that is taken out of the body.  Blood? Splinters? Bullet fragment?  In this case, what was removed from the body was a door knob that had been removed from a guy's anus.  As if that weren't bad enough, the patient requested that after the exam had been done they return the knob to him because "it was his favorite one."

I don't agree with the blogger who found medical transcription boring.  Being a medical transcriptionist in a small town is fascinating because you learn the most interesting things about people you may see every day, but of course you never mention it to anyone.  There are still people I see now and then whose quirks I know because I remember typing about them, but nobody ever knew what I knew (and those people never knew that I was typing notes about them either).  It's an experience I am glad I had...and I owe it all to a Japanese veterinarian and a very obnoxious orthopedist.

(And here when I started this entry I thought I was going to write about speaking foreign languages or learning how to speak "dog.")

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