Considered a “dead language” by some, Latin continues to flourish in the world of Science and Medicine. Bootcamp attendees get the breakdown. BY MIKE KARPA

Marlene V. Obermeyer guided interpreters and translators through the lingo of medicine and the human body in an eight-hour medical terminology bootcamp held June 30, 2012, six floors above Market Street at the San Francisco State downtown campus. Obermeyer, a long-time registered nurse with a Masters degree, offers online training in medical interpreting and terminology from her base in Kansas through Culture Advantage and Virginia College. She also gives a handful of medical terminology bootcamps annually around the country through the IMIA. Carlos Garcia of the IMIA has been trying to schedule a bootcamp in San Francisco for some time, and he and NCTA organizer Sarah Llewellyn were delighted to be able to jointly host Obermeyer.

Breaking it down
The San Francisco session was a bit of a homecoming for Obermeyer, whose arrival in the US from the Philippines decades ago came as a touchdown at San Francisco International Airport. Obermeyer was quite at ease in the linguistic services setting, and broke the ice by discussing her own language background (Tagalog and Ilocano) and her work with medical interpreters. The session was conducted in English, without focusing on any particular language combinations.

The eighteen attendees included ten interpreter/translators, four interpreters, three translators and one dispatcher. Two attendees also teach. The languages represented (in addition to English) were Spanish (ten people), French (five people), Russian (two people) and Tagalog (two people, including Obermeyer), with one person each working in Arabic, Mandarin, Italian, German and Japanese. (These numbers include the three organizers; some people work in more than two languages.)

Obermeyer got the session started by telling attendees to think of medical terms as a story, with a beginning, middle and end. She listed common prefixes and suffixes used with word roots to create medical terms, such as thrombophlebitis—from thrombus (blood clot), –phleb– (vein) and –itis (inflammation)—an inflammation of a vein caused by a blood clot.

The class covered common misconceptions (for example, –itis refers to inflammation, not infection), and tricky distinctions such as atherosclerosis (athero = plaque, –scler– = hard, –osis = condition, hardening of artery walls or other tissues from accumulation of plaque, a fatty material) vs. arteriosclerosis (arterio– = artery, –scler– = hard, –osis = condition, a general term for any hardening of arteries). Attendees broke into small groups and  used medical flashcards to familiarize themselves with suffix and prefix meanings, practice using terms in sentences, then reported to the class what they had learned. Obermeyer encouraged the class to visualize terms, which brought a laugh, since this advice happened to come just after the class learned that dia– = pass through and –rrhea = flow, or discharge.

Armed with this basic knowledge, Obermeyer broke down the workings of the body into systems such as the cardiovascular, respiratory and digestive systems, and guided her pupils using full-color charts in Human Body, a 448-page book published by Dorling Kindersley, provided as part of the bootcamp.

Obermeyer discussed the mechanics of many common procedures, such as echocardiograms (echo- = sound, cardio– = heart, –gram = record), ultrasounds, defibrillation and cardioversion. She also answered many questions about the use of some medical devices, including a history of colostomy (colo– = colon, –ostomy = creating an opening, or stoma) bags, from plastic bags secured with rubber bands, to something like vacuum cleaner bags today. Her years of experience were evident in her helpful anecdotes, such as the story of the Kansas rancher who learned that when his heart felt “funny” and he got lightheaded, he would feel better after grabbing the electric fence. Attendees can now discuss with you this impromptu cardioversion using a homegrown defibrillator to, perhaps, restore atrial flutter to normal heart rhythm.

Wiser for the experience
An ample lunch break provided chances for attendees to meet. Periodic breaks helped keep the session calm through the nervous system—and bouts of self-diagnosis—so we were able to pass through the urinary system comfortably without any ESWL (extracorporeal shockwave lithotripsy, or breaking up of kidney stones using acoustic waves). The group got punchy by the time Obermeyer tackled the final segment, the ever-popular reproductive system. Obermeyer gamely covered salpingo-oophorectomies, orchidectomies and the difference between impotence and erectile dysfunction while throwing the class straight lines that encouraged the inevitable hysterical quips. It was a true testament to Obermeyer’s focus, knowledge and good humor that she brought her full complement of eighteen across the finish line, with everyone free of diplopia (seeing double) and syncope (loss of consciousness), and feeling much the wiser for the bootcamp experience. MK

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