The Thought Translator

August 3, 2010

I need a thought translator! It can be so challenging and time-consuming to decipher what my husband, kids, and patients are actually trying to tell me.

A recent rainy day found me and my kids enjoying a movie afternoon complete with popcorn. We watched the timeless classic “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.” It is a cute movie, worth renting for the witty one-liners but probably not worth owning.

At any rate, in the movie, the hero’s sidekick is a monkey named Steve who wears a “thought-translator” around his neck so that the hero always knows what Steve is thinking (which is usually, “eat”). At the end of the movie (spoiler alert), the hero’s dad uses the thought translator to communicate all of those deep father-son emotions that he has historically disguised in fishing parables such as “I love you” and “I’m proud of you.”

I need a thought translator! It can be so challenging and time-consuming to decipher what my husband, kids, and patients are actually trying to tell me. Sometimes I figure it out, but could definitely use all the technological help available. For my youngest, a thought translator would help me identify whether he says “ma,ma,ma” because he likes the monosyllabic repetition or because he finally has come to appreciate the unending love and care I lavish on him and is adoringly calling out to “Mom.” If my older kids used a thought translator, I could decipher who actually started the fight, who took the toy from whom, and who is telling a fib when I ask whether they are wearing clean underwear.

I could also use the thought translator at work. Imagine the improved care I could provide when I ask my patients with diabetes why they think their blood sugar has suddenly skyrocketed out of control and am actually able to obtain a reasonable answer. Or, when I have one of those visits where I sense that I am not connecting with my patient, the thought translator could help identify the true agenda the patient has for the visit.

Unfortunately, outside of animated feature films, the thought translator doesn’t exist. So I have to rely on other communication tools – ones that are sometimes in short supply or are difficult to use. First, I need my “listening” ears so that I can really hear the concerns, fears, worries and triumphs voiced by my children or to hear what my patients are trying to explain, before I jump in 20 seconds into the visit. Another tool that would be helpful is patience. Waiting for the point of a long rambling story that my kindergartner must tell me right now or going slowly with an elderly patient who is trying to understand the complex array of medications I have prescribed.

Upon further consideration, the thought translator may not be a great idea after all. I am not sure that I want all of my thoughts readily available to my family and patients.