Ok, people with hearing loss, think quickly now. What’s the most challenging aspect of going to the hospital, doctor, or dentist?
The eye exam where you can’t see the technician’s lips, let alone him?
The dentist who wears a mask, but you can’t say ‘pardon’ with a mouth propped open by metal bars?
The doctor in a rush who doesn’t make eye contact? (Lesser mortals such as medical students are usually sleep- deprived, struggling to keep their own eyes open, let alone focus on yours.)
These situations are the tip of the ‘healthcare communication barriers’ iceberg. You’d think that doctors and other health professionals would know, instinctively, how to communicate with us. The truth is, they are just as likely to break our rules of engagement as any random, untrained person. What’s more, the average healthcare environment is usually not an accommodating one.
But we should never, ever, have our health compromised because of something we may have misheard! While many health issues are beyond our control, we do have a say, and a responsibility, in creating effective communication. We can take the lead by identifying the problem (This examining area is too noisy for me to hear you well) and some solutions (Speak up, doc, and then write it down!).
But as for the question about the most challenging medical situation – my vote goes to the nightmare of “Waiting for Your Name to be Called.”
Like most people, I have spent many life-hours waiting to see the doctor or dentist, at the ER for a child’s broken collarbone, or for medical procedures like x-rays and MRIs. It’s not the mind-numbing wait time that stresses me, but the sheer difficulties of hearing someone call my name. I live in fear of missing my turn, and finding myself the last person in the waiting room, just before they turn out the lights.
I always let the receptionist know about my hearing loss, but I still worry. Clinics and emergency rooms are chaotic, and listening for my name is an aerobic workout.
Please, Ms. Hannan, have a seat. We’ll call you when we’re ready.
Thank you, but I have hearing loss and I might not hear my name called. Could I sit here, beside you? Help with the filing, maybe?
No. Please join the others in the waiting room; we’ll find you.
Well, could you do a little wave, so that I know it’s me you’re calling? I’ve been missed before.
Sure, yes, we’ll try, whatever, siddown!
I shuffle away, hoping to find a seat close to the doorway where the nurse will appear, so I can read my name on her lips. The crowded waiting room has rows of seats; some face the important doorway, but others face the back of the room.
Guess where the only empty seat is. Sitting down, I immediately adopt the upper-half-twist, a manoeuvre unique to hard of hearing people who are trying to see/hear something behind them. The lower half of the body faces forward, and the upper half is cranked completely backwards, in this case towards the doorway. (Variations include the simple ‘neck twist’ – full-body forward and neck turned to the back, à la Linda Blair – and the more common ‘neck thrust’, in which all body parts face forward, and the neck thrusts forward, so as to put the ear closer to the source of sound. ) Please note that all of these positions can be painful if held for any length of time.
If I do manage to cop a seat facing the door, every time the nurse appears, file in hand to call out a name, I jump forward in my seat and do the ‘neck thrust’. If someone else gets up, I shift back. But if not, I rush the nurse saying, “Hey, hi, it’s me, did you call my name, didja?” And please god, she did, otherwise I slink back to my seat, embarrassed at having 200 people witness my pathetic pleading.
I relax for a moment and look out the window, admiring the pretty flowers. Then I feel eyes on me – lots of eyes. A kind soul taps my arm and directs my attention to the nurse, who wouldn’t dream of wading through the mass of humanity to where I sit, and who is calling me impatiently.
My turn at last, now the real fun starts. I’m anxious, with an elevated heart rate and clammy hands, and I haven’t even seen the doctor yet. When stress levels rise, my residual hearing plummets and my well-honed coping skills go into reverse.
Pull yourself together, Hannan, you’re here about an important medical issue. Once you get out of this waiting room zoo, it will just be you and the doctor, one on one. The perfect listening environment….
To Be Continued.