Speak Up, Doc, I’m Hard of Hearing (2016)

This weekend is Canadian Thanksgiving. I plowed through the delights of turkey, stuffing, veggies and pie, just two days after a visit to the dentist. His advice to “enjoy your feast, but chew very carefully”, made me nervous eating anything thicker than gravy.  And since it was a holiday, I decided to repost an article, slightly updated, but which still  resonates today: navigating the health system with a hearing loss.


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 (or any face-part) because of the lights are inyour eyes?

The masked dentist who’s clearly trying to ask you something but you can’t say ‘pardon’ with a mouth bolted open by metal bars?dentist

The doctor in a rush who doesn’t make eye contact? 

These situations are the tip of the ‘healthcare communication barriers’ iceberg. You’d think that doctors and other health professionals would know, instinctively, or at least have been taught, 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 hearing loss!

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/or 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, like an owl – and the more common ‘neck thrust’, in which all body parts face forward, and the neck thrusts really forward, to put the ear closer to the source of sound. Please note that all of these positions are 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.

About Gael Hannan

Gael Hannan is a writer, speaker and advocate on hearing loss issues. In addition to her weekly blog for HearingHealthMatters.org, which has an international following, Gael wrote the acclaimed book "The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss". She is regularly invited to present her uniquely humorous and insightful work to appreciative audiences around the world. Gael has received many awards for her work, which includes advocacy for a more inclusive society for people with hearing loss. She lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.


  1. This article nailed my sentiments. This is why I must bring my husband with me on most doctor visits. I go into cold sweats when I have to get my eyes checked. Speaking louder does not solve the problem. Eye to eye contact helps.

  2. When I mentioned to my HOH husband’s doctor that he would have to face him to speak, he immediately raised his voice to an uncomfortable level and got right in his face. It looked like he was angry when he wasn’t. Shouldn’t effective communication be a mandatory class in med school? Sigh…

  3. Boy, does this article ring a bell! Just yesterday I had to remind a nurse to stop talking to her computer and face my husband – also hard of hearing with hearing aid. And being called from the waiting room is a nightmare….

  4. Every doctors office should be looped and EVERY doctor/nurse patient care provider SHOULD have a Pocketalker in the office for use with people who have hearing loss..
    Looping a doctors office is easy to do and very inexpensive….

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