I write about hearing loss, it’s what I do. Since 2011, I’ve written weekly articles on hearing loss for this site, and a blog from that year is one of my personal favorites: Speak Up Doc, I’m Hard of Hearing.
In the article, I moaned and whined about the challenges that people with hearing loss experience at the doctor’s office, the hospital, drop-in clinics, the dentist, surgery – in short, healthcare. Eight years later, things haven’t changed much, so I’d like to offer an edited version of the original (because writers are always itching to edit their past work).
Ok, people with hearing – 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 anything except bright lights – and he talks to you!?
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 blurts out questions and makes notes without looking at you?
These situations are just the tip of the ‘healthcare communication barriers’ iceberg. You’d think that trained doctors and other health professionals would know, instinctively, how to communicate with us. The truth is, they’re 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 for people with hearing loss.
We should never, ever, have our health compromised because we don’t hear well. We have the right to be accommodated so that we understand, we share in the responsibility of creating effective communication. We have to take the lead by identifying the problem – this examining area is too noisy for me to hear you well – and some solutions – speak first, Doc, and then write it down!.
But my vote for the most challenging medical situation 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. I worry that I’ll be the last person sitting in the waiting room – and then the lights go out.
I always let the receptionist know about my hearing loss but, still, I 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 even more 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, “Here I am”. And if it wasn’t me that was called, I slink back to my seat in embarrassment.
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. I’m anxious with clammy hands, and I haven’t even seen the doctor yet. The doctor comes in and mumbles hello. I think. Now, the real fun starts….
Peeps with hearing loss, what’s your biggest healthcare challenge?