Deaf Life with Ni Gallant: A&E and Me

So, last week I was asked to start writing this column and while I was thinking about what to write, an issue that has probably affected every deaf child, teenager and adult popped into my head.

This week I took a trip to A&E and it struck me once again just how un-deaf aware a number of doctors and nurses are. I mean, of course, you occasionally meet the odd person, like the paramedic I met whose wife was deaf or the nurse who had a profoundly deaf nephew, but by and large medical staff seem to have absolutely no idea what I mean when I say ‘I’m deaf.’

It’s not just A&E staff either. I’ve had the GP who walks around the room while talking to you and even the ENT consultant who talks at you whilst looking in your ears. The story my mum always tells is when I had a chest x-ray and the radiographer asked me to take out my hearing aids and then said ‘I’m going into the back room now, but when I shout I need you to breathe in for me.’ I’m afraid I just looked at him with confusion.

But for me that’s not even the worst part. As a Deaf teenager, I’m fiercely independent. If I want to communicate with someone, I will, even if it means a long frustrating half hour writing everything down on a piece of paper. So what annoys me more than anything is when medical staff talk to the person next to you as if you’re not there. ‘Is she allergic to anything?’ or ‘What’s her pain threshold?’ I thought that going to the hospital with a friend rather than my parents would stop this from happening but it made no difference…

Are deaf people really so difficult to communicate with that it’s just not worth the effort? I know that Deaf Direct in Worcestershire have taken on board the issues that deaf patients are experiencing every time they go to the GP or hospital and have recently been running some deaf awareness training in local hospitals. Hopefully this will make a difference and change the way doctors and nurses treat deaf patients. Maybe this deaf awareness training is something that could be done nationally by agencies such as NDCS or Remark?

In terms of advice on how to deal with these un-deaf aware medical staff, I’m not sure I’m the best person to ask! But when I have it sorted I’ll let you know. For now I guess these are a few pointers that might help:

  • Make sure that doctors and nurses know you are deaf, it’s annoying but staff don’t seem to share that kind of information between them.
  • If a doctor or nurse doesn’t communicate well with you try and give them some handy tips. I know this is hard and feels embarrassing at times but the next deaf person they meet will be so thankful you did it!
  • Don’t be afraid to shout up if you haven’t heard. It’s your care and you have the right to understand everything that’s happening to you. Similarly if you want or need an interpreter then make sure you get one, it’s important to understand everything and that will make you feel more confident.
Catch Deaf Life with Ni Gallant again next month on PDDCS News

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