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American Annals of the Deaf

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Day by Day: The Chronicles of a Hard of Hearing Reporter

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Handling Hearing Loss During Hospital Stays or Medical Tests

Many people with hearing loss want to hide it from others, especially from hearing people. I met a salesman who took his hearing aids out before a sales call—and I asked how he heard the customer. “I manage,” was the answer. One woman was going into the hospital for surgery. I reminded her to take extra hearing aid batteries with her. “Oh, I’m not taking my hearing aids. I don’t want them to know.” Then she added, after seeing my perplexed look, “My husband will hear for me.” Knowing the woman quite well, I knew she could not be deterred but my gut reaction was, “Really?! At three in the morning?,”

No matter how I tried to convince her, she refused to change her mind. There are other instances where people went to great lengths to hide their hearing loss. Since I had tried to hide my hearing loss as I was growing up, the freedom I later felt to let others know was a great relief for me. When asked to write the following article for the Ohio Women with Disabilities Network, I incorporated some of the experiences I have just mentioned, and was glad to get the word out.

Work Together Toward Hospital Communication[1]

You are about to enter the hospital for a procedure and will be there anywhere from one to eight days. You are packing, deciding what to take. You remember that your hearing aid batteries usually last one week. Perhaps you should take extra ones. You hesitate. Maybe it would be better to leave the hearing aids at home and bluff your way through.

On the other hand, bluffing may not work for you, your family, or the hospital staff. Why add to the stress? You re-think your strategy. You put the batteries in the suitcase and add a few sharpened pencils and a big pad of paper. You have made a very “healthy” decision although it wasn’t easy. You don’t want to go to the hospital. You would much rather stay home. But this visit is unavoidable and necessary. Taking a deep breath, you finish packing.

During the hospital admission process, you tell others that you wear hearing aids. You ask them to:

  • Please face you as they speak.
  • Keep their hands and food away from their mouth so that you can read their lips.
  • Write their comments with pen and paper you provide when you are unable to understand them.
  • Provide a qualified sign language interpreter if you are deaf and communicate through sign language.
You feel good about yourself for making your communication needs known to the hospital staff. You have been a self-advocate.

That’s what it is all about—communication. Legal Rights, The Guide for Deaf and Hard of Hearing People, states,

It is not possible to have equal access to services without communication. Communication, is perhaps, the most important ingredient for health care. Without communication, the patient cannot explain the symptoms of his or her illness to the medical staff. Without communication, the patient cannot comprehend the routines of treatment or preventive medicine. If all medical patients were treated [poorly], the general population would be outraged. Yet deaf people face [lack of communication] these circumstances daily.[2]

1. Elizabeth Thompson, “Work Together Toward Hospital Communication,” Window on Wellness, Ohio Women with Disabilities Network, Spring 1999.

2. National Association of the Deaf, Legal Rights: The Guide for Deaf and Hard of Hearing People, Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press, Fifth edition, 2000, p. 101.

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