Rikie lives in the Netherlands, Renee lives in Switzerland since 2009. We both are hearing impaired. We both blog about it.
Every now and then, when we talk to each other live, we ask each other questions like ‘How do you do that?’ or ‘How did that go with you?’. That’s how we came up with the idea to take a topic by the head and share our experiences. Because we are probably not the only deaf or hearing impaired person who runs into this.
About dentists, doctors and hospitals
Renee: I remember very well that after we moved to Switzerland, I had to look for a new dentist and general practitioner here. That was my job because my husband was working and didn’t have time for this.
Our hometown was much less populated then than it is now, but there were enough dentists and general practitioners there, just not all of them in our neighbourhood. My first attempts to register with a general practitioner were disappointing.
When I entered, the assistants were sitting behind a high, wide counter. Communication was difficult, not only because I spoke high German, but also because I could hardly understand the assistants behind that counter and they seemed uninterested. Finally, I was told that they were not taking on any new patients. End of story.
My next attempt was similar. Concerned, I started my third attempt. Luckily this time I found a lower counter, more accessible assistants and, as it turned out later, a great GP.
At the dentist I already saw the next high and inaccessible counter looming up … Luckily the assistants were accessible there and the dentist and dental hygienist as well and even better, we could come and the dental hygienist even takes her mouth cap off when she talks to me. Do you recognize this Rikie?
Rikie: My deafness has crept in. People know me as hearing, so does the doctor and the dentist. They didn’t believe me when I said I couldn’t call to make an appointment. It gave me the feeling that they didn’t take me seriously, as if they had never had to deal with hearing impaired people before. I really had to come up with all the alternatives myself and make agreements about how it could be done. At that moment the dentist was the most flexible, the assistant immediately said yes when I asked for email contact. The general practice was a completely different case. Unfortunately it is still not properly arranged there. I can e-mail, but if I don’t add that I am deaf, I can forget it. If I want an appointment soon, I’d better go there. I do hold my heart for the moment that there is an emergency. Luckily the counters are low enough, the processing of data in the PC by medical staff sometimes requires adjustment, so that I can see the faces to understand them. Luckily the dental hygienist and dentist know that they have to take off the cap when they talk to me, that’s really great.
Renee: In hindsight, the difficult communication was also a bit up to me. At the time (10 years ago) I wasn’t very open about my hearing impairment, which of course I should have been and didn’t say, or only later, that I am hearing impaired …
Nowadays I really take a different approach! Because there are (usually high) counters everywhere at dentists, doctors and in hospitals and the assistants behind them often at a distance, I almost immediately indicate everywhere that I am hearing impaired and ask if they can speak clearly and calmly. I also sit down in the waiting rooms in a visible place, from where I can oversee my surroundings. It happens too often that your name is called and then of course it’s just a question of whether I understand or hear that. Depending on the situation, I ask at the counter if they don’t just want to call my name, but want to come to me as well. Sometimes it is forgotten, but in most cases this works fine and I get some understanding. Have you experienced that as well?
Rikie: Yes, I really had to learn to stand up for myself. In the beginning I assumed that agreements about communication would be kept. Now I know better unfortunately. It doesn’t matter if you make appointments, after 5 minutes people have forgotten and you have to repeat what you asked for. And you really have to look after everything yourself, because a mail, chat, or whatsapp message is less hurried, is less important than a phone call. It’s usually not personal, no unwillingness, people just don’t have the faintest idea what it means to be hearing impaired. And changing your behaviour in the daily routine is something that is very difficult. Also the administrative systems are not set up to report that someone is not reachable by phone. The field for telephone numbers is often mandatory and cannot refer to another form of communication. In the meantime I have trained everyone in my area in how to reach me 😉 A tip here: close your voicemail and only play a message that you can be reached via email or whatsapp/sms. It helps.
Renee: Yeah, I recognize that! During doctor visits I sometimes use my assisting device (RogerPen), this triggers different reactions from doctors. Usually I ask them politely if they don’t mind and explain what it’s for. In general they don’t find it a problem at all. Only once a doctor asked if the RogerPen didn’t record anything, because he wouldn’t like that. After I had clearly explained the RogerPen again, it was okay.
Another doctor, where I come once or twice in a year, just asked me about the RogerPen, which I accidentally forgot to bring that time … She thought it was a fantastic tool, which it is.
But even with tools, the visit to entists, doctors and hospitals remains quite strenuous for me, as I have to be constantly on the lookout and on “sharp”.
Rikie: With my CI (cochlear implant) I am currently not using assistive devices. Personal conversations, short appointments in quiet surroundings, fortunately succeed again. At the moment a text interpreter (they type what is said and I read with them on tablet, say live subtitles) is the best help I can wish for. Especially because in a noisy environment I don’t understand anything, I don’t hear anything behind me, and I don’t hear where sound is coming from. And yes, I often have to explain that with the presence of an interpreter that they have a duty of secrecy and that everything that is said stays between us. Luckily, I’ve never seen them refused.
Even hearing with a CI, even with the help of a text interpreter, remains a tiring undertaking. The tempo is gone. The normal speech speed gets too fast soon. Hearing, understanding, processing and reacting takes much more time and effort than for the ‘normal’ hearing person.
Actually we do the same, both in our own way :-), to make things easier for ourselves. Right at the start of a conversation we say what we need to understand the other person: 1) look at me, 2) speak calmly and clearly 3) a quiet environment.
Rikie Boevink – https://deciderata.blogspot.com (in Dutch language)
Renee Iseli – Smits – https://hardofhearingweb.wordpress.com