Dora’s Story: Overcoming Hearing Challenges in a Time of Masks
The current global pandemic has brought with it many changes to our everyday lives, from the way to socialize with family and friends, to how we go to the grocery store. Being in public now requires frequent use of hand sanitizer and wearing face masks in certain situations. These new safety measures seem to be effective at preventing the spread of the virus but for individuals with hearing loss, it poses additional challenges for communication. Many people with hearing loss rely on lip reading to help them hear what others are saying. When face masks are worn, lip reading is no longer possible, so when you have hearing loss you miss more of the conversation. This is particularly stressful in situations involving one’s health, if you cannot hear properly or lip read it is difficult to answer a doctor or paramedics questions accurately, which could have very negative results.
Dora Skinner, a member of CHHA-NL’s Cochlear Implant Resource Group, shared her recent experience about having to go in an ambulance to the hospital. Dora has significant hearing loss and has been using a cochlear implant for several years to help her hearing. She is a very skilled lip reader and relies heavily on lip reading when communicating with others. While Dora was enjoying the beautiful spring weather in her garden, she developed a severe allergic reaction that required her to call for an ambulance. Once the ambulance arrived it was determined Dora would need to go to the hospital for treatment. The paramedic informed Dora’s husband that he could not come to the hospital with Dora due to the pandemic and she would have to go alone. This of course added to the stress of the situation but bot Dora and her husband.
“The situation was so very stressful with everyone wearing masks as I could not read lips”, Dora said.
When Dora arrived at St. Clare’s hospital she communicated to the staff taking care of her that she had a hearing loss and the masks made it difficult for her to hear them. The staff were quick and creative to accommodate Dora’s communication needs. All staff used a white board when communicating with Dora, writing things down so she could read it from the white board so she didn’t miss any important information. They even drew happy faces to help cheer her up. The staff’s efforts to help Dora hear and be included in what was happening helped reduce her stress and anxiety of the situation. Dora felt this turned what could have been a very negative experience into a positive one. Her doctor was also considerate of her husband who was home alone not knowing what was happening with Dora, and she made sure to call him with updates. Dora shared
” I was overwhelmed and grateful at how my Hearing Loss was Accommodated in such difficult times a few days ago, right from my door to the Ambulance and all departments involved at St. Clare’s, they were eager to help me in anyway they could. Being in isolation with everyone in masks and gowns, not being able to hear and being alone is stressful, but with such support and accommodation it helped make feel better.”
Although hearing loss poses challenges to communication, solutions can often be very simple to ensure everyone is included in the conversation. Something as simple as a white board and marker can reduce stress and anxiety for a person with hearing loss, especially in an already stressful situation. Another option that could have been used in this situation are speech to text apps on a smart device. This apps provide real time captioning of a conversation. (For more information please see our Apps for Hearing Loss Handout). Dora also shared another thing that helped her get through her hospital stay:
“A big part of how I felt resulted from my involvement with the Canadian Hard Of Hearing Association where I turned for help when I lost my hearing and found that Lip Reading Courses I did over the years was helpful even without seeing lips at this critical time. There was a lot of body expression put into helping me to understand what was happening which was a huge part of Lip Reading Courses as well.”
From Dora’s experience we can learn how important it is when you have hearing loss to communicate your hearing needs to others, and how helpful people can be to make sure you are not left out and alone. We want to send a special thank you to the medical staff at St. Clare’s hospital in St. John’s, NL and the paramedics who took care of Dora that day and made sure her hearing needs were accommodated.