by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
Question: I am going to the hospital shortly and I am worried that I won’t be able to hear, or will misunderstand, the instructions and questions of the doctors and nurses since I have quite a bad hearing loss. What can I do to make my stay in the hospital more communication friendly?
Answer: If you are like many hard of hearing people, going to the hospital is scary. Not only are you anxious about your health problems, but you are worried that you won’t hear critically important information as doctors and nurses bustle in and out of your room mumbling instructions as they fill in your chart and hurry away.
You are apprehensive about a number of other problem hearing situations too. Here are a few of them. You worry about not hearing your name being called in the waiting room. You strain to hear conversations with nurses and clerks though glass partitions and wonder if you got it right. The nurse’s response over the intercom when you press your call button is just so much gibberish. You totally miss instructions whispered to you in the dark by the night-shift nurse. Try as you might, you cannot understand comments and instructions uttered by masked doctors and nurses. No wonder you feel scared, cut off and alone at times.
Here’s the Solution
The good news is that it does not have to be this way. The secret is to be prepared ahead of time for your stay in the hospital. If you are hard of hearing and going into the hospital for treatment, you can make things much easier for yourself if everyone you come in contact with knows two things: 1) that you are hard of hearing, and 2) how best to communicate with you.
People aren’t going to know this unless you are proactive and tell them. Go prepared with a few things that will help hospital staff remember you are hard of hearing, and have instructions on how they can meet your unique communications needs.
One of the “tools” you should have on hand before you go into the hospital is a “Hospital Communications Kit.” You can make one up yourself, but why go to all that bother when such kits are readily available at nominal cost from a couple of enterprising Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) chapters. These easy-to-use, low-cost kits help ensure that even though you have a hearing loss, you will still be able to effectively communicate with doctors, nurses and hospital staff.
Here are two good hospital communications kits.
Hospital Kit 1: HLAA San Antonio, TX
The San Antonio, TX chapter of the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) makes Hospital Kits for the very reasonable price of only $3.00, plus postage (which typically is about $1.85 for first class postage). Each hospital kit contains:
(Note: the paragraph numbers correspond to the numbers in the yellow dots in the accompanying pictures.)
1. Large Zip-lock Plastic Bag (9” x 12”). Holds the complete hospital kit.
2. Instruction sheet (pink) Gives the contents of the hospital kit and what each is for.
3. “Be Prepared—So You and Your Hearing Loss are Going to the Hospital!” brochure. Read this brochure now—so you’ll be prepared well before any planned hospitalization or emergency. This brochure sure packs a lot of information into a small space. It covers such topics as “Items to ask for” in the hospital; “Items to take” with you to the hospital; “Tips and questions to ask before your hospitalization”; “Steps to use in the waiting room”; “Your rights as a hard of hearing patient”; and “Suggestions to reduce communication difficulties in emergency situations.”
4. “I am Hard of Hearing!” placard with International Hard of Hearing Symbol. (yellow) On the one side it says “I am hard of hearing, please: Get my attention, Face me, and Speak a little slower.” On the other side it says, “I am deaf, please Get my attention; Face me, and Write or sign to me.” Place this on the wall over your bed with the appropriate side facing out.
5. Needs Picture Card. (grey) This double-sided card has 19 different pictures showing some common needs you can point to if you have communication problems, or are unable to speak (you may temporarily have a tube down your throat, for example). They include pictures of needs such as doctor, cold, hot, hungry, pain, bathroom, thirsty, etc.
6. Hearing Loss Stickers. (4, small blue) Shows the international symbol for hearing loss. Put one on your hospital ID bracelet. Ask staff to put them on your charts, and on the intercom button at the nurse’s station as a reminder that you cannot understand or hear over the intercom.
7. “Please Face Me” Button. Pin on gown or pillow as a reminder that you need to see peoples’ faces in order to speechread them.
8. “Tips for Communicating with Hard of Hearing People” Card. (2, green) Includes the common tips we need in order to hear such as get our attention, face me, avoid noisy background, light, etc. Give them to doctors, nurses, hospital staff, visitors, etc. so they know how to communicate with you.
9. Hearing Loss ID Cards. (2, green) Tells whether you wear hearing aids or cochlear implants, or sign, etc. and has a few other communication tips. Keep one in your wallet with your ID, and give the other to your closest care-giver.
10. Writing Pad (5” x 7” yellow) and Pen. For writing messages as needed when you can’t understand a person.
11. Small Zip-lock Plastic Bag. (4” x 6” with small green instruction sheet) For temporarily storing your hearing aids/cochlear implants. Comes with label to fill in with your name and room number. If your hearing aids/CIs must be removed prior to surgery, X-rays, etc., the bag should be securely attached to an easily accessible place, e.g. chart, gown, etc.
To order this hospital kit, email San Antonio HLAA’s Barbara Hunter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hospital Kit 2 : Lane County Oregon Chapter of HLAA
The Lane County, Oregon, Hearing Loss Association of America chapter took a different approach to hospital kits. Instead of making up hospital kits for you to purchase, they have developed a number of tip sheets and signs that you can print off yourself to make up your own hospital kit.
If you print them on colored paper, you’ll have an eye-catching set of hearing loss information for use in the hospital. In addition to the “Hospital Kit Contents and Instruction Sheet”, this kit includes:
1. Tip Sheet of things to do before you go to the hospital. This double-sided triple-folded brochure covers topics such as “Planning and Preparing for your Hospital Stay”, “Tips and Questions to Ask Before your Hospitalization”, “Steps to Use in the Waiting Room”, “Other Items to Take”, “Your Rights as a Hard of Hearing Patient are the Same as Any Other Patient” and “Suggestions to Reduce Communication Difficulties in Emergency Situations”.
2. Hearing Loss ID Card. Each sheet contains 6 copies of this double-sided ID Card. On one side it lists 9 check-boxed items under the heading of “How to Help Our Communication”. You check off the items that apply to you. On the reverse side, you give the settings for each ear for your hearing aids or cochlear implants. Also, at the bottom, it contains a couple of blanks for filling in other assistive devices you’ll need, and your preferred way to be awakened.
3. Spotlight on Doctors and Dentists. This 1-page brochure contains instructions for your doctor (top half of page) and your dentist (bottom half of page). Cut the page in half and give them to your doctors and dentist.
4. “Face Me” Badge. A double-sided sheet with 8 copies of this badge. One side reads “Hard of Hearing—Please Face Me” and the other side says, “Hearing Loss—Please Face Me” and contains the medical symbol and the hearing loss symbol in color above the words.
5. “I Am Hard of Hearing” sign. Print this out on yellow paper and place/hang it in obvious places to catch the eye of medical personnel. At the bottom you can fill in your specific personal needs.
6. Hearing Loss Stickers. There are two different pages, each containing 30 (or 60) hard of hearing stickers. Print these out on blank 3-up by 10 row peelable sticker sheets. The first sheet is black and white and shows the international symbol for hearing loss and a box with “Hard of Hearing” in it. The second sheet shows the international symbol for hearing loss in blue. There are 2 symbols per sticker so cut them apart and you get 60 stickers per sheet. You can put one on your hospital ID bracelet. Ask staff to put them on your charts, and on the intercom button at the nurse’s station as a reminder that you cannot understand or hear over the intercom.
7. Hearing Aid/Cochlear Implant Information Card. Print on green paper and it provides 2 copies of the settings for your hearing aids. Fill in the blanks with the settings for your hearing aids/cochlear implants so others can correctly set them for you if necessary. Contains the same information as is on the back side of the “Hearing Loss ID Card” (2 above).
8. “Tips for Communicating with People with Hearing Loss” Sign. Single sided sign—print in pink and hang in a conspicuous place. It includes the common tips we need in order to hear such as get our attention, face me, avoid noisy background, light, etc.
9. “Tips for Communicating with People with Hearing Loss” Cards. Each sheet contains 6 “Communication Tips” cards with essentially the same information as the “Communication Tips Sign” (8 above). Hand them out to staff as a friendly reminder of your communication needs.
To access the Lane County, Oregon HLAA Chapter website, go to http://hearinglosslane.org/how-to-make-your-own-hospital-kit/.
Swedish Hospital in Seattle
In addition to the hospital kits above, Swedish Hospital in Seattle, WA in conjunction with the Washington State HLAA Association has also created a number of attractive, colored signs you can download and print out.
To access these signs, go to http://www.swedish.org/patient-visitor-info/accessibility/printable-communication-aids and click on the title of the signs you want to print out.
Dear Doctor/Dear Nurse Letter
In addition to taking a hospital kit or two with you to the hospital, print off a number of copies of the 2-page Dear Doctor/Dear Nurse letter and give signed, personalized copies to the doctors and nurses with whom you come in contact during your stay in the hospital. This letter lists a number of hospital-specific communication tips that will help make your stay in the hospital less stressful.
Here is a free eye-catching sign for over your hospital bed that says, “I am Hard of Hearing” below a large blue broken ear symbol (see picture at right). It is a full letter-sized page in PDF format. Click here to download your own Hard-of-Hearing Symbol card ready to print out.
Safeguarding Your Hearing Aids
In addition to your hospital kit(s), you should take a rigid, small, clear plastic container with you for storing your hearing aids or cochlear implant processor in and leave it on your bed-table. Label this container with your name, room number and international hard of hearing symbol. A rigid container is a better option than using the small plastic bag supplied in the above hospital kits. (For example, it reduces the chance of damage to your hearing aids if it gets dropped, and because it is bigger, it is harder to lose or accidentally get thrown out.) Having your hearing aids thrown out is no joke. The truth is, hearing aids are quite frequently lost in hospitals. Very often this is because they are wrapped in a tissue by the patient and placed on the bed-table, and then are accidentally thrown in the trash by hospital staff. So whenever you take your hearing aids off, put them in your plastic container right away so they’ll be safe.
Now that you are so much better equipped for your next stay at the hospital, rest easy. You don’t have to worry any more about how you will cope. You are prepared!