Airport Workers – Please Stop Shouting

Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

A friend of mine recently told me a story about how her elderly grandmother, who is in her eighties, had travelled to Spain. It was only the grandmother’s second trip ever, travelling abroad. 

My friend, her mother, and the grandmother were all travelling together and the grandmother was briefed about what to expect at the airport. Whilst packing, my friend and her mum had distributed their clothes and toiletries between the three combined items of hand-luggage. They explained to the grandmother that, although they had done the packing for her, should she be asked by a security worker whether she had packed her own bag, to confirm that she had. The purpose of this question, they assured her, was intended for crimes considerably more sinister than sharing luggage space.

They all arrived at the UK terminal and the grandmother was enjoying seeing the sights and the activity of the airport. When they reached the security gates, my friend’s mother was separated from the group when she was directed towards another conveyor belt. My friend stayed with her grandmother. They had another discussion about restricted items and the importance of declaring any liquids in hand luggage, and then both sorted their belongings into trays, which they placed onto the conveyor belt to be scanned.

The grandmother’s bag was selected for further inspection, due to a suspicious item which had been detected by the scanner. (Spoiler alert: it turns out she had packed some face cream in her bag, not thinking this would be classed as a liquid.)

The grandmother, who finds verbal communication difficult without her hearing aids (which she had innocently taken off to go through the scanner) was asked the question, as predicted. The security worker spoke in a loud voice, with over-accentuated arm gestures, and although the grandmother was able to understand what was being said, she became nervous. Instead of simply answering “yes”, to establish that she had packed her own bag, she blurted out, “Well …no! … I mean they were putting all sorts of things in my bag!”

My friend burst into laughter! The poor grandmother had felt so nervous at the sight of the security officer waving her arms around, that she hadn’t been able to tell this little white lie.

The story prompted me to think about how stressful airports can be. I have lived and travelled in Europe and Southeast Asia, and have experienced many airports. Yet, I find airports in the UK to be some of the most stressful.

The main reason I find UK airports particularly stressful is because the customary code of behaviour for a large number of airport staff, seems to be shouting at travellers, often whilst herding them like livestock through the various elements of the airport procedures. The shouting of orders from airport workers increases my stress levels. This stress often makes me feel irrationally guilty and I sometimes even doubt my own credibility. Maybe I am carrying a sharp object. Maybe a bottle of water has somehow made its way into my hand luggage. Even with full hearing, this used to make me feel stressed. Now, with hearing loss and a sensitivity to sounds, the shouting seems louder, more uncomfortable. 

Due to the lack of sound-absorptive soft furnishings in airports, I am frequently unable to understand what people are saying, as loud voices overlap each other, and the sound becomes distorted. I am a native English speaker and I feel stressed in this situation. Surely for other travellers, such as those whose first language isn’t English, this is also a cause of stress? Imagine being in an airport situation where staff members are shouting things you don’t understand.

During a recent airport experience, I was waiting in the queue at the security gate. I had already removed my boots and was holding my scarf and coat in my hands, ready to place in a tray to be scanned. As I approached the security conveyor belt, the shouting began:

FADE IN:

INT.  UK AIRPORT, SECURITY GATE – EARLY AFTERNOON

SECURITY WORKER shouts something at ME, which I am unable to decipher. 

I look at SECURITY WORKER with confusion, but am now focusing my attention on her – ready to listen to whatever she yells next.

SECURITY WORKER
(Impatient tone)
Do you have any liquids?

Me
No.

I put my head down as I begin to arrange my belongings into different trays.

SECURITY WORKER shouts something at ME, which I am unable to decipher. 

I look at SECURITY WORKER again with confusion.

ME
I’m sorry, I’m hard of hearing.

SECURITY WORKER
 (Shouting, with accentuated lip movements)
Are you carrying any makeup?!

ME
(Using a quiet voice, in an attempt to gently coax her volume level down a few notches)
No.

I put my head down and continue to arrange my belongings into different trays.

SECURITY WORKER shouts something again at ME, which I am again unable to decipher. 

I Look at SECURITY WORKER again. 

SECURITY WORKER
(Shouting)
Are you carrying any hand sanitizer?! Toothpaste?!

My belongings are neatly arranged into three separate trays. I look down as though I am giving this question some consideration.

ME
No.

I put my head down so as to not have to engage in any more questioning. 

SECURITY WORKER
(Shouting)
 Do you have any lighter fluid in your coat pocket?!

I look at SECURITY WORKER again. OK, I heard her this time, but I have had enough, and feign mishearing. 

At this moment a more perceptive security worker behind me taps me on the shoulder and directs me towards the body scanner, bypassing further interrogation.

I walk through the body scanner and the inquisition continues behind me.

ANOTHER SECURITY WORKER
(Distant shouting)
Are you carrying a hairdryer, toaster, microwave?! 

FADE OUT.

At the airport, I feel lucky to have some degree of hearing ability. Though not a simple task, I can generally navigate the system calmly and without needing to mention my hearing loss. 

The one time that I did request special assistance, was when travelling with my boyfriend. This was more for research purposes than necessity. I was intrigued to see what type of support would be provided, and thought that perhaps this could be a good option for me when travelling alone. When booking my flight, I informed the airline of my hearing loss. Upon our arrival in Spain, we were met at the door of the plane by an airport assistant, with a wheelchair. He checked my name on a list on his tablet, and after witnessing me walk out of the plane unaided, asked me whether I needed wheelchair assistance. I was tempted to sit in the chair and get him to wheel me as fast as he could out of there. Instead, I signed my name in an electronic document, and his job was done. 

I am aware that some airports now have a lanyard system to alert airport staff that the wearer has a hidden disability. It is not necessary for the wearer to formally declare their disability, and the airport staff can easily identify travellers that may require some extra help or attention. I haven’t yet used one of these lanyards, but think it is a great idea. And, for making airports more widely accessible, it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

But, my request to all airport staff, especially those who work in the security belt area, is simple: Please Stop Shouting. It can cause a lot of stress, especially for people with hearing loss, and isn’t helpful in aiding our understanding. Try speaking clearly and calmly instead. I understand you have an important job to do, and that you are probably tired, patience-drained, and may have been treated with disrespect by some members of the public. But, surely everyone, on first encounter, (whether they are wearing a lanyard or not) deserves to be treated gently and with respect.

 

This article was recently featured on The Limping Chicken – the world’s most popular deaf blog! 

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Hearing Me – A Documentary for the BBC World Service – Now Available to Listen to!

BBC World Service

It’s been two and a half years since I suddenly lost the hearing in my left ear, and today I am celebrating all I’ve achieved since my hearing loss.  Thanks to the BBC World Service, I am very happy to share this glimpse into my life without full sound.

Hearing Me is now live to listen to! Please note, a transcript is also available through the same link – just scroll down the page to download:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3csynqv

Another big thank you to Chelsea Dickenson (Audio Always) who spent 4 days following me around Madrid with a microphone, and who showed me just how much energy and attention goes into making a radio documentary.

Please take a few minutes to listen and share. Thank you 🙂

 

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Please help to fuel my writing by buying me a cup of tea 🙂

$5.00

Hearing Me – A Documentary for the BBC World Service

BBC World Service

Something exciting happened last month!

I was involved in making a radio documentary for the BBC World Service, which describes some of my experiences of living with hearing loss and tinnitus, and also reminds us not to take our hearing for granted.

I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to take part in this, and to be able to share my story.

Hearing Me, is now up on the BBC World Service’s schedule: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3csynqv

The documentary will be played several times so that people in different time zones can listen to it. You can find these by clicking ‘more’ below the programme information.

Afterwards, it will be available online through the same link as above, and it will also be part of their ‘The Documentary’ podcast series: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02nq0lx/episodes/downloads

Please note there will a transcript to enable listeners to follow the dialogue.

A huge thank you to Chelsea Dickenson and Audio Always for creating such a personal and creative piece, I absolutely love it, and hope my readers/listeners (!) all do too!

Waking Up: My Septoplasty Story – Part 2

I awoke from a deep satisfying sleep with my first memory being a blurry vision of my boyfriend. Well, it was rather the shape of my boyfriend in a burgundy haze; the colour of the top he was wearing. I was moving past him in my bed. Bleary-eyed, I blew him a kiss. He followed me into a recovery room. The room was brightly lit, and my eyes slowly started to focus. I excitedly told my boyfriend that I had been dreaming. I was so hungry and my throat was sore. I recollect eagerly telling the nurse that I was hungry and that although I didn’t eat meat or egg; that fish was okay. Maybe this was only a thought? My boyfriend told me later that he spent quite some time asking me whether I wanted to keep my mobile phone with me whilst staying in hospital overnight. I couldn’t make the decision. This scene is a confused dream rather than a memory to me. I saw the nurse gesturing with her arm and saying, “Adios”; requesting my boyfriend to leave. He gave me a kiss. He told me that my nose was bandaged, but that I looked okay.

Shortly, I was feeling more awake. There had been only one other patient in the room when I had arrived, and they had since been wheeled away. Now there was just me, in a space large enough for 5 more beds. There was a finger clip attached to my left index finger, which I believe measured the oxygen in my blood. Adhered to my chest in a seemingly random pattern, were circular stickers with electrodes to monitor my heart; these were attached to a machine situated behind my bed. Wrapped around my right arm was a blood pressure cuff which every hour, on the hour, inflated and took my readings. I was intravenously being administered, a steady supply of saline solution, antibiotics and painkillers. I was extremely well monitored.

There were numerous nurses that came to visit me and to check my vital signs. One of the nurses, evidently meaning well, spoke directly into my deaf ear; her lips pressed against it, with the intention of aiding my hearing. She must have been informed of my hearing loss beforehand, although evidently she hadn’t been briefed on which particular ear was affected. I didn’t have the energy or the emotional resolve to tell her that her efforts were being wasted on this ear. Later, after I guess a lack of adequate response on my part, she realised she was speaking into the wrong ear, and for the rest of the time she replicated her close-talking technique, into my hearing ear. I appreciated her committed determination to help me understand the proceedings. The dark green bed sheets were straightened by two other nurses, and within less than an hour of waking up, I was happily straining my eyes to read a magazine. I didn’t want to go back to sleep yet. I already felt like I’d had a period of concentrated rest, albeit brief. I wanted to be conscious. I didn’t like the idea of being unaware of the activity around me.

I asked the close-talking nurse if I could go to the toilet; assuming she would hook my IV bottles onto the moveable pole, so I could wheel it behind me as I walked. Unfortunately, I was mistaken. The nurse collected something from a small cupboard and then returned to my bed with the object in question. It was a bedpan made of thick paper material. She lifted up the dark green sheets and placed my paper throne in position and then walked away. Well, after a few minutes I concluded that there was no way my body was going to allow this to happen. Maybe it was a result of the anaesthetic. Maybe it was simply due to the fact that I hadn’t consumed any liquid all day. Or maybe, and most probably, it was because my body was in a state of stubborn shock. The toilet was only a few steps away from my bed – Why couldn’t I attempt to go there? I was lying down – Surely I couldn’t pee whilst lying down!? The nurse took the bedpan away after quite some time, without much comment.

That night was a restless one with mere fragments of disturbed sleep. My nose was packed with gauze-covered cotton, and there was a pad of gauze taped underneath my nostrils to soak up any blood. I also had gauze and tape wrapping around the outside of my nose. I could only breathe through my mouth. I was thirsty, yet I was only allowed a few sips of water that night before the lights were turned down. I guess this, and the introduction of the paper throne, was part of the aftercare procedure for patients following anaesthesia. I had to sleep propped up at an angle to allow the warm trickle of blood from my nose to drain into the gauze. There was a clock on the wall to the left of me, and I lay watching the movement of the hands. I slept for what seemed like half an hour, yet after observing the clock, I realized only a couple of minutes had passed. Time was behaving strangely. I guess this was a consequence of the anaesthetic or the drugs I’d been given. There was a young male nurse who checked on me every hour during the night; each time making a note of my vitals. With each check, he asked if I needed anything and if I was okay. Between his checks, I realized he was asleep in a chair around the corner from my bed. Early in the morning, he asked me if I wanted to try and pee again. I agreed. I hoped this time I would be allowed to use the facilities. But to no avail. He was soon sliding my paper throne into place. I waited and waited, urging my body to allow this unfamiliar process to happen. And then finally it did! The nurse seemed very happy with my achievement and exclaimed “Muy bien”! I had the impression that this had been a prerequisite task to be accomplished before my release. I breathed a befitting sigh of relief.

Roses are Red: My Septoplasty Story – Part 1

We were waiting in a room full of voices and echoes and were discussing how to pronounce the word for ‘surgery’ in Spanish. There was a constant movement of people in and out, and around the room. Some would walk into the room wearing orange visitor stickers. Some were carrying a single red rose wrapped in a clear sleeve. It was Valentine’s Day, and the day of my operation to correct my deviated septum; to straighten it, to allow better airflow through my nose.

I was sitting with my boyfriend in the off-white-coloured waiting room. Around the perimeter of the room were rows of chairs, with metal frames and hard wooden backs that curved slightly into the seat. In the middle of the room were two more rows of the same chairs; back-to-back. There was a dropped ceiling with suspended ceiling tiles; the Styrofoam type that are often found in offices or classrooms. Some of the tiles were discoloured or stained with the light-brown outline of irregular shapes, and were interspersed with rectangular light panels. The walls were bare apart from two Van Gogh framed prints: his Sunflowers and a painting of some wheat fields. It was difficult to judge the time of day as there was only one window, allowing a small amount of natural light to enter the room. I sat, looking around the room and watching the movement of people. There were people here of all ages. I scanned the room observing their faces. Like a detective, I assessed every person in the room. Were they wearing makeup? Jewellery? Nail polish? These were things I was told to strip my body before the operation. Were they wearing comfortable, loose-fitting clothing? I was evaluating who was here for an operation and who was simply visiting a relative or friend. There was a small door off from the waiting room to the left of where we were sitting. Some people walked straight through this door, with confidence and without the need for permission. Others had their name called by a nurse before entering. Some people came and went. Some went through the door without returning. Everyone seemed to be here for a different purpose. Every time the door opened, a sharp unsettled feeling attacked deep down in my stomach. Was it going to be a nurse calling my name? The waiting was arduous. After about 3 hours had passed we started to doubt whether we were in the right place. My boyfriend went to check; back to the original reception desk, we’d passed through before entering into the room. My appointment was for 4:30pm. It was now after 7:00pm. We were playing the game again. We were in a Spanish hospital with no idea of the procedure for having an operation here. This was new territory for us. The receptionist confirmed we were in the right place, and that they were behind schedule.

When my name was finally called it was around 8pm, and the waiting room was almost empty. I was hungry and tired, from fasting since an early breakfast. My boyfriend and I walked through the door into a corridor that opened out onto a ward. In a small changing room I dressed in a hospital gown. On my feet, I put elasticated blue foot covers that looked like delicate elf shoes. I completed my outfit by tucking my hair into a blue hair net; an action that reminded me of a short period of time spent working in factories, many years ago. We put my clothes in a locker, and retrieved the key: number 1. Then we went to wait in another room in which there were about 6 beds. I sat in a chair next to a hospital bed with dark green sheets. This seemed to be a recovery room. There were patients leaving the room after being given their hospital notes and Ziploc bags filled with medication. Some patients were in beds, with a relative beside them; waiting for them to feel well enough to return home. We waited here a while longer. I started to feel nervous.

Shortly, I was asked to get into the bed with the dark green sheets. I was wheeled through the hospital, into the lift, and then through some corridors. I was aware of my boyfriend changing position, moving from behind the bed, then to my side; endeavouring to keep up with the fast-moving trolley. The two nurses who were controlling the bed looked tired and had sour faces. At an intersection of corridors one of the nurses mumbled something hurriedly in Spanish. She was telling my boyfriend to give me a kiss and to wait “over there”. The two nurses hardly slowed the motion of the bed, and I could see my boyfriend was still processing what they had said. I told him to kiss me, and as he swiftly moved towards me, I observed his confused face in the moment of our separation.

I was on my own now. I was wheeled to a corridor where I was left without comment from the two tired nurses, for what I guess was about half an hour. I lay in the bed with my good ear facing the wall. I could hear people; I think they were behind me down the corridor. They were the voices of women speaking in quick passionate tones. They didn’t sound happy. Someone was shushing them continuously. During my wait, a few people came to talk to me and to read my medical notes. They all asked me similar questions: Where was I from? How should they pronounce my name? Do I have any allergies? All this was conducted in Spanish. I was happy to talk to people as they came to my bed. Talking was a distraction. During this time I was told that I would have to stay in hospital overnight, as it was now late, and there wouldn’t be time for me to recover from the anaesthetic. One of the members of staff asked me if I was warm enough. I told her that my feet were cold, and she folded a blanket, placing it over them. The anaesthetist also introduced himself. I think he said his name was Pablo. He was handsome and had a kind face.

Without warning my bed began to move backwards. As the bed reached a doorway, the trolley was turned around and I was facing one of the tired nurses from earlier. I was going into the operating theatre. I remember the colour green. I made an effort not to observe the room too much. The kind nurse, who earlier had asked me if I was cold, came to speak to me. She questioned me as to whether I had noticed the feeling of warmth on my feet. She had positioned a heat lamp over them, and I thanked her. The anaesthetist was situated on my deaf side, and he was kneeling down, talking to me whilst holding my hand. Simultaneously he was using his other hand to pat my arm; trying to find a vein. I smiled as he talked. I couldn’t hear him. After a moment I told him I was deaf in my left ear, and he told me he would talk louder. He said jokingly that he would try to make the sound of his voice bounce off the wall opposite, and then back to reach my good ear. The cannula was inserted with a quick sharp sting, and the anaesthetist asked me to breathe some air from a mask made of thick black rubber. I breathed in the air, and then breathed in some more…

Specialist Appointment Part 2: Ear Bubbles, a Blocked Nose… and a Plan

…The specialist only briefly addressed my noise sensitivity. It had been my understanding from my previous appointment, with the previous specialist, that the reason for me meeting with this particular Ears Nose and Throat (ENT) doctor, was to receive some sound therapy. This therapy would help retrain the auditory processing centre of my brain to accept everyday sounds. Instead of therapy, I was given a suggestion of a procedure I could perform by myself. The advice I was given during this consultation was to subject my hearing ear to noise or music, at a volume level which I found too loud, for a period of 20 minutes. I was to do this 3 times a day. I was given the example of listening to nature sounds on my headphones, whilst keeping the volume as loud as I could possibly bear it. The ENT specialist told me that eventually, I would be able to turn the volume up to higher levels. He told me that there were special hearing centres I could go to, but these would cost money, and it was customary and also effective for patients to carry out this treatment themselves. I found it curious that in the same appointment in which I had been told to avoid loud noises in order to protect my only hearing ear, I was also told to subject the same ear to noise that would cause me discomfort.

After feeling yet a little more deflated on realizing the only therapy or support this specialist was going to offer me, was the small piece of advice he’d just given me, and not a series of therapy sessions, which I had been hoping for, I started to hastily ask my friend to enquire about a few more issues; as the feeling of outstaying our allotted time started to encroach upon us.

I asked my friend, who had accompanied me to help with translation, to question the specialist about the operation I had been told about months ago, which would straighten my nasal septum, in order to help me breathe more easily. The specialist had no visible response to this enquiry, and he continued scribbling notes into my medical history booklet. With perseverance, intent on maximizing my time with the consultant, I asked my friend to mention the feeling of pressure I have in my ears, and about my bouts of dizziness, and to ask if there was anything I could do to relieve these symptoms. Without raising his head to acknowledge us, he pointed to an examination chair across the room from where we were sitting, and he mumbled something inaudible. I obediently went and sat in the chair. I had sat in this chair before. I hoped that I wasn’t going to have the customary experience of having a viewing tube inserted into my nose, for the third time. The specialist put on a head mirror and some surgical gloves, and then he reached for an examination tool. This tool appeared less sophisticated than the viewing tube. The tool resembled a pair of metal pliers; with thinner handles, and two hooked jaws. He inserted the contraption into my nose, with both of the metal hooks sliding into each nostril respectively. He swiftly and forcefully lifted the handles of the device upwards at an angle, to view inside my nose; examining the structure of my septum. He said that my nostril was completely blocked on the left side, due to the deviation of my septum. I already knew this. I have been unable to breathe through my left nostril for as long as I can remember. I had also had this same discussion, two times previously, in this same room, with two other former specialists. This information was in my medical notes, in the booklet that was sitting on the desk in this same room.

Then, without further explanation, I was asked to leave to room. I was instructed to go, for perhaps my fifth visit over the past year or so, to have a tympanometry test. A tympanometry test is often used to assess the function of the middle ear. The results of tympanometry are represented on a graph called a tympanogram. This is a graphic representation of the relationship between the air pressure in the ear canal and the movement of the eardrum, and the tiny bones in the air-filled middle ear space. When the eardrum is disturbed by a sound, part of the sound is absorbed and sent through the middle ear while the other part of the sound is reflected. The information derived from tympanometry provides information regarding middle ear function, especially Eustachian tube function.

The nurse who carried out the test was a nurse I was familiar with. She was friendly and jolly and seemed intent on carefully explaining everything to me. In the interest of respecting her, much appreciated, caring nature, I acted as though I was unfamiliar with the procedure. She kindly explained the process to me, through my friend; my translator. An ear probe was promptly placed, first into my hearing ear, and then into my deaf ear, to test the responses. As the probe in my hearing ear caused the air pressure in my ear canal to change, I heard some low-pitched tones. When my deaf ear was tested, it remained silent, with only the sound of tinnitus prevailing. While the pressure was changing, measurements of my eardrum’s movement were being taken and recorded. The test was over in a few minutes. When the nurse examined my results, she scrunched her face into a painful expression. She asked me if I have the constant feeling of being in an aeroplane. Yes! I have an unceasing pressure in my left ear, and though not as pronounced, in my right ear too. It is the feeling of pressure, comparable to being in an aeroplane and not being able to pop my ears. I also have the occasional sound of little bubbles similar to those in the foam made by bubble bath, or bubbles in fizzy drinks travelling to the surface, escaping into the air with a crackling sound. These sensations are sometimes accompanied by sharp deep and momentary pain. Yes! This pressure is causing me constant discomfort and is more difficult to manage than my actual hearing loss. Yes! This pressure I feel is what I’ve told every specialist about. Yes! This wonderful nurse had immediately identified this as a significant source of discomfort and was showing empathy towards my situation. She was the first person in over a year of consultations, to not just read my results and identify a problem, but to actually show some understanding of the unpleasantness I was experiencing.

I returned to the consultation room and showed the doctor my tympanogram. After regarding it for a moment, he told me with confidence that the reason I have the feeling of pressure in my ears is because I can’t breathe properly. This is not what I’d been told before. I had been told that there could possibly be a link between my inability to breathe effectively through my left nostril, and my ear pressure. I had believed that the pressure was a consequence of my hearing loss. The onset of the feeling of pressure had, after all, coincided exactly with the moment I lost my hearing. I told him that it had not been communicated previously to me that the issues with my nose were the certain cause of the discomfort in my ears. He repeated with a vehement assurance that the pressure in my ears was a direct result of my difficulty breathing. This was something new to me.

The specialist then questioned me about my sleeping habits. I told him how I have struggled to sleep, to the best of my recollection, for most of my adult life. I told him how I find it difficult to fall asleep, due to problems breathing. I told him how my brain seems to wake me up just as the rest of my body feels like it’s going to sleep. I told him that I am only able to sleep effectively whilst lying on my left side. If I sleep on my right side; the side of my functioning airway, the nostril closes up which means I can’t breathe at all through my nose. He told me that I needed the septoplasty. This operation would straighten my septum, allowing for better airflow through my nose.

There are long term effects of a deviated septum. In my case, having a deviated septum has meant that not only have I had many sinus infections, but I also often get throat infections; as I regularly breathe through my mouth. The blocked nasal breathing due to septal deviation also has a negative effect on the Eustachian tube, which means drainage from the nose is not efficient. If what the specialist was saying was correct, having the operation could lead to better tubal drainage from my nose, and as a result, this could relieve some of the pressure I am feeling in my ears.

My hope for this operation is that it will help me feel more comfortable whilst sleeping at night, as I will be able to breathe through both nostrils. After some time I should start breathing through my nose more during the night, and therefore shouldn’t wake up as much; as a result of having a dry mouth, or as a response to my body warning me that I am not managing to get enough oxygen into my lungs. In consequence, I hope I will also feel more refreshed when I wake up. My most cautious hope, however, is for an eventual reduction in the pressure I am feeling in my ears.

And so, after over a year of rapid changes of emotion, I am once again feeling hopeful…

Another Consultation With Another Specialist – Part 1: Distractions

The first thing he said to me was that I would never get my hearing back. There was no greeting. In fact, he didn’t even lift up his head to look at me, as he spoke these opening words.

I was in the hospital again for a consultation with another specialist. My usual Ears Nose and Throat doctor (ENT) had gone to study in England, and so I was again preparing myself to tell my story to a stranger.

Prior to meeting this new specialist, I had carried out some hearing tests. The first test, as always, was a pure tone test, which tests the ability to hear a number of different tones (beeps), using a pair of soundproof headphones. Next was the usual bone conduction test which measures the ability to hear tones, by placing a small bone conductor behind the ear. Normally, these are the two tests I undertake before speaking to a specialist. This time, however, I had been asked to carry out an additional assessment: a speech recognition test. This test is similar to the pure tone one, but instead of listening to different tones, the patient listens to words spoken at different volumes, which they are then asked to repeat. The speech reception threshold shows how well the individual hears and understands ordinary conversation. I had carried out this test before when I had consulted with the specialist in London. That test had been conducted in English; this time, however, I would be doing it in Spanish. When I completed the test in my mother tongue, I found that even if I couldn’t clearly hear the whole word, I could guess what the word was; based on the associated tones I could hear, and my knowledge of the English language. This time I was obviously at a disadvantage. I am not fluent in Spanish, and this felt more like a language test than a hearing one. The audiologist assured me that the words would only be two syllables and would be very basic.

Well, the test started off OK, with me repeating a few simple words being played into my good ear. Then things got more difficult. I found I was concentrating so hard on listening to the two syllables of each word that I either ended up missing the start of the word or the end of it. And, as asking the audiologist to replay the word wasn’t an option, I ended up just saying the one syllable that I knew I had heard. This carried on with me grimacing at every non-word I was saying. Then the audiologist turned up the volume and I was in immediate pain. I looked through the glass screen at her and pulled a distressed face. She spoke into her microphone and asked if it was too loud. I told her it was, and she said she would turn the volume down. She assured me she had done this, yet I continued in pain, with the distressed look on my face, as she continued to play more words at me. I was relieved when the test was over, and when she came into the booth where I was sitting to change the headphones over, in order to test my deaf ear. I then sat patiently whilst the test was carried out on my deaf ear; aware that the audiologist was on the other side of the screen, busy playing Spanish words into my deaf ear, yet unable to hear them. Some minutes went by, and then she played the words really loud into my deaf ear. I was again in discomfort, yet she didn’t turn down the volume. The noise was distorted, yet I was able to attempt to vocalize some of the sounds. Then the test was over, and I was asked to wait outside.

Over 3 hours later I was called into a consultation room to speak to the new specialist. The head-teacher of the school I work in had kindly suggested my Spanish friend accompany me for this consultation, to help with translation. I had been told that this new specialist would be giving me some therapy to help me cope with my sensitivity to sound. I had also been told that this new specialist didn’t speak any English. I knew I had an adequate level of Spanish to be able to understand the main points of discussion. I would, however, find it difficult to describe any sensations associated with different volume levels or types of sound.

Well, thank goodness my Spanish speaking friend was with me. The specialist mumbled his way through the entire consultation. He barely even moved his lips as he spoke! As someone with a hearing loss, it is very difficult for me to understand someone if they do not speak clearly. Even my hearing friend who speaks Spanish had to move closer to hear what he was saying, and also asked him to repeat himself on more than one occasion. As someone with hearing loss, I also find it difficult to hear speech if there is any background noise. And, a few minutes into the appointment, the distractions commenced.

We were sitting in a small square consultation room, and at the far end of the room was an open doorway which led to a corridor where staff were busily chatting and walking from room to room. In addition to the almost inaudible muffled tones being uttered by the specialist, the added distraction of the staff in the corridor further hindered my ability to follow what the specialist was saying. Then two people entered the small consultation room. One of the people was a young-looking guy wearing a white lab coat. He proceeded to the sink on the right-hand side of the room. He turned the tap on and started to do something which sounded like it involved a scrubbing brush... Chat chat chat, clomp clomp clomp, swoosh swoosh swoosh, brush brush brush… mumble mumble mumble…The brushing and the sound of water flowing rapidly into the sink, mixed together with the corridor noise, forcing the specialist’s mumbling to grow more distant. The other person who had entered the room was a female nurse, who proceeded to the left-hand side of the desk where we were sitting. She started flicking through a stack of patient’s files; pulling them out of slots of a metal trolley, and flicking some more… chat chat chat, clomp clomp clomp, swoosh swoosh swoosh, brush brush bush, flick flick flick… mumble mumble mumble… the specialist’s indistinct tones were drowning in background noise. At one point he even had a piece of paper covering his mouth, which meant that I wasn’t even able to observe any slight movement of his lips to gain some clue as to what he was saying. What if I was a lip-reader?! I imagined a page from a puzzle book; the kind where there is a line drawing where you have to circle what’s wrong with the picture.  Well, if the aim of the puzzle was to highlight the aspects of this scenario that were making it a difficult environment for communication for someone with hearing loss, I’d be circling almost everything on the page.

I watched as the specialist quickly scanned the A4 booklet of notes that had been written about me, by his predecessors. I took a breath and focused on staying patient and prepared myself for the usual inquiries that would force me to relive the difficulties the past year had brought. Predictably I was soon asked the standard questions. When did it happen? Was it sudden? Have you tried a hearing aid? He told me that my right ear was functioning well. I assume he must have discounted the results of my speech recognition test, to come to this conclusion. He told me that the most important thing was to look after my right, only-functioning ear. He advised me on my diet. Since losing my hearing I have had various doctors and specialists suggest many things that I should not be eating or doing, in order to protect my remaining hearing. This time the list included, amongst many other things; no alcohol and no caffeine. I was told to avoid using certain types of hair dye, gold, and numerous types of antibiotics. There were countless other things on the list that could prove toxic to my ear, of which I had no idea what they were. I was to avoid loud music and high noise levels. My friend explained how I work in a school. The specialist said that a school environment was OK…I often think that people don’t realize how loud a classroom, or an infant school playground can be!

The specialist had a blunt manner. He seemed to be highly knowledgeable in issues regarding the ear; having all the textbook-theory knowledge, yet none of the practice. There was no evidence of him showing any understanding of how sudden hearing loss can affect someone’s ability to understand speech, not to mention their self-confidence or other associated emotional factors. He even managed to upset me; when he asked me how long I’d been living in Spain, and he commented on how my Spanish should be better after such an amount of time. Hmm, maybe after obviously being a consultant for such a long time, he should have more on an understanding of how to address patients with hearing loss?!… Nevertheless, as the consultation continued, my friend and I remained collected. We asked our questions, and finally, we started to form a new plan of action…