Can you hear me NOW?

As my day nurse S. was giving change-of-shift report to my new nurse C. I was about to experience a completely different nurse.

During the report that was being given by nurse S. to nurse C. I could tell something was amiss with my nightshift nurse. I thought she was: A) uncaring, not giving a damn about what I was saying, or B) completely absorbed in her work or C) hearing-impaired.  I was leaning on choice C because I truly hoped no nurse could be that cold in their care.

Gradually as the evening shift progressed and I asked and said things that went unaddressed or were answered oddly by nurse C.  Finally I asked C. if she had a hearing deficit.  She looked at me like I was psychic and exclaimed, “How did you know?!”  I explained that when the other nurse was present how she didn’t seem to understand some important things being conveyed and how I could tell she wasn’t hearing me.  She was genuinely caught by surprise.

That night nurse seemed somewhat relieved that I had caught on to her loss.  She explained that earlier this year she had suffered such severe allergies that she had lost a significant portion of her hearing that required her to wear hearing aids.  C. explained that she had recently moved to my city from Arizona after caring for her mother who died of complications from Alzheimer’s dementia to be closer to her daughter and grandchild.  We did have a record allergy year in my city by the way.

I also relayed my own story of sensory loss in the Spring of 2013 when I lost my sense of smell for quite some time after a cold and how I couldn’t even smell the fur of my cat who had just been put to sleep.  I longed for the last scent of my furry friend of over seventeen years … and I also told her that a loss is a loss, empathizing with her recent hearing loss.

That night nurse explained how her manager had not been understanding about her sudden hearing loss belivieving that she had fabricated the whole thing primarily based on a phone conversation the nurse had with her manager. The nurse manager had told her, “Well, you sure seemed able to hear me just fine on the phone!”  I explained to that nurse that I deal with patients all day in-person, but mostly by phone and those that have hearing impairments can often hear me better when they are on the phone than when they are right next to me.  It was like a lightbulb momemt for her — someone validating her real life experience.  I felt bad for her in this moment … the fact that she had a loss but couldn’t convey the reality of the effect it had on her own life to her manager and other nurses.

This nurse is a woman who has had her sense of hearing intact all her life and now is dealing with this loss.  This is a serious loss.  She is too embarrassed and ashamed to admit that she has this deficit.  I told her that as a patient, my nursing profession aside, that she needs to tell her patients about this hearing loss because of how she can be perceived and for safety reasons. I adamantly emphasized that there was absolutely nothing to be ashamed of!  I actually saw her smile … I don’t think this woman has smiled in quite some time.  She felt understood and accepted while most importantly heard.

But I still don’t think she quite caught on how important it will be for her to reveal her hearing loss; she only mentioned that she would push her hair behind her ears hoping that her patients would see her hearing aids.  I was tired and medicated from my surgery, truly incapable of getting on a pushy persuasive bandwagon at that time to tell her that by simply putting her hair behind hers ears would not be enough to communicate to her patients that she may not hear them.

I feel bad for her because losing a sense you’ve been used to all your life is sad … it’s a grieving condition.  And most importantly her communication and rapport with others will be negatively effected … I didn’t like her in the beginning because I thought she didn’t care, but after finding the real reason for our communication problems, grace was able to make its way into our brief relationship, my hard feelings about her softened.  If she doesn’t let others know about this deficit what will they come away thinking?

I thought about writing a letter to her manager about this issue, but realize there will be no way I convey in written form the tender nature of this serious matter that should be addressed if only for safety reasons alone.  When I’m more healed I plan to talk to her manager in-person and talk about this hearing deficit that C. has, hoping that the nurse manager can become more understanding of C.’s loss and also encourage C. to openly and shamelessly share this deficit she has with her future patients.

I do have some more thoughts on C. … but somehow they seem immaterial at this point when I see her in this light.  I don’t think she was the kindest nurse I’ve ever had and I was uncomfortable when my Foley catheter kinked up and the tubes to the SCDs dug into my legs — she didn’t readily fix these items and I was reduced to that needy, whiney patient that I don’t even really like to care for.  And how much of this was due to C.’s age (mid-to-late 60s I presume), her adjustment reaction to a new hearing impairment, recovering from recent family stress, and possibly being burned out professionally with feeling that her manager didn’t appreciate her?  I give her only the benefit of the doubt.

And I kept a positive attitude … all the time doing that unfair thing of comparing one person to another — my day nurse to my night nurse.  Truthfully I longed for the next morning when I would see S.’s shiny bright face again.


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