Working in regular health care settings as a deaf nurse?

Hi everyone,

It has been so long since I have written something. My last post was on the 22nd of July 2016, and at that time I just came back from San Francisco… oh how the time flies!

So, what have I been up to? Am I going to start writing again? First I’ll give an update – I’d like to say a ‘small update’, but I can never write short stories, so bear with me! After that I’ll explain a little about the title and my experiences working in a ‘regular team’ with a ‘regular job’ without any accommodations.

Last year of Nursing school has begun!
Where to start? In January I finished my 3rd year internship, and I passed, so that means I’m officially a 4th year Nursing student now! Woop woop! I did a 5-month traineeship as a student-nurse in a mental health facility, and it was such a great experience. I got to work along with registered (general) nurses, psychiatric nurses, nurse practitioners, psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers. Working in psychiatry is a whole other kind of nursing than what I was used to – On my first day working at this facility I started with meeting all colleagues who where there during shift handover, and after that I met all the clients and had breakfast together with them. Everyone was… walking… and… dressed? And were physically fine. That was definitely different!

During my 5 months of internship I learned a lot, but the most important thing is: I learned that this is really the work I see myself doing.

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Writing a group research paper
The past 5 weeks have been busy as well: I started on my thesis and group research paper. I like my own, individual, thesis best – because in the group research I got assigned to a research-request from a health care facility and it’s always challenging to work in a group: will I hear what someone is saying? am I speaking too loud? how many times have I already asked someone to repeat what has been said? can I just nod now, or do I have to check if I’ve understood correctly? It’s exhausting to try and get all the information like this… BUT: I really like doing research in general, finding ways to help improve a facility, being part of something constructive. And I like the subject I got assigned to, so that helps!

“How accessible is health care for D/deaf and Hard of Hearing people?”
My (individual) thesis/paper is also AWESOME. I’m working on a question regarding health care accessibility for D/deaf and Hard of Hearing patients in my country.
I don’t know how accessible health care is for people who are, for example, in a wheelchair, or can’t walk very well, or people who are blind, but I assume (sorry if I’m wrong about this!) that this is mostly ‘physical’ accesibility, for example, in hospitals: can you get in and around the hospital if you’re in a wheelchair – are there elevators, wide corridors, no obstructions on the floors? How do you get around if you’re blind/have low vision? –> if you ask an employee a question, you’ll get an answer that you can hear.

Information is being said to you in (usually) your language, or a language that is easily accessible to you. I think this is different for many D/deaf and HoH people in some cases… they get around physically, they will find their way to the place in the hospital they have to be. But then? How does communication go if you can’t hear other people – or can hear some things, but not everything? If you have surgery and you have to stay in the hospital: will the busy nurses take extra time to make communication smoothly with you, if they are understaffed, overworked, and have 10 other patients to see within the next hour? Or will they say: “It’s not important, I’ll take care of it?”, or don’t finish the intake forms because you have spent a lot of time together clarifying things and figuring out what the other was saying? If they don’t know important information, or if you don’t understand important information that’s being given to you, then what will be the consequences? Do D/deaf and HoH people tell nurses what they need in communication? Or have they tried so many times that they don’t even try anymore? I’ve seen these communication breakdowns happen at work multiple times – and have read / heard about it a lot, in all sorts of health care facilities… so, that’s why I’m focussing on that with my thesis!

Awareness

Working in regular health care settings as a deaf Nurse?
So, now I’ve talked about the subject of my thesis, I’ll give you some of my experiences working as a deaf nurse in regular health care settings. The day I started my 3rd year internship I told my supervisor that I don’t hear much, and so I wear hearing aids. I also told her: just speak normally, if I’m unsure if I’ve heard you I will let you know. During that week it came up a couple of times; sometimes colleagues saw my hearing aids and asked, sometimes I told them. Now, working in mental health care equals constant communication – and the clients who were in treatment knew that I sometimes asked them to repeat what they had said. I was open about it and didn’t want anyone to feel bad for me: I don’t mind putting extra energy in good communication – I sometimes summarized what I think had been said, and it was actually liked: people knew that I had listened to them.

Were there any obstacles or funny moments when working with only hearing people?
I was scared of not being able to communicate with clients and colleagues, of that people would think of me as ‘less’, but that was not the case at all. I think that because I was open about it, and gave information about what they could take into account (face me, or tap me if I haven’t responded, speak in your natural speaking voice, don’t yell – it won’t help, etc.). The only real obstacle was answering the phone, and because I didn’t hear anything through them I didn’t use them, until we got new pagers that amplified… after my shift I went home, and the next day I came to work only to see the night shift nurses’ head almost exploding because the pager was set SO LOUD that she had wrapped it in a bunch of towels so she didn’t go deaf herself.

There were many funny things… sometimes there were a lot of people standing and talking in the nurses station, while my colleague and I were writing the shift handovers. It made it impossible to focus, so I put my hearing aids off and worked along in silence. My colleagues were always jealous that they couldn’t do that too.

A nice moment was when I prepared a poem in signlanguage to practice with the group of clients, nurses and therapists, and everyone told me afterwards that they had really liked the auditory silence and the beauty of a visual language – It’s nice to introduce people to deaf culture/signlanguage, and during my internship everyone has been so open about it, and it has never felt strange.

So. I think that’s enough update for today I suppose! I’d like to do more with raising awareness, I’ve already gotten some emails about this, so I’m going to think about what’s next! Something to definitely look out for is a blog about ‘Tourettes and acceptance’ (self-acceptance and acceptance of others).

Question: what do you want other people to know (about deafness, tourettes, (dis)abilities at work)??

Cuddles for you all!

-Sam

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My reply on Deaf (dis)empowerment

Hi everyone,

It’s been a while since I last posted, it was because I was in Helsinki, Finland, for a conference on Signlanguage Interpreting. I had an amazing time with my group of 7 people. The conference itself was not completely accessible (no interpreters in the afternoon and evening programs), so I can’t judge on everything that happened, but I can judge on what was said during one of the afternoon programs.

It was a workshop in spoken English, and I knew there wouldn’t be an interpreter, because non of the English spoken workshops were interpreted the days before. Because I had already followed the other workshop that was given again at the same time I ‘had to’ go to that English spoken workshop. I asked the organisation if there’d be an interpreter and they said no. So I had to pull one of my friends out of the other workshop so she could interpret for me. It was her own suggestion to do so, but it didn’t feel quite right. There should have been an interpreter, especially if they said beforehand that all would be accessible for both deaf and hearing interpreting students. It wasn’t.

After giving the organisation the feedback that everything needed to be accessible, not only for the hearing but also for the deaf interpreting students, someone who also followed the workshop replied “All the important lectures were interpreted”… I was outraged and confused… how could an INTERPRETING student disempower me and the other deaf interpreting student so much?!  Who is she to decide what’s important enough to be accessible for me? She should know better than to say that… I still get angry when I think of it.

In this blog I’m replying on this post/workshop from Trudy Suggs: Deaf Disempowerment and Today’s Interpreter

In this post the writer tells everyone about her personal experiences with disempowerment. I’m not going to talk about what Trudy said, because that’s already said. But my previous example of interpreters making a decision for me is one I wanted to share.

She ends with this: “We must remember that all individuals, deaf or hearing, should always strive for full, mutual respect rather than disempowerment”. This is what I always try to do, and what I expect other people to do as well. But in Helsinki, it wasn’t nearly the case. Most of the time I try to connect with other people, new people. That’s what I do. But almost every time people spoke back to me instead of signing. Now, I know that there’s a lot of new things going on at once when you start going to conferences, and after a day of listening to/looking at lectures that have to go through 4 interpreters (2 deaf, 2 hearing) – where information gets lost sometimes, I can understand that you want to speak your own preferred language, but don’t get angry with me if I do the same.

Now, I’m not saying that the whole conference was crap, because it wasn’t. There were many nice things: the morning lectures that were in International Sign were AMAZING – no interpreters needed for me, and I secretly laughed on the inside when a lecturer made a joke and some people who were fluent enough in IS laughed along, and the rest of the people had to wait for the 4 interpreters to figure it out properly. The spoken English workshops weren’t always fully accessible, because it went from English to Finnish Signlanguage to IS, and I missed a lot of in-between-jokes. But beside that, it was amazing to see that there were Deaf Interpreters present, it makes me want to take up interpreting again as well!

More Deaf interpreters are needed, and maybe I wouldn’t be such a great deaf interpreter – since Signlanguage isn’t my first language – but it’s my most accessible language right now, so at least I’m inspired to try. That’s the most important thing I got out of the conference – my being inspired to try and become not just a Signlanguage teacher and a nurse, but also an interpreter! That’s empowerment.

Love, Sam

My Deaf identity in progress

Hi everyone,

I’ve been talking to some great people today and I thought it was about time I’d share something with you all.

There’s something I need you all to know about me, it’s not shocking news, but…
I’m Deaf. Yes, I am. I can speak perfectly, in my voice you’ll barely notice any difference from a hearing person, but I can’t hear you anymore. Therefor I need to adapt myself by reading lips, reading gestures and reading facial expressions. But it also means that other people have to adapt to me as well.

Compromising in communication
We have to meet in the middle, otherwise it’s not fair to anyone. It’s what I hear a lot from Deaf people: “I have to do all the work to follow a language that’s no longer accessible to me, and the hearing people don’t adapt to me”. Sadly this is more common than uncommon, and I’ll tell you why it’s so common: there are so many hearing people and less Deaf people. It’s ‘normal’ to WANT to fit in to the regular group, do what everyone else is doing. If that means I have to speak instead of sign, I will. And many other d/Deaf/HoH people will do the same.

I’m not saying that it’s our own fault that hearing people don’t adapt to us, but they usually don’t know that it takes a lot of energy to ‘act hearing’. I think it’s the hardest for people who have turned deaf all of a sudden or have had a lot of speech therapy and therefor sound ‘like every other hearing person’. Nobody notices that we struggle in communication, because WE can communicate perfectly. It’s just that the communication coming back to us is like a 10.000 piece puzzle we have to solve within seconds.

I’m not saying either that hearing people aren’t trying to compromise in communication, but a lot of the time I get said to “never mind” or “I’ll tell you later”. And that’s not compromising, that’s deciding for me what’s important enough to be told. I hope that Deaf people can tell hearing people what it is in communication they need, because that’s a concrete solution. I can’t tell you hearing people what all Deaf people need, because that’s different for everybody. But just let hearing people know what it is you need, and if you come across a decent person, they’ll listen and at least try.

Hearing Identity
I always have considered myself to be hearing, even when my hearing started to become less and less, I have always said “I’m hearing”. And people believed me, of course. Why would you think otherwise when you sound hearing, and act hearing?
Problem is: I am not a hearing person, not even close! I camouflage it well with nodding in crowded conversations, and reacting to what someone has said in the hopes that I answered correctly to whatever it is they were asking me. I can’t keep up, and then your identity crashes.

Identity crisis
This was what I discussed briefly with a friend of mine: he used to tell everyone he was ‘hard of hearing’, and he could speak so much that he fooled everyone with how ‘bad’ his ears were. Eventually we both started to do the Signlanguage program and I saw an identity shift. All of a sudden he called himself Deaf, refused to wear his hearing aids and he only wanted to sign. I didn’t get it: what had changed so much that he decided to do this? Now I realize there’s sort of a spectrum that goes from 100% hearing to 100% Deaf. He always had tried so hard to fit in with hearing people, by talking, by reading lips, by pretending he understood everything that everyone said. Now it was time to explore the other side, the 100% Deaf side. And I think that moment is coming close for me as well.

100% Hearing – 100% Deaf
I tend to be somewhere in between. I often say I’m ‘just’ hard of hearing, but when I say that, it’s:
1: Not completely true, because I’m deaf;
2: Harder for people to understand, because they never know how much you can and can’t hear. And since many deaf/hard of hearing people are experts on reading people’s gestures and expessions, it’s hard to guess when something isn’t being understood.

When I studied to become a Signlanguage Interpreter I always said “I’m hearing” – that was my 100% Hearing side. I felt alone and like a liar, because I had to work so much harder than anyone else in that group to even come close to a good interpretation of something that was said – simply because I didn’t hear it well enough.

Now I study to become a nurse, and on day 1 (2 years ago) I said to my classmates: I’m Sam, want to become a nurse, and there are some things you need to know: 1 – I have Tourettes, 2 – I am hard of hearing and 3 – don’t treat me any differently, I will tell you when I haven’t heard you.

Transition to calling myself Deaf
Right now I sometimes refuse to speak in front of other people (for example in stores, when I’m outside walking around town), and some days I don’t want to wear my hearing aids or speak at all. I only want to sign and unfortunately that’s not always possible with friends and family. I wish I could say that I’m Deaf and proud of it, but right now I just feel deaf. Impaired in communication and cut off from the world sometimes. That’s why I’m experimenting with trying to say that I’m Deaf – I sign, and you’ll have to deal with that.

It feels good to just use signlanguage, because it makes it clear: I can’t hear you, and you have to adapt to me as well. As for what I’m going to decide, I’m not sure yet.. I prefer to sign, but if people speak to me, I will give in most of the time. I’m experimenting with not doing that.

I’ll keep you updated on how my journey goes. Where it leads me.

Love, Sam

You’re not deaf! You speak so well!

Hello everyone,

If I just put this title as my entire blog it would speak for itself to everyone who turned deaf later in life, and probably to a lot of other deafies. But since I love to write I’m going to say more about it. These two quotes are two of the many things that deaf people have to deal with every day. So I thought I’d share them with you and tell you what you can say instead of the following.
(NOTE! This doesn’t neccesarily applies to all deaf/Deaf people, it’s just my experience as a Deaf person and what I get told from Deaf/Hard of Hearing friends. If it’s different for you then let me know in the comments!)

You’re not deaf!
Hm… first of all, that’s quite an odd statement to make. I am, I know I am – because I cannot hear. Who are you to tell me what I am and am not? It’s like telling you: you cannot speak. While you have just spoken.

Most of the time this quote is accompanied by 1:’because you answer to what I’m saying‘, or 2: ‘because you are too pretty to be deaf‘, or 3:’because you can speak (…so well)‘ or even 4: ‘because you don’t look deaf‘. Let me explain quickly:

– 1: I can, like many deaf people, read lips and am more aware of changes in facial expression/posture/signs, and I have hearing aids that help me a bit with hearing sounds around me. I can’t understand everything you say, but my brain is filling in the gaps and I always hope to have understood enough to give a proper answer and not get silly looks because I gave an answer that wasn’t coherent with the question asked.
– 2: too pretty to be deaf? Are some people seriously that stupid? I’m not even going to get into that.
– 3: Yes, I can speak! What a miracle! There’s something with my ears, not with my vocal cords. The reason some deaf people prefer not to speak is because it’s more difficult when you can’t hear yourself speak: you can’t control your (loudness of) speaking as well as a hearing person because you can’t hear yourself like a hearing person. And secondly: If you are deaf/Deaf and prefer to use Signlanguage, because that is YOUR language, why should you speak all the time?
– 4: I don’t look deaf? What does a deaf person look like? Do we have to have it written on our foreheads?

What to do when you meet a deaf person?
Just like meeting a hearing person, be normal about it. Deaf people aren’t scary (not all the time at least), we sometimes just communicate a bit differently. It’s good to keep in mind that we adjust to YOU, by speaking, by reading your lips, by trying to understand a spoken language that isn’t fully accessible to us anymore. And if we sign to you, or don’t speak much, it doesn’t mean we’re trying to be rude or something. Trying to communicate like a hearing person takes more energy out of me because I can’t hear well. If communicating by talking doesn’t work 100%, write it down, use hand gestures – we are used to adjusting to hearing people, it’s nice for hearing people to adjust a bit to us as well. We’re all equal and should all do our best to make communication work.

Sudden or late deafness
There are a LOT of people out there who go deaf suddenly or gradually. Not just old people, also young people (think about people in their 20’s and 30’s going to concerts without ear plugs…eventually they’ll have hearing loss as well).
As a late/sudden Deaf person I get frustrated sometimes. People often tell me “Never mind” or “I’ll tell you later” if there was something said that I didn’t hear. It makes me feel like they are deciding whether or not something is important enough for me to comprehend. While it should be my decision: I decide what’s important enough for me to hear, so tell me!

But, it isn’t all bad!
For example, this morning I walked out of my appartment and there was someone on the campus looking around very confused. She walked up to me and I SAW her say: Can I ask you something? Since I’d like to be a nice person I said: Yes of course, with what can I help?
Then she quickly mumbled about somewhere she needed to be, and she panicked a bit about something. I told her to calm down and type on her phone what she wanted to ask, because I couldn’t hear. She typed in everything on her phone, she needed to be in class really soon and it was in a building she’d never been to. I showed her directions. She was very pleased and asked me how to say thanks in Signlanguage. She became aware, and that was great to see!

signs

Going to a Tourettes camp as a Deaf person!
As you might have read, I am going to be a counselor at Camp Twitch&Shout this summer. I will be the only Deaf person amongst 200 hearing people. At first I thought “how am I going to do this?!”, but I told everyone that I can use American Signlanguage (ASL) ánd spoken English at the same time. The reactions were amazing: people messaging me privately if they should learn some Signlanguage for me so we can communicate easier, and there are even a handful of people who are fluent in ASL! There’s even been an idea to have a signing evening with the counselors at camp.

Even though I’m Deaf, I am de(a)finitely not letting it stop me from doing anything. Being honest about it can sometimes bring up some silly reactions as ‘you don’t look deaf’, but it can also become a great topic of conversation and you can raise awareness. And that last thing, raising awareness, is my goal for this year!

Awareness

Love, Sam

Living with (sudden) Deafness – an introduction

Hello everyone,

As promised in my last blog, here is my post about my Deafness. Yes, capital D Deaf.
My friends know how hard it is for me to even say out loud that I’m ‘hard of hearing’ – as I usually call it, but there’s no getting around the fact that on some days I don’t hear anything at all. Nothing but silence.

Deaf vs deaf
Let me first explain, as many of you follow me because I have Tourettes, not because my ears don’t work. Deaf with a capital D means culturally Deaf – a cultural perspective, deaf with a lower case d means ‘having hearing loss’, ‘something that should be fixed’ – the medical perspective.

deaf

Introduction
Anyway, on to my introduction:

As a child I had a mild hearing loss, nothing that people worried about, including myself. Didn’t want hearing aids, went to a hearing school and had hearing friends. Fastforward: I graduated from high school and was looking into what I was going to study. My mum had a deaf acquaintance and that made me think about learning Signlanguage, because of the fact: every child/teen in my country learns English, French ánd German. But if you have a deaf neighbour who uses Signlanguage you cannot communicate with them in their own language, and that while being from the same country!

Signlanguage interpreting studies
So, at age 19, I took up Signlanguage Interpreting – I knew I had a hearing loss, but I was in denial that it was getting worse. My grades were great, and interpreting went very well (yay for the audio being able to be amplified massively!). No problems, right? Wrong!

The way I got through most of the spoken language classes was because there was almost always an interpreter. Learning Signlanguage itself felt so natural, so effortless. I didn’t need to rely on my lack of hearing, I could just use my hands. Eventually I had to do an internship where I couldn’t amplify the audio to maximum volume because it was a ‘live’ setting, and they ‘caught’ me. I wasn’t hearing anymore, not in the way I used to, at least.

Voices became less clear, words started to fade away into a mixture of just noises.

Change of plans
I had to stop with the Interpreting program, as my hearing loss got worse. Most days my hearing is 70dB less than ‘normal hearing people’. But on some days I cannot hear anything. I started a new study, got myself some hearing aids so I was ‘a hearing person’ again and took up working at a hospital as a nurse, but couldn’t keep up with the fast pace everyone was speaking at and yelling medical terms at me. I had to stop that too.

I became very anxious and fell in a deep depression. It felt like I failed: I became deaf, I couldn’t do the work I wanted to do anymore, I couldn’t communicate properly anymore with the people I love most. How was I supposed to go on like this?

Deaf Gain
And then something clicked with me, on a Deaf Gain-day that was organized by the University I once attended for Interpreting. A nice man who gave a lecture introduced himself in Signlanguage, and he said had become deaf later in life as well. He told the audience that he didn’t just lose his hearing, but he gained his Deafness. Other people followed and told their stories about Deafness not having to be a disability, but can be empowering (later I’ll talk more about that). They are part of a subculture called the Deaf culture. It’s a rich culture full of history and with it it’s own language.

Even though I wasn’t born Deaf/deaf, I can relate to feeling you’re part of a culture. I was born with something called Tourettes Syndrome. A neurological disorder that causes neurotransmitters to fire out signals too much, and makes you have Tics. Yes, I write Tourettes and Tics with capital T’s. Familiar feeling hm? – When I’m around people who have Tourettes as well, I feel like I don’t need to explain myself, I can be myself, have fun with my fellow Touretters, exchange experiences, both positive and negative. And most of all: feel accepted as I am.

Today
I’m slowly, but surely, starting to feel the same way about Deaf culture too. Let them see that we are no different from anyone else – we can do anything, except hear. That’s something I will remind myself every day, until I can fully say: I am Deaf, so what?

If you are reading this and you suffer from sudden/late deafness (because if you’re used to hearing, it can be suffering not being able to hear), remind yourself that you’re not alone in this. You’ve done nothing wrong, and life can and will be just as great if you set your mind to it!

teeth

Love, Sam

Living with Tourettes – an introduction

Hello everyone,

This is the first time I’ve ever written something online, but I’ve wanted to for a long time. To raise more awareness about living with Tourettes, and all the things that come along with that (in my case that would mainly be anxiety and ADHD, but also depression and OCD).

I want for people to understand what Tourette is from a, what I call, a Touretter’s perspective, not just the medical perspective. As a nurse in training I know all about the medical perspective: Tourettes is a neurological (or, debated, called a neuropsychiatric) condition that is caused by neurotransmitters firing out too many signals – causing Tics.
You can get treated for it with cognitive behaviour therapy, or medication (mostly anti-psychotics).

My perspective? Of course, Tourette has it’s downsides, absolutely. There’s nothing fun about being in a busy airport and being compelled to yell “BOMB!”, or having twitching limbs that are going in all directions except for the direction you want to go to. The physical pain that are caused by Tics… sounds quite dreadful doesn’t it?

But, as you may have noticed, I write Tourettes and Tics with capital T’s. Why? That’s something I learned from the Deaf community and kind of took it as a metaphore for Tourettes. I’ll explain: you can be deaf / have tourettes (medical perspective: it’s something that needs to be fixed, something’s off with you), or you can be Deaf / have Tourettes – that is a cultural perspective. I don’t mean to say that Touretters are a subculture, but when you put a lot of Touretters together you do kind of get a ‘family-feel’: everyone knows the daily struggles, not being understood. Nothing is weird when you’re around fellow Touretters.

I, for one, am glad I have Tourettes. I wouldn’t be able to do the things I do if I hadn’t, wouldn’t know the amazing people that I know (special shout out to Renée, whieeeeej my friend) and I would not be as understanding of people who are considered ‘different’ – that may be people with mental issues, physical issues that are seen as ‘abnormal’. I want you all to feel proud. We’re different, and it makes us who we are.

different

That concludes my first ever online post. My personal introduction and my introduction on my hearing loss will follow soon!

Love, Sam