Deaf at the Doctor

photoWhen Deaf people visit the doctor’s office, there’s the expected and the unexpected.

He’s flitting about like a gnat around the urgent care. Seemingly everywhere, the male nurse assisting us is apparently conversing with several others in different directions as I sit next to a particularly not-fabulous blood pressure/temperature station with my wide-eyed 4 year old perched on my lap.

Unexpected visit

For the first time ever, my daughter’s preschool contacted me midday to say she was ill. After picking her up, I decided to swing by the urgent care in case she needed antibiotics since she had a fever.

We were able to get in right away and as we sat down in the waiting room to be called in, I had to make a few mental adjustments:

1.  Since we didn’t have an appointment, there was no interpreter with us.

2.  They would be calling out my daughter’s name, not mine so I was trying to get a mental image of what it “looked” like, so I’d recognize it lipreading.

3.  This is the appointment for a hearing child, not a deaf adult, so there might be less information indicating her parents are deaf on the chart.

While I was making note of these, my daughter expresses her own concern.

“Mommy, I don’t want a SHOT!”

A shot? No, you won’t get a shot. You haven’t had a shot in a long time anyway, I bet you don’t even remember. No, no shot. Uh-oh, she’s actually due for a check-up, how long do do I wait between this visit and the check-up when she WILL be getting…

As the nurse swings the door open he’s already saying something while looking at his clipboard. I wait a beat, no one else responds. I ask, “Did you say Kendal?” He nods. That’s us.

Asserting yourself

He sweeps us through the door as he continues talking to random other-folk, patients and co-workers alike.

I didn’t have a chance to tell him I was deaf for a good 5 minutes. I caught that he had a foreign accent and spoke as fast as he moved. He didn’t look at us while he was jumping around so I assumed he wasn’t talking to us. When he did finally make eye contact, I told him by saying, “Just to let you know, I’m deaf. I just need you to please face me when you’re talking to me.”

Unfettered, he continued his multi-tasking and pointed for my daughter to get on the scale. We sat back down as he hovered near us, yet looking the other way holding the thermometer while talking. This time I didn’t know who he was talking to and frankly I was getting annoyed. My impulse was to lose my cool, (“uh, hello!”) perhaps ask someone else to assist us.

But, I realized my daughter is here watching me. She understands a lot of adult conversation now. She’s already scared. She needs reassurance, not her mom getting bent out of shape.

So, I said, “Sir, I’ve explained that I’m deaf, I would really appreciate it if you would please face me.”

Without missing a beat, without stopping talking to the others, he motions to take my daughter’s temperature, takes it and then starts writing down everything to me on a clipboard. Temp is 101.8. Give medicine? I nod.

He then indicates we should follow him to the exam room. Hey, it’s not exactly my favorite way to converse, but this is clear. I have to say, this guy’s efficient.

Once we’re in the exam room, he writes down more questions which I answer by speaking back to him. He then tells me the doctor will be right in.

Explain your specific communication needs

The doctor was at the door when the nurse exited and I see him hand the clipboard to the doctor to write on and point to his ear and mouth I guess explaining that the mother is deaf. The doctor comes in, makes eye contact with me, smiles and clearly asks if I would like him to write down everything. Having understood him, I said, “Well let’s see how we do first.”

Fair enough. He’s focused on speaking with us, and he’s easy for me to understand.

He asks, “Can your daughter hear?”

“Oh yes.” Selectively. Ha-ha.

So what’s the problem? Sudden fever, had to pick her up from school, how long will this last, antibiotics for 5 days..

The doctor is chuckling and jabs his thumb back toward the clipboard. What?

Deaf people are all a little different, and so are you

“I’m sorry about that. I mean you can obviously speak and hear well enough that you don’t need me to write down everything.”

Ooh cringe. My speech has nothing to do with this. Writing is not a crutch. OK, so I focus back on that issue for a minute.


I explain that he was easy for me to understand whereas the nurse was not. He agreed with me on that and said even he has a hard time understanding him because he speaks and moves so fast.

“I think he’s well aware that he’s hard to understand. And he’s very resourceful in using this”, I said touching the clipboard. No need to apologize.

Wha-la. Now he knows more about communication with Deaf and hard of hearing people. Yay. Except I didn’t really scratch the surface. But still, a successful interaction today and I will take it.

Now back to my actual mission. I release myself from the nail-digging grip of my shocked-there-really-wasn’t-a-shot daughter who then asks to be carried out because she’s had “a rough day”. Really.

I scoop her up, head to the pharmacy for her meds. We’re out of there. Pick up her brother, figure out dinner, baths, bedtimes. Back to life.

Cool heads prevail

This could be chalked up to another case of damned if I do and damned if I don’t, can’t win, if-you-speak-well-you’re-not-deaf and what have you. But actually I think it’s a good example of how we move through life.

There’s all different kinds of communication scenarios, with varying degrees of urgency, and lots of different styles of communication. With lots of people doing the communicating, of course.

It can be challenging to keep our cool in medical situations. It’s a vulnerable scenario no matter what. And to deal with communication barriers on top of it can be upsetting. I admit I can get an attitude.

How we feel about being deaf or hard of hearing always seems to come through in our interactions. We get what we give energy-wise. Positive = positive and negative = negative. It equals most likely what both parties will take away from the interaction.

Emotions aside, generally people may have had very little direct contact with a deaf or hard of hearing person and remain simply without information. I try not to be too hard on them. They simply don’t know.

Don’t be a doormat of course. Know your rights. Know what you need. ASK for it. It’s just a very individual thing to figure out how to do that efficiently.

Becoming a parent has softened my approach on this, and maybe that was needed. I’ve heard God uses children to shape us.  For me, that’s definitely true.  With my kids watching, I’m reminded of the energy I bring to the situation and I try to step out of myself and see things through their eyes.

And to keep my shoulders chip-free.  They really need to be available for carrying “stuff” far more precious.


Communication at the doctor can be a challenge for Deaf and hard of hearing people.

The key is asserting yourself, keep it simple and stick to the facts of the matter. That’ll make your needs clear.



4 thoughts on “Deaf at the Doctor

  1. Jennifer, it’s a pleasure reading your articles, it helps me to know you just a little better. I like what I know.
    thanks for sharing

  2. Jennifer, my heart goes out to you in this scenario. I struggled with the “have a seat and we’ll call you” routine way too many times. I’ve missed my place in line more than once when I didn’t see them call me, because they were out of sight. Now I ask where they will be calling me from, and to please mark my file/paper that I won’t hear them call me unless they come out into the room where I can SEE them. Sometimes, depending on how anxious they are, I hand them a ear/slash sticker. Of course that’s for ME, but my hearing kids – a different story – just like yours. I’d find that chip on my shoulder grow especially where my kids were concerned! I wanted to be sure I understood and knew exactly what was going on for their benefit. I hope Kendall is feeling better now!

    1. Thanks Mary, she is. Funny I’ve done that sit by the door prep to have it backfire. I sat RIGHT near the door one time after MAKING SURE they knew to tell the nurse I could not hear etc. I sit down, she comes out of the door literally a foot in front of me and calls out my name VERY LOUDLY to me and the one other person in the waiting room. Lol! Not quite my cup of tea either. 🙂

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