Monday, September 27, 2010

Paging Dr. Carter

(photo credit)

Okay, there's not really any Dr. Carter involved in this post, but I think that generally, Noah Wyle just makes things better. Why yes, I did blubber like a teenage girl when ER ended, why do you ask?

So I went to the dentist last week and I honestly don’t know whether I should laugh or cry. They used the word “cavities” a lot. And also “cost” and “insurance.” Thumbs. Down. But the most hilariously sad thing was the dental assistant. Dental hygienist? Tooth lady? I don’t know. Anyway, this is not the dentist’s office I normally go to. Why, you ask? Well, that is a fantastic question and I will tell you that the dentist I grew up going to was still asking me, at 22 years old, how school was going (I graduated) and would keep talking to me with the mask on (I’d been going to him for like 20 years. The man knows I can’t understand him with his mouth covered). So I decided it was time to move on.

I had such high hopes for New Dentist. He had an email form on his website, which meant I didn’t have to use the dang phone to make an appointment. WIN. He was recommended by my boss, so I’m pretty sure it’s insurance compatible. WIN. He actually took his mask off to talk to me and made sure I could see him. WIN. WIN. WIN.

But before I saw him, I met Tooth Lady (I know, that’s such a disrespectful term. But it makes me giggle so we’re going with it, uh-kay?). Tooth Lady did her Tooth Lady thing and scraped and x-rayed and polished my not-that-pearly-but-okay whites. And she would not stop talking to me when she was out of my line of vision or with her mask on. And I told her so. many. times. that I was hard of hearing and needed to see her when she talked. Clearly, she was not getting that memo. She would give me instructions with her mask on and I would say, “I’m sorry, I need to see your mouth so I can lipread.” She would move the mask like, a hair south, and keep talking. “I’m really sorry,” I’d repeat, “but I can’t see your lips.” Another nudge and oh wait is that the shadow of her top lip? Glory be, we’re making progress! I’d try one more time, “I don’t mean to be rude, but I really cannot see you!” You guys, I was like two steps away from reaching up and pulling the dang mask off myself! Then she’d finally remove it and we did this little dance not once but at least two or three times the whole visit. Maybe I should have started signing to her and evened the playing field!

Healthcare professionals are sometimes among the most frustrating when it comes to communication. Maybe I just expect too much out of them. I tend to think that because (in my opinion) hearing loss is a medical issue that doctors, nurses and other professionals should be best equipped to communicate with deaf or hard of hearing patients. It's not the most airtight logic, I know (I mean, I don't expect my dentist to tell me what's wrong with my lungs, or an allergist to know all about brain injuries, so no, not every healthcare professional is going to know about hearing loss), but I do have higher expectations for them. I really shouldn't, though, not when even audiologists could use a refresher course! I've had audiologists who would talk to me with their back turned or when they knew my hearing aids were out. These are professionals who have my audiogram (hearing test results) in front of them, work at least 40 hours a week with people who wear hearing aids and stay abreast of the latest hearing technology... but even they forget (or just flat out don't know) how to talk to their patients. So how can I expect professionals in other healthcare-related fields to stay on top of communication?

I don't normally ask for an interpreter or any other assistance when I go to the doctor because most of the time, they're routine appointments and they're nothing I can't handle on my own. But over the last year and a half or so, I've found myself in more situations where I wish I had requested an interpreter. I kind of wish I had had one with me in the dentist's office that day. I've had other appointments where I didn't realize until I left that I hadn't gotten quite all of the information - luckily it was never a life-or-death situation, but still, when it's my health on the line, I'd like to make sure I know exactly what's going on.


  1. I'm feeling your pain. Even if I don't totally understand it or can't truly "feel" it. Get it? My favorite line: "Maybe I should have started signing to her and evened the playing field!" I might have paid money to watch that happen!

  2. Lucy, this is so good!! As a future health care professional, thank you for the reminder to be aware of our patients and not just consumed with the numbers, science, pathology, technology, etc. of our fields.

    And when it comes to YOUR health... you have every right to be crystal clear, ask for explanations, etc. because it's YOUR health... don't let them rob you of information that could be critical to your well-being!!

  3. The very most frustrating health care office is indeed the ear dr and the audiologist. First of all when I call for an appt and the captioning does not come on right away, they ALWAYS hang up on me! Do they not have any other patients who use a CapTel phone or that need special assistance when calling for an appt? I even complained to the dr that this continually happens. Shouldn't the receptionist know how to deal with people with hearing loss? -- Sherry

  4. I agree with the above would think the receptionist of all places, at a doctors office would be more patient with someone who is deaf/hoh. Customer service has truly gone out the window these days!!

    Hi followed me, so now I'm following you. Welcome to my blog, I hope you enjoy it and our mis-adventures in the deaf and hard of hearing world!!

  5. Hi Lucy this is Carin. I really enjoyed reading this! I read a few other of your posts (but obviously can't "catch up" at once!). You have an exceptional gift for putting things into writing. Keep it coming!

  6. seriously. just seems like a no-brainer to me. maybe Tooth Lady needs to find hers... or maybe it was just a bad day.

    geez louise people! I know I'm not perfect in communication, but that's kinda ridiculous...

  7. You shouldn't have to tell someone more than once. It's a shame that it's so tough to get even the simplest courtesy out of someone.

    I'd be concerned if they want to fill a lot of cavities - as a side note. I went to the dentist my husband's insurance paid for and was told I needed 14 fillings. I was pregnant at the time. I went back to my trusted old dentist (paid out of pocket). She said there was nothing that needed filled. I think when it's stuff in your mouth that you can't really see, there's a bit of dishonesty. Anyway, I'd be sure the guy is trustworthy before going under the Novocaine syringe!