Heading to the doctor during the pandemic can be challenging, especially for people with hearing loss. My family and I have been putting off most of our routine doctor appointments due to the pandemic, but with the low infection rates in New York City recently, we decided to give a previously scheduled visit a go. My teenage son and I masked up, walked the 12 blocks to the doctor’s office and paused outside the door to be admitted. We were told to wait in the lobby until it was our turn to see the physician. So far so good.
Masks & Face Shields are a Tough Combination
Masks on, there was little opportunity for conversation, but we waited calmly, until the nurse approached us. She was wearing a surgical mask AND a face shield, and she spoke very quietly. “Mumble mumble,” she asked me, holding a clipboard in her hand. “Mumble, mumble mumble,” she continued. I glanced over at my son for help, but his attention was somewhere deep in his phone. “I can’t understand what you are saying,” I replied with a smile, yet a feeling of rising panic. “Has he been here before?” she asked in what must have been a much louder voice, since my son’s head popped to attention. I answered the question and we were left again to wait.
But this time, I was not feeling calm. My heart was pounding in my chest. I wondered if this had all been a big mistake. I leaned over to my son and said, “You are going to need to pay attention, because I can’t hear anything.” I ran through my hearing loss at the doctor tips in my mind and saw I had already missed step one. Because the appointment was for my hearing son, I had not alerted the office in advance about my hearing loss. I found my phone and activated Otter.ai so I would have speech-to-text assistance. Then I took some deep breaths to calm myself down. I was ready.
The rest of the appointment went smoothly. I was lucky that the doctor had an easy voice for me to hear and only one layer of protective gear — a surgical mask. Surgical masks block speech reading cues, but the sound degradation is relatively small at only 5 decibels. My hearing aids worked well in the quiet exam room, especially with my son and speech-to-text app for back up. Even so, I repeated everything the doctor said to make sure I had it right and asked for all the medication details in writing — including dosages and frequencies.
Invisible Disabilities are Hard to Detect — Compassion is Key
Checking out with the mumbling receptionist was more challenging, but I knew the drill and handed over my credit card. Our next adventure — heading to the pharmacy to pick up the prescriptions was much easier since almost everything could be done via the pharmacy’s app.
On the walk home, my son and I talked about the strangeness of the pandemic and how it has impacted our lives in so many ways. From virtual school to virtual meetings to communicating with masks, all of us are facing new stressors and battling feelings of uncertainty. Hearing loss is invisible, as are so many other chronic conditions. People don’t know we are struggling just by looking at us. Conversely, we cannot always see the difficulties others are facing. Compassion is key.
Readers, how have your routine doctor visits gone during the pandemic?