Heading to the doctor with hearing loss can be challenging, especially during the pandemic. 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?
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37 thoughts on “Hearing Loss Can Be a Disaster at the Doctor”
yes they are and also for any other meeting. But I have found that if I bump up the volume just one click I can hear a lot better.
So glad that works well for you! Thanks for sharing the tip.
My friends in the FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders) told us about a new app. It is called Abridge. I used it last week for my daughter’s 18 year well check. Many of us have multiple things going on with each child & it’s hard to remember everything each doctor tells us. I have upcoming appointments next week for my well check, son’s allergist, my painful sinuses and the dentist. The dentist doesn’t matter as much.
Abridge records the entire conversation and pulls out sections that IT thinks are important. The rest of the conversation can be heard by touching the 3 tiny dots between each conversation blurb.
I know it works on Apple devices, unsure of android. It’s free. It can follow multiple people.
I hope this helps you! It has really helped me.. like all speech to text apps, it messes up some words, but even behind masks, it picked up very well for me, our daughter with FAS and the doctor.
Interesting! Thanks for sharing what works for you.
I’m very stressed prior to any doctor appointment. I’ve done everything you’ve done. That OTTER sure comes in handy. Of course, I need to immediately tell people I cannot hear them and my phone will transcribe what they say or please write it down for me. I also handed the receptionist information about an FDA approved disposable clear mask asking her to pass this along to office management. Gotta try.
Well done! Great advocacy!
Yes..I find that when I use those tools in my communication toolbox, secretaries, doctors, nurses, salespeople, are far more responsive.
So true. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
I have no problem speaking up for myself in situations where I can’t hear. I immediately stop whoever is speaking to me by saying something along the lines of: Excuse me, before we start I need you to know that I wear hearing aids and read lips to hear. Masks, of course, make this a problem, so I need you to please face me, speak up, and speak slowly and clearly. I’ll probably still need to ask you to repeat sometimes. Everyone always does their best to comply.
Thank you for sharing what works for you.
I too find physician appointments to be stressful during this pandemic. Recently I had to go to emerg, but remembered to bring my Roger Select with me and that made it so much easier. Doc thought it was pretty cool too.
Excellent! We are lucky to have so many tools at our disposal. Thanks for sharing what works for you.
I’m a member of Kaiser Permanente which provides health care in 9 states. They have good systems in place, mainly low patient numbers at any one hour, so hardly anyone else in the waiting room with you. A problem is that receptionist is seated at computer, masked and behind plexiglas partition. All talking and paying happens there. Many have speech accents. I always say, “I have hearing loss–you’ll have to speak up.” That, plus knowing the routine generally works but it’s never easy. My doctor speaks rapidly, but is friendly and tries to slow down. I get it after a bit of back and forth. But it’s always a challenging experience.
It is, but we must persevere. Thanks for sharing your experiences.
During the pandemic I have begun to take advantage of video appointments with my doctors. No one needs to wear masks. If you just need a consultation and not an examination, it’s the way to go.
Excellent idea! Thank you for sharing.
Oh, yes! My first choice is an email exchange w/ my doctor when it’s a thing for which that will work–terrific option! as is the video route for many things.
Absolutely! Whatever works!
Bumped into a new wrinkle at my doctor’s office. For some strange reason they have turned down the lighting. It’s very dim in the reception office/check out area. When i asked why they “mumbled” something about temperature. It’s a climate controlled building so makes no sense. It just adds another difficult layer to the check in/check out prices. I’m feeling anxious already and the darkened room makes it worse. Think I’ll get more vocal about it at my next appointment and see what happens
Maybe it is so they can run the HVAC more safely for Covid? But, yes there are new obstacles all the time we must learn to navigate around. Thank you for sharing your experience.
I commented on one of your previous threads that MD visits for myself are disastrous . I must have my husband with me otherwise I don’t understand anything being said. Many times I felt like crying due to such frustration. I told them speaking louder doesn’t work , not for me anyway. Someone on your thread previously mentioned specifically apps, but unfortunately it didn’t work for me. I will try those tools listed in todays thread and see if they work. Thanks to all for your recommendations…….you have no idea how I appreciate the suggestions. Thank you Shari for this post.
Please continue to experiment. It can take a while to find a solution that works for you. Thank you for your comment.
I feel for you. Yes, please look at the apps. Try OTTER. Also, do ask them to write down what they can. Paper and pencil may take a bit longer but it works. They need to accommodate.
Great ideas. Thanks for sharing.
I just tried Abridge that Mamma2russians suggested. It looks like it only gives me an audio recording of a medical conversation, not a transcript. Am I doing something wrong?
I, too, sympathize. . . . if you have ReSound HAs, their external Multi-Mic is terrific, as you can hand it to someone and they can talk into it. An iPhone has a similar built in function. . . whereby the phone’s mic can pick up the other voice, if pointed toward them and you have the settings fixed. A young person, or someone who “knows phones”, can show you this. None of this is easy, unfortunately!
In California if a person is speaking to someone who is hard or hearing it’s legal to remove their mask so we are able to read their lips. About four customer service individuals have removed their masks immediately when I informed them of my hearing loss.
That is interesting, but I wonder if it is the safest option for all. Thanks for sharing your experiences.
I can certainly understand the need to see someone’s face but under current circumstances, this California allowance concerns me a great deal. It’s surprising frankly.
Agreed, and I’m in CA. I always tell people to “please put your mask back up”. Pulling it down is, sadly, a normal reaction.
In UK it is entirely legal to remove your mask to enable someone to lipread if you can maintain a safe distance. There are certain medical exemptions but full consideration has to be made by law to give full communication. There are of course a few muppets around who ignore the law / rules or simply don’t care.
Thanks for sharing the information.
I use Ava and let the doctor go to my personal link (web.ava.me/[&youravaname] on his laptop/computer/phone (no download needed). This way we follow the conversation on a big screen in real-time, this works also with social distancing because you connect two devices. The distance from speech-to-text on your is limited. Anyone can download Ava on his computer now and it’s free. Stay safe!
Thank you for sharing what works for you.
Exactly…pulling the mask down is too dangerous and defeats the entire purpose of wearing a mask in the first place. Thank you for mentioning this! There are other ways to communicate (i.e., paper and pen, etc). Sometimes, it takes a bit longer, but it’s safer.
Thank you, Bonnie. It looks like AVA further developed since I took a look last. The one area I find a bit annoying is having to make sure the host (if I’m not the host) is doing what is necessary to obtain captioning.