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Successfully Coping with Hearing Loss

Hospital Communication Kits—Boon for Hard of Hearing Patients

© August 2007 by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.

Question: I am going to the hospital shortly and I am worried that I won't be able to hear, or will misunderstand, the instructions and questions of the doctors and nurses since I have quite a bad hearing loss. What can I do to make my stay in the hospital more communication friendly?

Answer: If you are like many hard of hearing people, going to the hospital is scary. Not only are you anxious about your health problems, but you are worried that you won’t hear critically important information as doctors and nurses bustle in and out of your room mumbling instructions as they fill in your chart and hurry away.

You are apprehensive about a number of other problem hearing situations too. Here are a few of them. You worry about not hearing your name being called in the waiting room. You strain to hear conversations with nurses and clerks though glass partitions and wonder if you got it right. The nurse’s response over the intercom when you press your call button is just so much gibberish. You totally miss instructions whispered to you in the dark by the nightshift nurse. Try as you might, you cannot understand comments and instructions uttered by masked doctors and nurses. No wonder you feel scared, cut off and alone at times.

Here’s the Solution

The good news is that it does not have to be this way. The secret is to be prepared ahead of time for your stay in the hospital. If you are hard of hearing and going into the hospital for treatment, you can make things much easier for yourself if everyone you come in contact with knows two things: 1) that you are hard of hearing, and 2) how best to communicate with you.

People aren’t going to know this unless you are proactive and tell them. Go prepared with a few things that will help hospital staff remember you are hard of hearing, and have instructions on how they can meet your unique communications needs.

One of the “tools” you should have on hand before you go into the hospital is a “Hospital Communications Kit.”

You can make one up yourself, but why go to all that bother when such kits are readily available at nominal cost from a couple of enterprising Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) chapters.

These easy-to-use, low-cost kits help ensure that even though you have a hearing loss, you will still be able to effectively communicate with doctors, nurses and hospital staff. Here are two of the best hospital communications kits I’ve found.

Hospital Kit 1:  HLAA San Antonio, TX

The San Antonio, TX chapter of the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) makes Hospital Kits for the very reasonable price of only $3.00, plus postage (which typically is about $1.85 for first class postage).

Each hospital kit contains:

(Note: the paragraph numbers correspond to the numbers in the yellow dots in the accompanying pictures.)

1.   Large Zip-lock Plastic Bag (9” x 12”). Holds the complete hospital kit.

2.   Instruction sheet (pink) Gives the contents of the hospital kit and what each is for.

Click on picture for larger view
 

3.  “Be Prepared—So You and Your Hearing Loss are Going to the Hospital!” brochure. Read this brochure now—so you'll be prepared well before any planned hospitalization or emergency. This brochure sure packs a lot of information into a small space. It covers such topics as “Items to ask for” in the hospital; “Items to take” with you to the hospital; “Tips and questions to ask before your hospitalization”; “Steps to use in the waiting room”; “Your rights as a hard of hearing patient”; and “Suggestions to reduce communication difficulties in emergency situations.”

4.   “I am Hard of Hearing!” placard with International Hard of Hearing Symbol. (yellow) On the one side it says “I am hard of hearing, please: Get my attention, Face me, and Speak a little slower.” On the other side it says, “I am deaf, please Get my attention; Face me, and Write or sign to me.” Place this on the wall over your bed with the appropriate side facing out.

5.   Needs Picture Card. (grey) This double-sided card has 19 different pictures showing some common needs you can point to if you have communication problems, or are unable to speak (you may temporarily have a tube down your throat, for example). They include pictures of needs such as doctor, cold, hot, hungry, pain, bathroom, thirsty, etc.

6.  Hearing Loss Stickers. (4, small blue) Shows the international symbol for hearing loss. Put one on your hospital ID bracelet. Ask staff to put them on your charts, and on the intercom button at the nurse's station as a reminder that you cannot understand or hear over the intercom.

7.  “Please Face Me” Button. Pin on gown or pillow as a reminder that you need to see peoples’ faces in order to speechread them.

8.  “Tips for Communicating with Hard of Hearing People” Card. (2, green) Includes the common tips we need in order to hear such as get our attention, face me, avoid noisy background, light, etc. Give them to doctors, nurses, hospital staff, visitors, etc. so they know how to communicate with you.

9.   Hearing Loss ID Cards. (2, green) Tells whether you wear hearing aids or cochlear implants, or sign, etc. and has a few other communication tips. Keep one in your wallet with your ID, and give the other to your closest care-giver.

10. Writing Pad (5” x 7” yellow) and Pen. For writing messages as needed when you can’t understand a person.

11. Small Zip-lock Plastic Bag. (4” x 6” with small green instruction sheet) For temporarily storing your hearing aids/cochlear implants. Comes with label to fill in with your name and room number. If your hearing aids/CIs must be removed prior to surgery, X-rays, etc., the bag should be securely attached to an easily accessible place, e.g. chart, gown, etc.

To order this hospital kit, email San Antonio HLAA’s Barbara Hunter at bobatex@aol.com.

Hospital Kit 2 :  HLAA Washington State

The Hearing Loss Association of Washington has a somewhat-similar hospital kit (in fact, it is based on the San Antonio hospital kit, but is a little “classier” in some ways) which they sell for $10.00 post paid. It contains:

1.   Large Zip-lock Plastic Bag (9” x 12”). Holds the complete hospital kit.

2.   Instruction sheet—“Hospital Kit for People With Hearing Loss” (cream) Gives the contents of the hospital kit and what each is for.

Click on picture for larger view
 

3.   “So You and Your Hearing Loss are Going to the Hospital!” brochure. Read this brochure now—so you'll be prepared well before any planned hospitalization or emergency. This brochure sure packs a lot of information into a small space. It covers such topics as “Items to ask for” in the hospital; “Items to take” with you to the hospital; “Pre-admission” tips before your hospitalization”; “In the waiting room” tips; “Your rights as a hard of hearing patient”; and “Suggestions to reduce communication difficulties in emergency situations.”

4.   “I am Hard of Hearing!” laminated placard with International Hard of Hearing Symbol. On the one side it says “I am hard of hearing. Please face me. Speak clearly.” On the other side it says, “I am deaf. Please face me. I use sign language.” Place this on the wall over your bed with the appropriate side facing out. (A neat feature of this kit is it comes with two sticky “pads” to attach it to the wall without ruining the wall.)

5.   Hearing Loss Stickers. (4, small blue) Shows the international symbol for hearing loss. Put one on your hospital ID bracelet. Ask staff to put them on your charts, and on the intercom button at the nurse's station as a reminder that you cannot understand or hear over the intercom.

6.  “Please face me, I lip read” Button. Pin on gown or pillow as a reminder that you need to see peoples’ faces in order to speechread them.

7.   “Tips for Communicating with Hard of Hearing People” Card. (6, green) Includes the common tips we need in order to hear such as get our attention, face me, avoid noisy background, light, etc. Give them to doctors, nurses, hospital staff, visitors, etc. so they know how to communicate with you.

8.   Special Needs Cards. (3, blue) You check off what applies to you such as “I am hard of hearing”, “I wear hearing aids”, I need TV captioning”, etc. Give these to your closest care-givers.

9.   Writing Pad (5” x 7” yellow) and Pen. For writing messages as needed when you can’t understand a person.

10. Small Zip-lock Plastic Bag. (4” x 4” with small white instruction card) For temporarily storing your hearing aids/cochlear implants. Comes with label to fill in with your name and room number. If your hearing aids/CIs must be removed prior to surgery, X-rays, etc., the bag should be securely attached to an easily accessible place, e.g. chart, gown, etc. Another small, but nice, feature of this kit is they supply the safety pin to pin this bag to your hospital gown.

To order this hospital kit, email Washington HLAA Hospital Kit Chair Judi Carr at judi.carr@comcast.net.

Since these kits are not identical, and I like some of the features of each of them, why not get one of each and mix and match the items to suit your needs? In the process, you will not only be helping yourself, but also these two HLAA groups that provide this service.

Dear Doctor/Dear Nurse Letter

In addition to taking a hospital kit or two with you to the hospital, print off a number of copies of the 2-page “Dear Doctor/Dear Nurse” letter and give signed, personalized copies to the doctors and nurses with whom you come in contact during your stay in the hospital. This letter lists a number of hospital-specific communication tips that will help make your stay in the hospital less stressful.

Eye-catching Sign for Over Your Bed

Here is a free eye-catching sign for over your hospital bed that says, "I am Hard of Hearing" below a large blue broken ear symbol (see picture at right). It is a full letter-sized page in PDF format. Click here to print out your own copy.
 

Safeguarding Your Hearing Aids

In addition to your hospital kit(s), you should take a rigid, small, clear plastic container with you for storing your hearing aids or cochlear implant processor in and leave it on your bed-table. Label this container with your name, room number and international hard of hearing symbol. A rigid container is a better option than using the small plastic bag supplied in the above hospital kits. (For example, it reduces the chance of damage to your hearing aids if it gets dropped, and because it is bigger, it is harder to lose or accidentally get thrown out.)

Having your hearing aids thrown out is no joke. The truth is, hearing aids are quite frequently lost in hospitals. Very often this is because they are wrapped in a tissue by the patient and placed on the bed-table, and then are accidentally thrown in the trash by hospital staff. So whenever you take your hearing aids off, put them in your plastic container right away so they’ll be safe.

_________________

Now that you are so much better equipped for your next stay at the hospital, rest easy. You don’t have to worry any more about how you will cope. You are prepared!