All It Takes is a Little Kindness

Such a simple thing can make all the difference.

This week, I had the chance to use my fantastic chiropractic deal (yay groupon!).  When I called Chiropractic Art and Science to make my appointment, I requested an interpreter as I usually do.  I could tell by the receptionist’s reaction that it’s not a request they get often (or perhaps ever). She kept telling me they didn’t have one on staff, and wasn’t sure how to find one.

Because I needed to get in and use my deal in a hurry, I told her not to worry about it, as long as they were willing to write things down and work with me we’d be fine.  An interpreter would be ideal, but we’d work around it.

The next day, I arrived early to fill in my paperwork, just as I’d been told to do.  When I got there, I was greeted warmly by the receptionist… who breathed a visible sigh of relief when I understood her greeting.  She turned and gave the chiropractor the thumbs up, I’m sure to pass on the message that I’m NOT terrifying and he could relax a little.  And then she handed me out the intro spiel that she had written out for me before I arrived… A full two pages of big, happy scrawl telling me what to expect, what their process is, and what I needed to fill out.  And then she set up text reminders for my appointments.  I could have hugged her.

When they needed to get my attention, they walked right up to me instead of calling across the room. They made sure to look at me when they were talking to me.  And any time I looked confused, they carefully wrote out what they were saying.  For part of the exam, they had to stand behind me… so the chiropractor set up signals to let me know when I needed to move.  A little tap on the left shoulder, bend this way, little tap on the right, bend that way.  Easy.  They let me keep my hearing aids until the very last possible second during XRays.  They made sure they always explained everything clearly before doing anything.  And always, the willingness to use pictures, writing, and demonstration to make sure I understood what was going on.

It seems like a simple thing, doesn’t it? They were surprised by how pleased I was that they were willing to write for me… but all too often, I’m met with resistance if I don’t understand and ask someone to write instead of speaking.  There are confused looks, repeated unintelligible words, sighs of irritation.  In my experience, it’s the worst in medical situations.  I was told by one doctor, “Well, you seem to be lip-reading really well, we don’t need an interpreter.”   (Apparently, he decided I only needed to understand 10% of that conversation.) One of my nurses during that same visit flat-out refused to write anything down, and getting her to talk directly to me was almost impossible.  It made the whole experience frustrating, isolating, and scary.

For those of you in the health industry (or service, or anything other industry really) – it really doesn’t take much to bridge the communication barrier.  All it takes is a little bit of kindness, some patience, and willingness to meet in the middle.  To you, it may seem like a small thing, but you have no idea what a difference it makes on the other side of things.

Do you have experience trying to juggle communication barriers in a medical setting? How did you deal with it?

7 thoughts on “All It Takes is a Little Kindness

  1. Christine

    I am not deaf, but have been interpreting since middle school. I was fascinated with the interpreter at our church. She saw me watching and asked my parents if it was ok to teach me. The lady she interpreted for was so happy that one of the kids was actually interested and not “afraid/dismissive” of her.
    Years later I worked for a doctor’s office, and was amazed and sickened by how some of our deaf and HH patience were treated by some of the employees. I literally had one girl say that she refused any calls from TTY or relay services. Is it a bit different from a “normal” call? Yes, but so what. I wanted to apologize to the patient for the girl’s rudeness. After they found out that relay calls didn’t bother me at all, they always forwarded them to me. I didn’t mind it at all, but really how hard would it have been just to take the calls.
    The behaviors I have seen from some hearing people make me want to apologize to those who are deaf for just how unthinking hearing people can be.

  2. Shiloh

    We often request an interpreter for our 10-year-old daughter to help her become accustomed to accommodations. I’m very familiar with the, “I don’t know how to find one,” response in smaller physicians’ offices. I’d be interested to know how others handle “helping” the office find an interpreter.

  3. Damien

    I’ve been lucky to be well-accommodated in medical situations. These days my medical care comes from Kaiser and Johns Hopkins, and they’re generally good about it. Ironically, my greatest communication issue with them has nothing to do with deafness, but with my sleep disorder. Whenever they want to schedule me for something at 0830, trying to explain to them that I can’t do that is like talking to a wall. Deaf? Interpreter? Sure! Sleep dis… disor… WUT!? Seriously? These are medical staff, for crying out loud.

  4. Elizabeth

    Yes!! My last appointment with my neurologist in Hamilton. I had an interpreter booked and they ended up sick day of my appointment so when got there did have anyone. I was standing looking for her and another patient said she like my top … I didn’t answer, wasn’t being rude just couldn’t hear so then the receptionist walked to me and had me follow her. The receptionist did let the other person know I was deaf and said thank you for me tho so I wasn’t acting like I was rude. The receptionist was very pleased and polite. She wrote all down and showed me what I didn’t understand. I thought she was great but when got in with Dr he mumbled or whatever. He looked down when talking and wasn’t really wanting to write things down. It was very frusterating for me. I am 90% deaf bilateral but can lip read well when people look at me.

  5. Christie

    That’s so wonderful! I’m glad to hear that some people are capable of being professional and considerate! On a side note: I’m hearing, and I often wonder what it’s like to watch tv with the horrible captioning they do if you’re deaf. I like having the captions on because it helps me absorb what’s going on a little better, and I notice a lot of times, especially with live programming, the captions end up being gibberish or they put the wrong words in. Sometimes they even skip whole sentences.

  6. sgrovesuss

    Rachel – Good for you in asking for accommodations. It’s too easy to pretend we don’t have hearing loss and to bluff through conversations. But when it comes to medical settings, understanding physicians, doctors, and specialists is critical.

    I blogged a few months ago about my experience in advocating at a walk-in clinic: Please let me know your thoughts on it. Thanks so much.


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