Chanel Rogers, Class of 2017
Kent State University/NOAC
This past February I had the opportunity to be involved in a hearing screening at a senior health center. I never imagined a hearing screening would provide me with as great of a life lesson as it did. I had the pleasure of meeting and screening a woman (“Ms. B”) who was around 65 years old. She reported interest in our screening program because she had been experiencing difficulties in many areas of life that require hearing, such as not following what was being said in one-on-one conversations, contributing to conversations in a group setting, and understanding song lyrics while attending church.
With all of the many listening challenges that Ms. B had described, I expected her results from the hearing screen to show that she had at least a moderate hearing loss, but that was not the case. The results that I collected showed a mild hearing loss with no frequency tested being greater than 35 dB, but it affected her greatly on an everyday basis.
My preceptor and I summarized our brief test, relating the results to the troubles that she had mentioned. She seemed to feel safe with us, because she then began to recount not just other hearing problems and her family’s frustrations, but other health and safety concerns and their impact on the quality of her life. The more she shared (“This is the first time I’ve said this out loud”), the more she seemed to understand her resistance to help (“As they say, denial is not just a river in Egypt”). I believe Ms. B started to trust us (English & Kasewurm, 2012) and her trust showed through the emotions that she shared.
Ms. B began to cry and as more information came out, a revelation occurred to her. We silently marveled as Ms. B moved herself out of the state of denial, into acceptance. By the end of the screening, she was ready to make an appointment to discuss the options available to her for amplification and other assistive technologies.
Catharsis and Change
When she felt ready to leave, Ms. B put on her coat and while tying her belt, she said with some surprise and relief, “I feel better!” Later, we reflected on that comment, indicative of catharsis. When given the opportunity (i.e., given time, respect, compassion), patients may feel ready to unburden themselves of worries and fears. Once these are shared with a receptive listener, the speaker does not feel alone and defensive, but instead feels understood and supported (Stone et al., 2010). The subsequent emotional relief changes how we view change: perceived barriers are no longer insurmountable, and options can be considered.
In this experience, I learned a very important lesson that I will carry with me throughout all of my future years of practice. That lesson is that, no matter what the hearing loss looks like on paper, it can affect each individual differently. Before this day, I did not think a mild hearing loss would have such a great impact on someone’s everyday life as it did with Ms. B. She helped me see firsthand that being in the healthcare field requires us to be compassionate and empathetic to the issues that the patient faces and also that just because the patients are in to see for a particular reason, there may be something deep down that has been suppressed that may come to light with their time with us.
This day made me realize that it is true that we must treat the whole patient and not just the hearing loss, which is an essential mental note I will carry with me forever.
Stone, D., Patton, B., & Heen, S. (2010). Difficult conversations: How to discuss what matters most. NY: Viking.