Being a patient with a hearing loss does not have to be frightening but preparation is needed. It is important to contact the hospital as far in advance as possible to discuss and request aids or services that may be needed. Hospitals should have a designated person/office to whom such requests should be made and to whom patients can contact in the event the hospital fails to provide the requested accommodations.
The following are recommended questions to ask your doctor and hospital prior to your stay:
1. Can your hearing aids/cochlear implant processors stay in/on during surgery or until you fall asleep?
If not, can they be placed in your ears/reattached immediately after surgery or as you leave the operating room? Bring a small container labeled with your name for storing your devices during surgery to avoid losing them.
2. Can staff wear clear surgical masks or remove them when they speak with you?
Let everyone know prior to entering the operating room if you rely on lip reading and therefore need to see people's faces. Wearing clear surgical masks or removing them when they speak with you allows you to see their lips. The entire surgery process should be discussed and reviewed with you prior to entering the operating room including, but not limited, to the IV will cause a burning sensation or the sticky tabs will be placed on your chest to monitor your heart.
3. Is a portable FM or amplifier such as a PockeTalker available?
This can improve communication even if you do not have a hearing aid and may be helpful when communicating critical medical information.
4. Is your doctor aware that your otolaryngologist or audiologist should be contacted if there is any perceived change in hearing?
Anesthesia can sometimes cause a decrease in hearing loss. Hospital personnel may need to compare or review your most recent hearing tests. You may want to bring a copy with you to the hospital.
5. How will hospital personnel be notified about your hearing loss?
All staff including nurses, doctors, anesthesiologists and recovery room staff should be aware that you have a hearing loss and how you communicate. You may have difficulty hearing when emerging from anesthesia. Hospital personnel may think you appear non-responsive or are not responding appropriately if they are not notified about your hearing loss.
6. Can a sign noting your hearing loss be posted above your bed?
This is especially important at night when your hearing aids or devices are removed and the night staff may be unaware of your hearing loss. Some hospitals may be reluctant to offer this without your requesting it because of patient privacy rights. The benefits outweigh the privacy issues. Healthcare providers tend to speak before checking your chart so the sign is important even if your chart is noted with your hearing loss.
7. Are the nurses aware that you may not be able to hear over the intercom?
The hospital should place a sticker on the intercom at the nurse's station indicating that you are hard of hearing or deaf. This will alert the staff not to use the intercom if you are unable to hear it. The staff will need to come into your room so the hospital may want to place you in a room near the nurses' station.
8. Did you pack a pad and pen for your hospital room?
A pad and pen will allow you and the staff to write down critical information and medical terms to ensure you hear them properly.
9. Are any of the medicines that will be used ototoxic and have hearing loss as a side effect?
If yes, can these be avoided? This information should be provided to your doctor even if they do not anticipate that you will receive medication. The situation may change and the consequences are serious.
10. What visual alerts does the hospital offer for emergencies and to alert you someone is at the door?
There are a variety of devices that can alert individuals with hearing loss to emergencies, to the phone ringing and/or to someone knocking at the door. Find out what the hospital has available and what is recommended based on your procedure.
11. Are assistive listening devices and/or captioning available for the television?
The remote control should have an easy to access closed captioning button. A portable DVD player or laptop with DVDs is an alternative.
Your hospital stay will be a less stressful experience if you do some advance preparation and inform the hospital about your hearing loss. Communicating your needs and limitations, and the services you require, will ensure that you and the hospital are prepared.
Portions of this article were previously published in Published in New Jersey's Department of Human Services Monthly Communicator, March 2009