It was another “normal day” at the office. My schedule was full of hearing evaluations, hearing aid fittings, and follow-up appointments. No boring routine, as each client was unique in their history and needs, as well as their expectations. As any doctor does, I had developed a mental check list I would follow when meeting a new patient. Medical history, listening needs, diagnostic testing, explanation of evaluation results and counseling. The process had never failed me.
I met Jane in the waiting room, brought her back to the testing area, and introduced myself. After completing the diagnostic testing it was time to start the counseling portion. Jane was not unlike other individuals I had worked with, however she was unique and to this day has made a lasting impression on my professional career.
Jane was young, in her early thirties at the time of her evaluation, and had experienced a rapid decrease in hearing in her right ear. Over a very short period of time, Jane had lost approximately 75% of her hearing in that ear, while her left ear remained unaffected. She worked in a multi-physician office that required her to perform quickly and efficiently, two qualities which were starting to be affected by her hearing loss. She described anxiety, stress, exhaustion, and an overall feeling of desperation for any intervention that may help her “get her hearing back”.
As her audiologist I could see the physical evidence that her hearing evaluation revealed. However, I knew that if I simply started to read the results back to her, I would only be adding to the sense of helplessness she was describing. So I did the next best think I could think of. I pulled my chair up next to Jane and her husband, left her results on the table, and told her that she already knew what the results were. Her hearing was indeed measurably worse in her right ear in comparison to her left ear. She had been working overtime trying to compensate for the difference. I told her that she had every reason to be upset, to feel stress and anxiety while trying to perform her job. Most importantly, I told her that she was exhausted at the end of the day because she was doing the job of two ears with one. She was working to compensate and function as if she still had normal hearing in both ears. Her brain was literally exhausted. Everything she described, every function and emotion, was valid. She was exhausted.
It was only a matter of seconds before she started to cry in the middle of the office. For a hearing healthcare professional, crying is not out of the norm to experience on a daily basis. Jane’s crying surprised me, however, and I think it surprised her husband as well. When I was finally able to ask her if she was okay, she looked at me and simply said, “thank you”. I asked her why she was thanking me, as I must admit you do not always receive a “thank you” when you explain results to clients. Her explanation was easy: I had been the only person who had taken the time to validate what she was experiencing on a daily basis.
The rest of the appointment was filled with discussions of Jane’s unique hearing loss, her work environment, the amplification options available, and the expectations of what may or may not be possible. Regardless of the outcome of Jane’s appointment that day, she left my office a vastly different woman than when she first arrived. She was not the only person who had been transformed in the 90 minutes that had elapsed, however. She also made a lasting impression on me. To this day I remember Jane and I can feel the emotions of that appointment rush back over me. I only hope that in the 5, 10, or 20 years even, Jane remembers the same thing. These relationships are the ones that last forever.
Relationship? Is that the right word to describe the interaction between a patient/client and a doctor? If you’re talking about your general healthcare provider perhaps it is, but your dentist? Maybe not. Your audiologist? Absolutely! The definition of relationship says it all: “The way in which two or more people or things are connected”. A hearing loss impacts the rest of your life, as does your decision to (or not to) wear hearing aids. The routine testing, maintenance of hearing aids, fine tuning and programming, repairs,etc., these are all actions taken between you and your audiologist. When something is not functioning appropriately or broken, you depend on your audiologist to know the answer and get you communicating again! Your audiologist, when you find one that you feel comfortable and happy with, will always be a part of your life.
It is our human nature that causes us to “judge” someone when we meet them — do we like their personality, are we “on the same page”, will we work well together? These are all questions that you should ask yourself when you meet your audiologist, because it is important to remember that if you are starting this relationship out on the wrong foot, then it cannot grow and evolve like it needs to. Not only do you make an impact on the audiologist, but we can only hope to make an impact on your life — your communication. We do all that we can to provide you with the tools you need to have continued success and a life full of unlimited communication and interaction with the world around you.