Being deaf has never stopped me from doing anything; it’s other people who make it an issue.
Growing up, I knew I wanted to be independent and travel. Nursing kept presenting itself as a career option. I had a natural empathy for how people feel and knew what it was like to have to try and get clarity about things. I could see that it was an opportunity to make a difference.
Deafness throws up a lot of stuff about what you can hear and what you can do. As soon as you say the word “deaf”, you’re already locked into an unconscious bias, which is that we can’t hear so we must be stupid. One consultant didn’t want me on his ward because I had to make him stop when I needed to understand his instructions. He used to walk off ahead of me but if I can’t see you, I can’t see your lips to understand you. I was lucky because the sister on the ward reminded him that it wasn’t his ward, it was hers and that I was popular with patients. She made sure I wasn’t in those situations too often.
A couple of junior doctors used to play a bit of a joke on me: “Let’s see what she’ll go and get from the sluice room if we ask her something.” I’ve got a sense of humour but I’m not here for someone else’s fun. When anyone does anything that’s offensive, I’ll say something; it also provides an opportunity to educate on deafness.
As a deaf nurse, I bring insightful communication, and a true empathy that isn’t taught. I know what it’s like to be misunderstood and so I ensure communication is clear, succinct and understandable. As soon as you hit the wards, communication is important; people are frightened and you can’t ignore that.