Thursday, June 26, 2008

More than Words

I'd met Angie a year ago, prior to a surgical procedure for which I provided her anesthesia. She and her husband are both deaf.

I was glad to see her again, this time under happier circumstances: the birth of their next child.

"How are you?" I gestured with my hands, pulling out the one ASL phrase I could always count on.

I added, awkwardly, "My signing is not better," then realized, Oh crap, how do you say, "since we last met?" At that time, the previous year, I had introduced myself, "I'm Dr. So-and-so," and it had taken me almost as many seconds as letters in my name to do the fingerspelling. So sad.

She smiled and answered through her interpreter, "No worries."

I have an "accent," I'm sure. A hearing person's accent, and a beginner's manual stutter.

Sometimes I wonder, is it annoying for someone who communicates in another language to have a non-fluent person try, or is it accepted in the spirit of fellowship in which the effort is intended? I guess it depends on the individual and the circumstances.

In any case, I was off the hook, for more than one reason: the presence of a terrific interpreter, and the need to get busy with my hands and prepare for the epidural placement.

Immediately I had an issue I hadn't thought of before: how best to position a deaf patient so she could still communicate. Lying on her side, she would probably find her interpreter easier to see, but one of her arms less mobile for signing. We opted to keep her in a sitting position and her interpreter seated on a footrest in front of her, in her line of sight even with her head bent down and her body curled up. Her hands and arms would be free to move with the caveat that she would have to keep them in front of her, away from the sterile field.

The epidural placement was an easy one. Easy enough to allow the labor nurse and me the opportunity for quiet conversation during the placement.

"Where did Angie and John meet?" I asked her. "She might feel a little pressure in her back now," I added, as an aside. The interpreter translated my question and my word of warning.

"We met at school," John signed in reply, behind her.

"You can really feel how much they love each other," I said, talking as much to myself as to the nurse and the interpreter. The interpreter conveyed my thoughts, which John would not be able to lip-read through my surgical mask. I started passing the catheter into Angie's body. It went in smoothly.

The labor nurse concurred. "Exactly. I felt it as soon as I walked in. Really felt it, in the air."

"Right? It's like something that wraps right around you right as you enter the room."

I finished taping the epidural catheter into place. It had gone without a hitch.

The labor nurse nodded. "A lotta love there. A lotta love. Not something you usually get when you walk into these rooms, lemme tell ya."

It was true. There was something special about the vibe in that room, emanating from this couple. Something palpably different from the feeling (or lack of feeling) you got in the presence of other couples. A warmth and tenderness that extended beyond them, easily.

I wondered if a lifetime of having to rely on means of communication other than speech had given these two wonderful people a special ability to communicate better in other ways, to transmit more than the average. We all marveled at Angie and John that night - at their kindness to us and each other, their radiance, the quiet joy and love they expressed, mostly without spoken words.

Sad to say, we're just as often discouraged as happy for the babies born to the families who usually come to this maternity ward. On this particular night, though, we knew we could rest easy and just celebrate - "no worries," as Angie had said. This baby was going to be way ahead of the game.


What I Want to Get Accomplished on this Break

1. Brush up on my sign language!
2. Brush up on my flagging Arabic.
3. Read the next book on my summer reading list.
4. Read the latest Oprah magazine, which has all the summer book recommendations.
5. Change nail color, just for fun. Or actually put some on to begin with...a rare event, because of work! Do something about eyebrows. Maybe even hair.
6. Watch reruns of 7th Heaven.
7. Try to make Stilton Cheese & Swiss Chocolate truffles (don't ask).
8. Get through a ballet barre, again.
9. Restore hibernating oboe skills!
10. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep.

I think if I even get just #10 accomplished my life will be rejuvenated tenfold...


Anonymous said...

THANK YOU on behalf of deaf/hard of hearing patients everywhere!! My daughter is HOH, and even when I tell people they forget to make adjustments in their treatment plan. Drives me nuts!!

We only sign in the summertime because at the swimming pool she is totally unable to hear. I've got "5 minutes", "It's time to go", and "get out...NOW" down pat. I got really tickled the other day because our neighbor's son went over to tell her we had five minutes and he used the signs. Loved it!

T. said...

Thanks to you, Katy! I'm encouraged to keep trying, and get my signing up from rudimentary to somewhat workable!