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May 7, 2004

Deaf talkabout: There are times when we need extra help

From: Belfast Telegraph, UK - May 7, 2004

By Bob McCullough
07 May 2004

PAUL McMenamy from west Belfast, married to Margaret and the father of three children, died in his sleep on Monday morning, aged 37.

Evelyn and I were guests at their wedding and, like many of their friends, are in shock at the early death.

Deaf people have the same distress as the hearing when dealing with sickness and death but, in situations such as this, communication support is of even more importance. Professional help is needed in dealing with the trauma and in organising the funeral.

By coincidence, last Saturday's BBC's See Hear spent nearly the whole programme examining the RNID's recent report on the failure of the health authorities to offer an efficient service to deaf patients and asking how things could be made better.

The facts presented were astonishing and, apparently, in some areas, as many as 35% of deaf patients leave their doctor's surgeries uncertain of both the diagnosis and prognosis.

Improvements are certainly needed in basic situations such as the reception at our local GP's waiting room or the casualty room of our nearest hospital.

For years deaf people have had to put up with straining to lip-read the call-out of their name when an electronic caller-display would make things so much easier. But what about communication with the doctor himself?

One of the guests on the see Hear programme suggested that reception should take responsibility for booking an interpreter when a deaf person was expected at the surgery and the hassle should not be left to the patient. An impracticable and implausible proposal as the word "deaf" covers so many different aspects of hearing loss and a sign language interpreter would be of little use to a hard of hearing patient.

I was talking about this to a deaf friend and she said she never uses an interpreter in the surgery as privacy is paramount to her and she always arrives with a written report of her symptoms and expects the doctor to reciprocate in kind.

Another speaker on the show said this does not work with the majority of deaf people because their English is not good enough and an interpreter should be mandatory?even though we all know there are not enough to go around ? and who is to decide which patient should have priority?

The interpreter service is now well-known and supplies a valuable and much appreciated service to both GPs and hospitals, but there are occasions, especially in serious illness, and in the crowded conditions of most hospitals, when only a relative or close friend can provide the advice and help a deaf person needs and See Hear failed to acknowledge this.

Several years ago I was being treated at the Ulster Hospital for a knee complaint and, apart from the excellent rheumatoid care I was receiving, no one seemed to notice the decline in my general health until my son arrived home after several months abroad and insisted on accompanying me to my next appointment.

David spoke frankly to the doctor and persuaded him to give me a thorough examination.

A blood test and other findings proved he was right and I was admitted right away for several days of blood transfusions and internal examinations.

My blood count was found to be extraordinarily low and they also found a serious throat infection that was poisoning my body and draining my strength.

David's intervention probably saved my life.

The professional services are great - but sometimes our loved ones provide a service even greater.

© 2004 Independent News and Media (NI) a division of Independent News & media (UK) Ltd