Monday, February 13, 2017
Permanent Hearing Loss as a Mom and Nurse: What do I do about…..??
Sarah Matacale, RN
My name is Sarah and I am now 41 years old. I lost a large percentage of my hearing about 3 years ago, suddenly, with no definitive reason. I wear bilateral hearing aids and have severe tinnitus that keeps me from ever having a moment of quiet...EVER. That in itself is enough to make you feel like you are losing your mind. Constant high pitched, loud ringing.
It takes so much brainpower and patience to filter through what I think I hear, the context, read lips and compile a thought that seems to make sense. I get it wrong A LOT even with the hearing aids in. I laugh at myself most of the time, like the time my husband and I were at an outdoor orchestra concert. He asked me if the piece was from Mozart. I was shocked and offended and answered a stern, “NO, I ABSOLUTELY DID NOT FART!” (We do not even use that word; we are fancy, high-class people who say, “toot”)! There are plenty of funny times like that but I want to speak a bit to the not so funny times.
I am a registered nurse. I took a few years away from my career to have three beautiful, most-of-the-time charming and delightful children. It was always in our life “plan” (ha-ha) that I would go back to work. After the birth of our youngest son, my hearing took a sudden decline. I went to the ENT with the thought that I had ear infections or maybe needed tubes. Nothing of the sort…..failed hearing tests, maybe otosclerosis, and sent to a surgeon for possible stapes transplants.
As I meet with the specialist, my calendar in hand ready to schedule my surgery, I was told, “Sorry to tell you this but you have significant nerve damage, need bilateral hearing aides, loss is progressive and irreversible and you are not a surgical candidate”. I held back the tears of shock while I attempted to ask some questions.
But, what do I do about my kids? They are still so young. My husband is a doctor; he works a lot including night shifts. How will I keep my kids safe crossing the road if I do not hear the cars or hear them cry out at night (cannot wear hearing aides while you sleep) or struggling in the pool? I do not hear the doors in my house open even with a door alarm, much less hear someone trying to come in and hurt or steal from us.
I have worried and prayed… please maintain enough hearing until my kids are not as dependent on me for their safety. I have been able to get by on learning the feeling and sounds of each child’s footsteps, reading lips, strengthening other senses, and depending on the other members in our house to hear and translate for me. And, no more night shifts for hubby!
And what do I do about my nursing career? I have practiced nursing in many areas, but my true love and heart goes into Cardiac Intensive Care and Hospice nursing. In one area, you do all you can to “save” your patient and in the other you do everything you can to ease their passing. What is similar is the opportunity to intimately know your patients and their family; their story, both medically and personally, their habits, likes, dislikes, the special way their heart beats, the way they inhale, handle pain, medicines, or the change in their vital signs during a bed bath.
I cannot hear my patient’s lung or heart sounds, call bells or questions anymore. Amplified stethoscopes are helpful but I have such loud tinnitus, that I cannot hear over the noise. How would I manage in an emergency? How could I remove hearing aids to listen with the stethoscope, and then replace the hearing aids to hear questions and orders? I could use an electronic stethoscope, but I personally do not feel safe as a cardiac ICU nurse without my own “ears”. I was/ am afraid of missing something with patients who are so fragile. I realized that I would not feel comfortable or as competent at the bedside as I had before.
I heard many "reassuring" comments. You are lucky your husband is a doctor and you do not need to work, many people have it worse, your career should not define you, etc. Here is the thing; I went into nursing because it DOES define me. I am a caregiver, a nurturer. I am smart, witty, and work well to comfort others. I can think fast in an emergency, see concern on people's faces, and translate for patients and families the physician speak. I AM A NURSE in my heart and soul. So what do I do about…???….I grieve, get mad and frustrated, bargain, beg, pray and cry a lot.
Then, I put on my big girl panties and went back to school for medical documentation, billing and coding. I took and passed my CCS exam; I opened myself to finding another passion.
Writing fell into my lap and I love it! I will never do or hear many things again, but I am grateful for what I have. There is so much more to who I am now because of all of the “what abouts…?”.
I am a nurse and the good I do in the world stems from that part of my heart.
This is my story. It by no means indicates that nurses cannot practice bedside care and do it well with hearing loss. The newest technology and hearing assistance devices can bridge the hearing loss gap to providing care. Trained in cardiac critical care, I see and treat every patient with that degree of intensity. I felt like I could not provide that level of care to my patients. My fear of missing something life altering is too great so I sadly chose to leave that nursing career path.
Sarah Matacale RN, BSN, CCS can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org