The Deaf Doctor: Otosclerosis w/ Dr. Jones
As I write this I am sitting in an on call room at the hospital, reflecting on my whirlwind weekend. After working a 26 hour shift on Friday night I tried to nap and then made my way down to the eOne studios to chat with the Sickboy gang. It's Sunday and I am now back at the hospital.
I have a dual role in the health care system right now - I am both a patient and a doctor. In my internal medicine residency I spend long nights in the hospital on call. I manage complex patients and try to figure out what medications and supports they need to get better. I love what I do but the hours are long - this weekend I will spend 52 hours at the hospital over three days.
About a year ago, I noticed my hearing was not as sharp as it once was, though I attributed this to sleep deprivation. When I finally got the courage to get my hearing tested I was diagnosed with a condition called otosclerosis - overgrowth of my inner ear bones (which are the smallest bones in the body).
Otosclerosis is a genetic condition that causing tinnitus ("ringing" of the ears) and conductive hearing loss. It is progressive and happens more often in women than men. Luckily there is a surgery available to try to improve the hearing loss that can be performed by a ear nose and throat surgeon. I'm currently waiting to see whether I am a candidate for this surgery. It won't restore my hearing completely but it should give me more than I have right now.
There's something deeply personal and somewhat claustrophobic about losing your hearing. I feel like I want to listen to all the music, to hear all the things incase one day i'm not able to enjoy them anymore.
Being a doctor is a LOT easier than being a patient. One thing that I didn't expect was how our way of communicating with patients is VERY slow and outdated. When my doctors want to make an appointment with me, they mail me a letter. They don't even call. Sometimes, this means that the letter gets to my house after the appointment has been scheduled and everyone gets frustrated. If I want to get in touch with my doctor I usually spend about 45 minutes on hold and then leave a message with a clerk. We have much better communication technology now than we used to but our health care system is still using technology going on 30 years old (pagers, faxes etc...).
My hearing loss has made me more empathetic to the struggles my patients will face just getting into the door to see me. To be a patient in the hospital feels like being a stranger in a very familiar environment. A place that is normally filled with friendly colleagues now is replaced with my own clinical experience and worries.
Ironically, having hearing loss has actually made me a better listener. To follow a conversation means putting down my phone and focusing with intention. And if my hearing gets worse, it might not be so bad if I don't have to hear my pager going off in the middle of the night.
- Dr. Jones