Deaf people encounter troubles with medical care
The Sacramento Bee | Sacbee.com
BY CLAUDIA BUCK
JULY 11, 2016
When you’re hospitalized or in pain, understanding a doctor’s diagnosis or a nurse’s instructions is hard enough. But when you’re deaf, it can feel like being shut out.
Ellen Thielman, a retired computer programmer, found that out twice this year. Deaf since infancy, the Sacramento resident has navigated the hearing world for years – graduating from college, raising two children and working more than 20 years for several California state government departments.
But when Thielman, 67, landed in the emergency room last January with what she thought might be symptoms of a stroke, she was frustrated by the lack of adequate sign-language interpreters and her inability to effectively talk with medical staff.
“I was furious, upset and a bit traumatized. I felt really alone,” said Thielman, who lives independently but needs a service dog to hear even her own doorbell.
Thielman wasn’t misdiagnosed, mistreated or given improper medications. Still, in two emergency room visits and subsequent hospital stays this year at Mercy General Hospital in Sacramento, she said she frequently felt isolated and unsure why she was getting certain injections or exactly what her medical status was. Both times, she said, it took three to four hours for a trained interpreter to arrive in the emergency room. Later, in the hospital, she was unable to schedule an interpreter to meet with her doctors.
During her multi-night hospital stays, her primary means of conversation was to scribble back-and-forth notes with her nurses and doctors.