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The Necessity of Empathy Long Island Sound When it comes to health care, many patients assume that the doctors serving them have technical understanding, but many feel those doctors may not have a real appreciation of the impact the patient’s problem has on their emotions or quality of life. In some cases, they may be right. Some professionals work at solving the same problems for so long and are so focused on the technical aspects of addressing those problems that they lose sight of the unique experience of the patient in front of them. This almost always results in a disconnect between patient and doctor, leaving the patient feeling frustrated and unheard. A failure to adequately address a patient’s main concerns is often actually a failure of empathy. After years of ongoing study of audiology
I had a similar experience at one point in my academic training when my professor had us had to wear earplugs for a day, simulating the hearing loss of our patients. It was an eye-opening experience. Not only did I find myself asking others to repeat themselves — causing no small amount of annoyance to them — but I began to shorten my conversations or even avoid them altogether to avoid frustration. In the rare cases I was able to communicate, the richness of that communication was severely limited. And besides that, it was fatiguing. I had to work much harder than usual to make out what people were saying to me and fill in gaps in what I was hearing with guesses. By the end of the day, when I finally removed the earplugs, I was wiped out. It was an exhausting, emotionally taxing experience. And, unlike those afflicted with real hearing loss, I knew I could go back to normal at the end of the day. Thinking of the toll it would to have to cope with hearing difficulty on a daily basis gave me a new appreciation of those who live with this frustration. It’s easy to underestimate the negative impact hearing loss can have on a person’s life. If you break your arm, you get a cast; everyone can clearly
and working as an audiologist — and talking with other audiologists — I’ve become well acquainted with the perspective of an audiologist. But, obviously, that’s not enough. An audiologist’s assumptions about what is important to a patient may not be accurate. That is why, at Hearing Center of Long Island, we take great pains to intimately understand the point of view of those who come to us for help. For example, I recently attended a seminar focused on understanding the unique needs of the patients we serve. In one of the workshops, we put on “arthritis simulation gloves” and tried to perform some manual tasks. The “gloves” restricted movement of my fingers, similar to the way arthritis would, and applied pressure to cause pain similar to arthritis. While wearing the gloves, I found it difficult perform simple tasks, like writing and using scissors. The experience became especially frustrating when I attempted to change hearing aid batteries with the arthritis gloves on. Of course, this was just one hindrance that affects my patients every day of their lives!
Dr. Larry with “arthritis”
see your problem. But with hearing loss, you look fine on the outside. This causes people to misunderstand those with hearing loss. “Why are they not responding to me?” they might wonder. “Are they ignoring me? Are they angry with me? Are they senile?” But when you want to communicate with a person who is coping with hearing loss — or if you really want to communicate with anyone — making a real effort to truly see things from their perspective, to think of what it must be like to live with the frustrations they deal with, often leads to much better understanding and communication. That is a lesson I try never to forget. That is the difference between hearing and listening. That is what we mean when we say that, at Hearing Center of Long Island, “We’re listening to you®.”
– Lawrence Cardano, Au.D.
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