I'm Back! (And A Tale From The Hospital)
After taking two blissful weeks off to get to know my newborn son, I’m slowly catching up with emails, the blog, and other office duties. Thanks once again to the wonderful guest bloggers who helped me hold down the fort here in my absence. I hope you’ll scroll down and read some of their wonderful work.
My wife and I had a wonderful experience at the hospital, where the physicians, nurses, and other personnel did a great job of helping our new family get acclimated (and cope with some unexpected health challenges, which have fortunately been resolved).
But there was one bump in the road that threatened to undermine our entire hospital experience.
On our first morning post-delivery, an audiologist came into our room to administer a state-mandated hearing test. She struggled to attach the sensors onto our barely 17-hour-old son, who squirmed throughout most of the test.
As I watched the computer monitors give real-time results during the test, I noticed that his score was reading low. He needed 350 to pass—and he was hovering in the low 100s. What, exactly, were those numbers measuring, I asked the tech? She couldn’t answer. She was clueless, only reiterating that “350 was passing.”
That’s when the tech sent us into a panic. She asked, “Has he been crying a lot?” “Not really,” I answered, “Why do you ask?” “Because I learned in the graduate school class I’m taking that when a baby doesn’t cry a lot, it’s a bad sign.”
I thought my normally mild-mannered wife was going to strangle her. This tech clearly had no idea what she was talking about (newborns are usually quiet in the first 24 hours, we later learned), and she was unable to define what she meant by “bad sign.” Did she mean our son was going to be deaf? Have severe developmental problems? Autism? Again, she had no clue. Given that she wasn’t a physician or registered nurse, she shouldn’t have offered uninformed, unhelpful, and unclear speculation about the problems our son may or may not have had.
I barely slept that night. I spent the evening Googling message boards about the implications of not passing an initial hearing test. Some websites said newborns fail them all the time since their amniotic fluid hasn’t cleared; other parents discussed life with their hearing-impaired children.
Our son’s hearing was retested the next day. He passed.
You might say that this tech was particularly insensitive, or oblivious, or poorly trained. She may have been a combination of all three. But how many times have you encountered someone similar, someone in a position to offer reassurance who instead makes you feel more agitated due to their poor word choices?
It seemed to me that this experience is the perfect example of why even non-media spokespersons need media training (or even more tailored interpersonal communications training). I’m guessing that the tech would be surprised that her carelessness affected us so much. And with some basic training about what she should say to a patient and what she shouldn’t, this situation could have been avoided.
It’s good to be back! Thank you so much for being a loyal reader.
So glad to hear your beautiful son is A-OK! Excellent post and a great example to pull from your own experience and, once again, CONGRATULATIONS!!!!
Thanks so much, Melissa! We’re rather fond of the little guy, even if he’s not fond of allowing his parents to sleep through the night. 🙂
Welcome back and congratulations! (And major, major stinkeye to the tech. Ugh.)
Thanks very much! And fear not – the tech got a fair dose of sleep-deprived stinkeye.
Congratulations on your “nugget.” I like the phrase.
Welcome back and congrats, Brad. As a relatively new father myself I can sympathise with the stresses of delivery and post delivery. It only takes one insensitive or misguided remark to set alarm bells ringing, particularly when both parents are usually sleep deprived and exhausted (especially mom).
Congrats again to you all. Exciting times!
Thank you for your comment, and congratulations on your own recent addition!
Congrats again! Glad your son is doing well (and hears normally!).
This story reminds me of a scene in the movie 50/50, where the main character has has a very serious surgery and the surgeon comes out and she starts telling the family about why the surgery was difficult. Then she tells them that it went well and everything is OK. So the Seth Rogen character says to her “You should have started with that!” Point is most medical professionals seem to have little idea of how their words and delivery impact people when they are at their most vulnerable. Definitely, better communications training is necessary for anyone dealing with people in the hospital or dealing with medical issues.
That’s a perfect analogy! Now that you mention it, I remember that scene from 50/50 — and it astutely captured what I suspect far too many patients experience.
Thanks for reading and commenting,
Congratulations Brad! That’s wonderful news – and an excellent post, as always.
I’m glad all is well with mom, son and proud father.
Thank you very much! Perhaps you can meet our little guy next time we come to DC — if I don’t spot you in a Starbucks first, writing a follow-up to your excellent first novel, “The Fallen Snow.”
Congratulations!!!!!!! I’m sorry that one thoughtless comment caused you so much angst. I’ve been on message boards for years and years, and one thing I’ve learned (through many confessional-style threads) is that the power of a single sentence can be completely life-changing (and so often in a negative way). Words can bruise and worry and anger in so many ways. Very important to remember in our field.
Reading this has brought back my own experience in November last year at a private hospital in Australia which was almost identical. The hearing test girl couldn’t tell me why my daughter failed the test, what the readings meant etc but told me she was obviously deaf. I knew she wasn’t. Despite only having been a mum for a few hours I knew she could hear me. Several days of tears and worry ensued and still leave a bad taste into mouth from the experience which should have been a blissful time. I complained to the hospital and the Audiology people abou their communication skills and how they should teach their operators to communicate to parents of children who fail the initial tests because it is VERY common but can be so scary!
I am so glad all resolved itself for you and congratulations on the birth!
I’m so sorry to hear that the same thing happened to you.
One of the things we always teach people about crisis communications is that people can’t fully hear you in a crisis. Once you mention emotionally heavy words such as “failed,” “deaf,” or “hearing impaired,” people’s fear overrides a portion of their ability to rationally process difficult information. Therefore, it becomes more critical than ever to communicate using clear and precise language. It sounds like the two audiologists we encountered both failed in that effort.
Thanks for reading and commenting!
Congrats on the “little nugget”!
Glad to hear everything went over well.
All the best to the three of you.
My wife and I had to undergo fertility treatments to have our daughter. Once we conceived, a nurse in our fertility doctor’s office very non-chalantly told us one day that some lab results seemed off and might indicate that we were losing the baby. We became frantic, and began barraging our fertility doctor’s voicemail to find out what was up. When we finally talked to him, he told us not to worry, and that the test results were not indicative of what we had been told. Later, after our daughter had been born, we went into the doctor’s office with flowers. When we approached that nurse, she got a smile on her face as we handed the flowers to her. Then we asked her if should would mind giving them to another nurse in the office–one my wife and I both really liked and who had helped us a great deal. The look on her face was priceless! We had never forgiven her for being so cold and for having put us through such unnecessary anxiety.
BTW, my daughter is 17 years old now. I suspect that one day you’ll look at your perfectly healthy teenage son and remember your experience at the hospital with a smile.
Thank you very much for sharing your personal story. I’m so sorry you had to go through the angst caused by inaccurately (and carelessly) delivered information.
One thing that’s becoming clear from this blog post is that my wife and I were far from alone in this experience. I’ve provided media training to several physicians, health care providers, and hospital executives, and I know firsthand that many of them “get it.” It’s sad to see that so many others still don’t.
While we’re on the topic, here’s one of the most shocking answers I’ve ever heard from a media training client. Many years ago, I asked a physician in a poor community whether he thought it was fair that the public hospital paid him $225,000/year, considering the average adult in his community earned just $23,000/year. “That’s their fault for not going to college,” he replied. I laughed, thinking he was giving me a gag answer. I suddenly realized that he was serious — and would have given the same answer on television.
Thanks for writing,
Welcome back Brad and heartfelt congratulations to your family! Thanks for sharing your personal story. A great reminder to all about thinking before speaking.
Congratulations on the birth of your beautiful son!