Fresh out of university after completing my degree I moved province to embark on a new adventure. This adventure was working in a Government Hospital that serviced rural Kwazulu-Natal, and an encounter with the Public Sector’s Hearing Aid Waiting List.
It was a year of personal growth, many lessons and a sense of gratitude for many things we take for granted.
The year brought many challenges and many rewarding experiences. Sadly, with the number of hearing aids in the storeroom being far fewer than the number of patients on our Hearing Aid Waiting List, I had to be very selective about who could receive a hearing aid. I had to use candidacy criteria to make it fair and ethical, not wanting to deny anyone the experience of being able to hear again. There is an incredibly large deficit in the available resources for people who are in need of hearing aids in rural South Africa. Patients are required to travel hundreds of kilometers to the hospital for an appointment and only the possibility of a hearing aid. Meeting their needs is never a guarantee.
The best days at the hospital were the days I was able to fit a patient with a hearing aid. After fitting, I would ask them as best I could in isiZulu “Tell me what you hear? How does it sound? Can you hear?” Patients had many different reactions: “It is too loud, “or “I can hear my own voice.” Most had a wide smile: “Ngiyabonga- thank you.” they said.
Their new hearing journey had begun. This journey is different for everyone. It may take a few days to a few weeks for a person not to think of their hearing aids as foreign objects but rather an integral part of their function. It was interesting to note that in a poor community where people are yearning to hear and not be isolated from their friends and families, people were quite comfortable wearing and accepting their new hearing aids as a part of their personal identity. To see people unashamedly expressing great joy and confidence with their new device was very encouraging. A person with a hearing loss must travel the journey to acceptance. For my patients, the devices were not seen as a negative addition but rather a joyful addition to life- real and audible.
I will always remember the old gentleman who came in with a broken, old, dirty hearing aid. I saw the devastation all over his face, which reminded me what positive impact hearing aids have on a person’s life. He did everything whilst wearing his hearing aids, which explained why they were so dirty as he had on many occasions accidentally lost them in his vegetable garden. He had green fingers and although he did not spend much time talking to others I knew that without his hearing aids he would not be able to listen to the birds, his grandchildren laugh and wife sing. His hearing aids were an essential part of his life and he could not cope without being part of the hearing world.
The past year was full of contrasts for me. From heartbreaking moments where there was a lack of equipment or resources, to moments of joy as a member of the community was able to hear for the first time in years. I reflect on both the hardships and the highlights of working in the public sector. It has brought me a better understanding of the profession and the difference I want to make in my new role surrounded by like-minded and energetic colleagues but also the privilege it is to serve others and having the gift to hear.
My revelation: There is beauty in the ability to hear. People will go to extreme lengths to restore their hearing. To be able to communicate, discriminate, articulate, advise and understand is something that is common to all cultures. It is something that brings us together. It motivates me and ignites my passion as I move into my new role at NB Hearing.
New Year. HEAR ANEW!
(BSc Audiology with Distinction)