August 19, 2011

I’m driving with Mum to Perth. It’s the second time I’ll have visited the audiology department this month. I’m just hoping we can get a parking spot because last time I had to walk miles.

Luckily, Mum wasn’t with me then. Her right hearing aid had stopped working, so I’d booked an outpatients’ appointment. I took the aid in and got it replaced. While she was at it, the audiologist gave me new tubing for both aids and told me I should bring Mum in to have the moulds replaced. I asked if that was really necessary, as Mum doesn’t really have what it takes for hospital appointments these days. (There are so many things that Mum doesn’t do any more. She doesn’t do shops. She doesn’t do holidays.) The advice was that we should give it a go, as over time the moulds fit more loosely, impairing hearing. So here we sit together. Mum knows where we’re going. “I’ve had that done before,” she said this morning when I briefed her. She’s calmly come along for the ride.

The highlight of the last visit was getting back to the care home and cutting the new tubing down to size. I was in a good mood – buoyed by the knowledge that I’d done something to help Mum - and bits of transparent tubing were dropping from my scissors to the floor. But not lying there sordidly like nail clippings, rather sparkling as precious stones do. Edith was sitting close by and came up with her usual: “What am I doing in this lunatic asylum?” I did my best to answer her questions, but she could only shout: “WHAT? I CAN’T HEAR YOU.” I later found out that Edith has got months to wait until her audiology appointment at the same clinic I’d visited that morning at two days notice. Is that because she has no-one to take her? If so, an advocate-chauffeur, as Mum surely has, is worth his or her weight in hearing aid batteries.

OK, here we are. And to my surprise there is a parking space in the disabled car park that is handy for the back door. Nice one. Soon I am pushing Mum along hospital corridors. We make good progress as I have remembered to fit the chair’s footplates, which means Mum cannot employ the tactic of ‘walking’ us along with her right foot, as she sometimes likes to do.

We’re called in on schedule. The audiologist looks in Mum’s left ear and immediately says she won’t be able to make a mould because there’s too much wax. Now this is dismaying, as I was told last time that the ears would have to be free of wax, a message I clearly conveyed to two seniors at the care home, as I knew it would be my time (and the hospital staff’s) that was wasted if the wax issue wasn’t dealt with.

The consultant is called. He confirms that there is too much wax in the left ear, but a mould can be made of the right ear. So it’s not going to be a complete waste of time. Certainly not: Mabel’s left hearing aid hasn’t been working since yesterday and it turns out that it needs replacing for the same reason that the right one did.

During the moulding, Mum’s right hand goes up towards her ear a couple of times, but it’s gently intercepted by the audiologist’s hand. When I ask Mum if she’s all right, she tells me that she is. And at the end of our appointment she pipes up with a spontaneous: ‘Thank you very much”. She’s said so little today that the string of words, short as it is, comes as a surprise to me.

Back at the care home, as soon as I’ve got Mum comfortable in the lounge, I call on the manager. Obviously, my question is: why is there wax in Mabel’s ears? Or, rather, why wasn’t I told about it yesterday so that I could have postponed the appointment? The manager tells me that Mabel has been getting olive oil put into her ears to soften and disperse the wax as directed by the district nurse. When the care home staff got the date of my appointment from me, they calculated that, though it was a bit tight, there was just enough time for the ten-day course of treatment to have been effective. To which my response has to be: “But did no-one look in her ears to make sure?”

When I get home I phone the local surgery and soon I am talking to the district nurse in question. She starts off defensively, saying that when she first called on Mabel, Mum wouldn’t let her ‘get anywhere near’ her ears. Well, Mum has had a sore ear recently, possibly as a result of all the taking out and putting in of moulds that’s been going on. As the call continues we settle down to a more straightforward communication. She tells me she was not told the date of my appointment. Accordingly, she had not looked in Mabel’s ears to see if they were clear.

Did a senior at the care home tell her of my appointment or not? It doesn’t matter. Because in the end I have to accept that I could have prevented the communication breakdown from having a negative impact simply by phoning the home yesterday, Monday, and asking “Wax free or not wax free? that is the question.” But I’d gone away with my partner over Sunday night and there had been so much to do when I got back to my desk on Monday afternoon that I hadn’t thought through what I needed to do re Mum. Oh, I hadn’t forgotten about today’s appointment, I turned up for that all right. But I hadn’t made sure that all was set fair for it.

I think we’ll all be better prepared when it happens next time. I mean once Mabel’s new mould has been posted out to her, and is working satisfactorily in her right ear, then I’ll consider making another appointment. And together we vital members of Mabel’s health team will look into the wax status of her left ear in a suitably co-ordinated way.

I sighed as I wrote that last sentence. Did you hear me? Actually, I was sighing, on and off, as I wrote this whole piece.

But look at the photograph at the foot of this particular blog. Look at Mabel’s wonderful ear. It still works well, given a lot of help. It still gives her stroke-affected brain a chance of making out what’s happening in the world.

So less sighing from me, I think. And more thanking my lucky stars that my own hearing, eyes and wits are still sharp.

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