Story-Student Nurse

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Having a sister who is deaf and knowing sign language has been very helpful in my life and my career.

When I was in nursing school, the first week of psych rotation my group was assigned the men's ward. As students we gathered at the nurse's station every morning to listen to report. Shift report occurs three times daily.

The shift going off duty gives a report on the patients to the shift coming on duty. I took notes during shift report, spent time reading patient medical records and getting acclimated to the ward.

After a few days I became more comfortable with the environment and was able to spend more time observing what was going on around the ward, watching patients and staff.

One day I heard these familiar, loud, high pitched, sounds and looked in the direction they were coming from.

I saw a patient, an old man small in stature who was unkempt, had a scraggly beard and fit the stereotypical picture of 'crazy.' 

The patient was making hand gestures and arm motions while holding a coffee mug, trying to communicate with the ward orderly and the orderly was becoming all the more frustrated with him.

As I watched the interaction it was obvious to me the old man was using sign language. He was deaf! 

He was trying to communicate with the orderly, using his coffee mug asking where to get soap so he could shave.

I walked over to the two of them and began signing to the old man. He shrieked with glee and began furiously signing, trying to tell me about wanting to shave and desperately telling me his story how he came to be on the ward.

After talking with him I calmed him down and reassured him I was going to investigate the matter. I read his medical record and immediately realized what was happening.

The old man was homeless, he was found on the streets by the police and when they could not communicate with him they got frustrated. He got scared.

Not all deaf people are mute, they can make sounds but their sounds are odd if not bizarre because they have never heard the human voice.

The deaf do not know how to gauge their voice, their pitch or tone, but they do see the reactions of hearing people in response to their voice so they remain mute most of the time. However, when they become excited they make these noises, and they do sound like 'crazy people.'

The scenario was; the cops approached the man, he could not communicate, the cops thought his behavior odd and they took him into custody. When they grabbed him, he became all the more excited and afraid, he began making those bizarre noises louder and louder.

The cops took the old man to the emergency holding area at the local jail, where he was held overnight and he stood before a judge the next morning.

Due to the old man's inability to communicate, added to the police report, as well as his physical appearance in court, the judge ordered the old man probated. Meaning, the man was being placed in the psychiatric hospital for a 90 day evaluation to determine his mental capacity and whether he is a hazard to self or society.

The man was locked up in a mental hospital because he was deaf!

I brought the situation to the attention of my instructor -- she to the supervisor and she to the physician.

We also discovered the patient's lab work had been overlooked, he had diabetes and heart failure.

I was instrumental in the man being transferred from a locked mental ward to a nursing home.

People, often encounter opportunities in their daily lives where they can reach out and help others, and make a difference just because they took the time to care.

Thank you for allowing me to share my story.

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2003 ~Pak~

This story published in the book: Ordinary Miracles in Nursing found under the section "Nursing" Jones and Bartlett Publishers 

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