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Challenges of Cataract Surgery for People with Hearing Loss

Updated: May 18, 2022

Ruth Bernstein, Hearing Access Advocate

Ruth Bernstein, Hearing Access Advocate

I recently had cataract surgery on my right eye. I have a profound bilateral hearing loss and wear two powerful behind-the-ear (BTE) aids.

When I met with the doctor before the operation, I told him about my hearing loss and that I needed to keep my aids on during the operation. He’s a taciturn person and said, “I hear you.” It turned out those instructions were not included in my medical records. The supervising nurse insisted I remove both my aids. She explained the surgeon uses water during the procedure, something he had not told me, and she did not want the aids to get wet.

Being temporarily disconnected was frustrating and scary because, although I was in the operating room prepped and ready, I had to wait for the doctor. My entire face was covered except for the area around my eye. Although I’m not sure how long it took for the doctor to appear, it seemed like forever. As far as I could tell, no one was in the room for me to ask when he was coming. I would not have understood the answer anyway, unless I read it.  When I have my left eye done in January, I will insist on keeping my right aid on and have someone tell me when the doctor will come.

For the first two days after surgery, I had to wear black wraparound sun glasses (I really liked that look!) to protect my eye from bright light. Wearing those dark glasses, I could see very little. The loss of vision suddenly brought into sharp focus something I usually don’t pay attention to – how reliant I am on my eyes and lipreading skills to understand what people are saying.

I’ve been wearing hearing aids for over 45 years. During that time, my brain has learned to integrate and process what it hears with what it sees and does so remarkably well, given the severity of my hearing loss. Minus full use of my eyes, I was struggling to hear and my fatigue level soared. I was much relieved when the doctor told me, two days after the operation, I could wear my regular sunglasses.

As the healing process continues, I’m reminded how important it is to make sure everyone involved in my medical care understands my hearing needs. A good source for information is For Consumers with Hearing Loss: A Kit for Better Healthcare Access prepared jointly by the Center for Hearing and Communication and Advocates for Better Communication (a.b.c.).

It is also vital to care for our eyes and keep them in as good a shape as possible. Click here to learn about a resource that provides free vision care to those who otherwise could not afford it.

Best wishes for a happy holiday season and a healthy and enjoyable 2014.

Warm regards,

Ruth D. Bernstein Consumer Advocate

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