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Deaf and Dying at the Ottawa Hospital

Deaf News: Deaf and dying: How a volunteer team brings palliative care comfort through communication in the capital of Canada.

OTTAWA -- Ottawa Citizen: The first experience Monica Elaine Campbell had with palliative care was helping a woman who had lost her ability to speak because of throat cancer.

Campbell, profoundly Deaf since birth, is an excellent lip reader and staff at an Ottawa Hospital asked if she could interpret the dying woman’s words. The woman had been communicating with paper and pen, but now was too weak even to do that.

“I was very hesitant. Then I thought, well, the least I could do is give it a try,” said Campbell, who is able to speak despite never having heard a word herself. “I put my hand on her right arm and said, ‘I’ve never done this before. I will try my best.”

WATCH: Video with CC - Ottawa Citizen.

Campbell leaned close as the woman mouthed her words. Campbell repeated it back and had the woman nod yes if she had understood correctly. She spent five hours with the woman, relaying messages between her and her family and the medical team. She was able to interpret about 85 per cent of what the woman told her.

“I came away a different person,” Campbell said. “I was very touched by the experience.”

The dying woman had not been Deaf, but the experience got Campbell thinking about the communication needs of people like herself: the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. A few years later, Campbell was asked to help a Deaf friend who was about to receive bad news about her cancer diagnosis.

“I didn’t know much about palliative care, but she was struggling with her terminal illness,” Campbell said. “I thought, my goodness, what if that was me? I thought, I should talk to my Deaf friends about death and dying and what our experiences have been.”

Those conversations led Campbell and her friend, sign language interpreter Christine Wilson, to start up the Ottawa Deaf Palliative Care Team, a group of volunteers that provide end-of-life care for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and their families. In 1999, she enrolled in palliative care courses at Algonquin College with two Deaf colleagues (the Deaf use a capital D to refer to the sub-culture of people who communicate with sign language; “Hard of Hearing” are those who have lost some or most of the hearing but can still use some speech, sometimes augmented with sign language; the “Deafened” or “Oral Deaf” have lost some or all of their hearing, but either learned to speak before their deafness or, like Campbell, learned to speak despite it.) Read More at Ottawa Citizen.

Related: #Deaf Canadians
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