In light of talk about the BIG earthquake awaited to hit the the Pacific Northwest, I’ve had emergency preparedness on the brain. Who am I kidding, I’ve been thinking about this earthquake since I moved here in 2007. And even when mega-quakes are not in the forefront of my mind, I’m just one of those people who likes to be prepared. As a child I had a suitcase full of stuffed animals I was prepared to hurl out the window in the event of a fire.
I encourage my patients to think about what they need to do to prepare themselves for an emergency. Specifically at night or while in the shower – when they aren’t wearing their hearing aids or cochlear implant. Also in an accident where their hearing devices are knocked out of their ears or broken. Like all potential hazards in life, we cannot be 100% prepared, but we can think through some likely scenarios and feel out what the best options are.
I want to highlight that this list is not intended to be exhaustive, nor is it what every person with hearing devices needs. I do believe that it is important to consider that in an emergency there are avoidable consequences of other’s ignorance to your hearing needs; assumptions are made that can seriously effect your safety. Thus, I believe it is not only important for you to prepare yourself for an emergency, but to prepare others to help you if you need it.
It can be helpful to not only have an emergency kit in your home, but one for travel, one in your car, and at your workplace. There are some great websites (as well some really scary ones) on what kinds of things you should include in these kits outside of hearing loss essentials. I personally recommend working with an emergency preparedness consultant if you have the interest and resources. Pillar EMS is located outside of Seattle and can help create a plan specific to your family or workplace.
I recommend you include the following depending on your needs if you were without your hearing devices in an emergency:
– A button you can pin to your shirt (front or back) that states something like “I speech-read, please face me so I can understand you,” or, “I have hearing loss, please calmly get my attention if I do not respond.”
– Pen and notepad (they make waterproof notepads!). Consider what important information you may need to receive or discuss in an emergency and that it may be very noisy or challenging to communicate in that environment.
– A wallet card that says something like “I have hearing loss, please use visual methods to get my attention or to evaluate my responsiveness.” In the event you are found unconscious and/or your hearing aids have been knocked off, it is helpful for medical professionals or good Samaritans to know this information. The phone number of your audiologist may also be useful here.
– A waterproof container for your hearing aids and spare (unexpired) batteries. A pelican case is great but a Ziplock bag will do. You should have around a 4 week supply of batteries in your home kit and 1 week’s worth in the other kits. It can be challenging to store batteries in the car without moisture and heat causing problems over time. Moisture can cause the sticker on the battery to pop up, let air in, and drain the battery. Note that batteries should stay in the card they come in, not stored where they can touch each other as this may cause them to drain. A Ziplock bag with a desiccant like dry rice can be used to store spare batteries and your hearing aids should you need to take them out for safe keeping.
– A drying kit to dry out your hearing aids if they get wet. Like the above post describes, a Ziplock bag and white dry rice will do, but over time in an emergency kit, the rice can absorb moisture and no longer be very helpful. A drying kit like this one can be checked every couple months to make sure it is ready for use and reactivated in a microwave or oven if it was exposed to moisture.
– Spare cleaning tools and wax guards in case debris clogs the microphones or speakers.
– Back-up hearing aids (I would not leave these in the car kit). Check these periodically to make sure they are working and make sure you have the correct size (unexpired) batteries for this set as it may be different than your newer set.
Travel note: Make sure to let hotels, cruise ships, and tour guides know about your needs in an emergency. Hotels are required to have special kits and protocols for alerting people with hearing loss in an emergency. For cruise ships, you may need to reserve kits with special doorbell, phone, and smoke detector alarms well in advance. (Thanks Steve at HSDC for this tip today!)
Emergency at Home
Have you thought about what you would do in a fire, flood, medical emergency, or burglary if it occurred when you didn’t have your hearing aids on? Running through your emergency plan with your family with and without your hearing aids is important but also think about how stress and the environment could change how well you understand speech.
Consider if you can hear smoke or carbon monoxide detectors, security alarms, the phone, or your doorbell without your hearing aids. There are many devices for individuals who are hard of hearing that use flashing lights or bed shaking alerts. They can save your life or help you protect your family. Ask your audiologist about what devices might work best for you but be aware that not all audiologists are well-versed in these products and may need to do some research. In Seattle, The Hearing Speech and Deafness Center has a great showroom for devices like this.
Simple tip for earthquake regions: place velcro on your bed stand and your hearing aid case so you can be sure you can locate your hearing aids in the event of an earthquake at night.
Some people choose to notify their local fire department and trusted neighbors about their hearing loss. If you do this, let them know that in an emergency you may not have your hearing aids on or they may physically on but not working. In a serious natural disaster rescue crews may come door-to-door looking for people. A sign outside stating you won’t hear them knocking and what they should do to get your attention may be useful.
If you are hospitalized, your emergency contact should know to inform the hospital that you need signage in your room and your chart about your hearing loss. It is not unheard of for staff to believe you are “non-responsive” and conclude you may have something seriously wrong because you didn’t hear or understand them accurately. Consider the fact you might be on medications, in pain, or otherwise not yourself. Life is just easier with a sign in this situation.
In day to day life you may be confident you will explain to people that you didn’t understand them and to speak up or face you. However, in an emergency, you may not be 100% with-it, and the people around you may have no idea how to help you if you can’t hear them. I suggest setting the people who are trying to help you up for success!
If this is all a little overwhelming, I encourage you not to just ignore this task of preparation. Instead, enlist a professional to help. Contact me to work on a plan together.