Deaf Life28th July 2014

Saving lives despite being hard of hearing

Canadian Scott Caldwell is Hard of Hearing, he is also a successful paramedic in a busy area in Toronto

by Sarah Lawrence

If there is one thing we like at SLFirst, it is a professional deaf role model. Unless we meet these people personally, we just don't get to learn about their life's challenge and their subsequent achievements. If there is one thing we like even more, it is professional deaf role model working within the public services. Our Public Service should, after all, be the lead on equality and fairness wherever you are in the world.

Canadian Scott Caldwell is Hard of Hearing, something that produced particular difficulties for him as he grew up in a bilingual community in Ontario. Finding that being hard of hearing meant he couldn’t join the Canadian police or the military, he has gone on to a successful career as a paramedic. To do that, however, he had to move to another part of Ontario.

Scott was born in Ottawa, and grew up in an area in the south of the city with moderate hearing loss in his left ear and slight hearing loss in his right. He was diagnosed at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) and received his first hearing aid when he was four. Scott’s mother recalls him saying that wearing the aid made him feel like a sports announcer on the TV, enabling him to accept the aid easily.

That doesn’t mean he always found it easy to accept that he was different from other children but, as he explains, his mother had a remedy for that, “When I did complain or become depressed because I was different from the other kids at school or was made fun of because I was different, my mother would remind me that there were other children with worse problems than mine and took me to the children’s cancer ward area at CHEO. I never complained about being hearing impaired again. I realised how lucky I was and that I had nothing to be ashamed of."

Scott developed a love of sport in school, playing hockey, rugby and American football. He recalls, “When I had a new hockey coach every year, my mother would inform them of my hearing impairment and that I did not wear my hearing aid while playing. She told them that I relied heavily on lip reading to communicate and if I didn’t do something quick enough then it’s probably because I didn’t hear them. My coaches told my mother that I was the best listener on the whole team!

Scott believes that his years playing sport have also helped him in his career. “(It) helped me have a heightened sense of situational awareness in my job as a paramedic in which I am able to pick up on certain things that my “normal” hearing co-workers may not. In a dangerous job such as being a paramedic, situational awareness can keep you safe and out of potential danger as well as formulating differential diagnoses for my patients who are unable to communicate or have limited means of communicating.”

Scott says he had few problems in school because of his limited hearing although he was bullied on a handful of occasions. “In grade one, I was labeled as “hearing impaired” by the principal. He insisted that I undergo weekly education and help from a hearing impairment teacher. … The hearing impaired teacher dropped me within a month and only monitored me occasionally because my speech and understanding was so good.”

Scott’s main difficulty in school revolved around trying to speak two languages, “Ottawa is a very bilingual city with French being the second language. Despite taking French courses in school for almost every single year, I was and to this day still am unable to speak the language. I was unable to distinguish words in French due to my hearing. I could read some French but only after receiving help from a classmate. To me, living in Ottawa, I was at a double disadvantage. Not only was I hearing impaired, but because of that, I was unable to speak French.” It was a problem that would crop up again for Scott when it came to making career choices.

Another regret Scott has is that he never learned to sign. “I always used a combination of hearing aid, lip reading and inferring to communicate effectively with those around me. I regret not learning to sign as this would help me tremendously with the patients that I come across who are completely deaf. Although I do not sign I am always empathetic and am still able to communicate effectively using different methods with my patients who have difficulty communicating.”

After school, Scott studied at Algonquin College, Ottawa and Humber College, Toronto. It was while he was at college that he met his fiancée, Amy Davison, whom he describes as one of his biggest supporters.

With his deafness preventing him from joining the police force or becoming a military police officer or a medical technician in the Canadian Forces, Scott worked as a sales associate for Canadian Tire and a local ski and snowboard shop, Tommy and Lefebvre. Then, after spending around three years working as a personal trainer, he returned to education, taking night classes at Algonquin College. “I learned that I had a knack for Biology, which I never took in secondary school. A friend of mine, Daniel Shugar, is a Primary Care Paramedic with the Ottawa Paramedic Services and would tell me about calls he had done and informed me of what the career entailed. I became enthralled. I could help people and be part of the unpredictability and excitement of emergency services like my earlier ambitions of being a police officer. I knew from previous experience that my hearing impairment may present a problem and I did further research and found no requirements for hearing except being able to communicate effectively in English.” Scott progressed to Advanced Care Paramedic where the only problem he experienced was using a stethoscope, easily overcome by using an electronic version.

There still remained the problem, however, of Scott being unable to speak French. “Most government and private sector jobs (in Ottawa) give preference to people who speak both English and French. One paramedic service just outside Ottawa during the centralised testing told us that if you didn't speak French don't bother applying. This made me angry that I was not going to be given the same chance as someone who is capable of speaking both French and English. All I ever wanted in life was a chance. Just give me a chance and I can prove myself.”

The chance came with the offer of a job with Peel Regional Paramedic Service (PRPS) in the Greater Toronto area, five hours drive from Ottawa. Over the course of a weekend, Scott got himself a car and moved to Toronto, leaving Amy in Ottawa although she would join him six months later.

PRPS is the third largest paramedic service in Canada, covering an area of 1225 square kilometres and a population of 1.3 million. “Peel Regional Paramedic Services is led by our Chief Peter Dundas and our medical director Dr. Sheldon Cheskes. With their leadership, Peel Regional Paramedic Services has become a one of the leaders in North America for pre-hospital research.”

Scott says that because of his hearing impairment he initially felt under pressure to prove himself worthy of being in the service but he was quickly accepted by his colleagues. He prefers to refer to his work as a “career” rather than a “job” because he enjoys it so much, explaining, “I have personally done everything from saving cardiac arrest patients, delivered babies, notified families of their loved ones death, down to just holding a scared grandmother’s hand on the way to the hospital.” He says there is no such thing as a typical day for a paramedic. He also says there are plenty of rewards, “I enjoy helping people in their time of need. I enjoy taking chaos and creating controlled chaos. I enjoy taking a hopeless situation and giving hope. I enjoy the ‘thank yous’.”

When it comes to assisting patients who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing, Scott says there are some simple things the patient can do to help themselves.  “A lot of times when we are called to someone’s house who is hearing impaired or hard of hearing, especially when time is of the essence, we are searching for medications and a health card. It is extremely helpful to paramedics to have all medical conditions and medications with the dosages on a list that is left on the refrigerator door. This gives paramedics quick access to the information that we need to make a working diagnosis and information for the physicians at the hospital. Family contact numbers on these sheets of paper are also helpful so that the paramedics or hospital staff are able to contact family for the patient to notify them of which hospital they will be taken too.

Explain or have notes stating that they are hearing impaired and that the paramedics need to speak clearly and/or have a pad and paper in order to communicate what is wrong and why they called 911 (999)."

Scott believes that hearing health is a low priority for all levels of government in Canada and refers to Canadian Hearing Society figures that show the income of people with hearing impairment is on average $11,000 lower than the norm. He is also concerned that despite 1 in 5 young people having significant noise induced hearing loss not enough is done to educate them about this danger.

Outside his career, Scott does a variety of voluntary work, including being a minor league hockey coach, a union steward, President and co-founder of the Peel Paramedic Benevolent Fund and a board member with the Peel Paramedic Association. “I have volunteered to present to secondary school students the dangers of drinking and distracted driving as well as informing them of my disability and that disabled people are not outcasts. They may be different but they are capable of many great things as well.”

Looking ahead, Scott is keen to continue his voluntary work with the Peel Paramedic Benevolent Fund as well as working with the Canadian Hearing Society as an advocate on behalf of the deaf community in Canada. He also has ambitions, however, when it comes to his career, “I am currently looking into continuing my post-secondary education and am looking into degrees in paramedic research and/or public relations. I would use these degrees to help promote paramedicine in the community as well as throughout Ontario and Canada.”

There seems no doubt that Scott has the commitment and dedication to fulfil those ambitions.

Article by Sarah Lawrence

posted in Community / Deaf Life

28th July 2014