Hello! My name is Lauren, I’m 22 and I’m at university training to be a vet. Like most vet students I like science and animals, what makes me a bit different is that I am partially deaf in both ears. I wanted to write about what it’s like to go to university and move away from home when you can’t hear properly.
My parents found out I was deaf when I was 5 years old, just after I started school. My sister is also hearing impaired and Mum had inadvertently taught us both to speak properly, which meant that doctors didn’t realize there was anything wrong. When I got older mum told me that she was really worried at the time that being deaf would affect what I was able to do in life, but so far it hasn’t.
Growing up I learned to do everything my friends could do, but sometimes I need people to repeat things if I haven’t heard properly. I learnt to ride horses, which was a real challenge when it was windy! Hearing aids have little microphones in them, so imagine what it sounds like when someone blows on a microphone and that is all I can hear in the wind. Leaving home to go to university when I was 18 was a bit daunting, because I’d always had Mum or Dad to wake me up when I didn’t hear my alarm and tell me when someone knocked on the door.
At first making friends was a bit of a nightmare because it was so loud at parties that I couldn’t hear over the music, but eventually my friends understood that it is hard for me to hear when there is lots of background noise. I have to take my hearing aids out to go to sleep so I was worried that I wouldn’t wake up when my alarm clock or even the fire alarm went off.
My new flatmates sorted that out for me. First one of the boys tried to make his first omelette as a midnight snack, but he burnt it to a crisp and proved that I can hear fire alarms, even when I’m asleep. After a week they learned to bang on my door so loud and persistently that I would wake up and I was never allowed to sleep in again!
The way we are taught at university threw up some problems that I hadn’t come across in school. We have lectures in a hall that can hold 200 people so it is harder to hear than in a classroom. I got in touch with the disability officer who assists students with special needs and she was really helpful. She asked lecturers to leave the lights on and avoid moving around the room so that I can lip-read properly. Lip-reading is when you can tell what someone is saying by the way their lips move, everyone does it to some extent but for people who can’t hear properly it becomes really important for communication.
The thing people always ask me about is my stethoscope, because using a normal stethoscope I wouldn’t be able to hear heartbeats or breath sounds in the animals I examine. My stethoscope is like everyone else’s but has amplifiers built into it to make the sound I wouldn’t be able to hear louder. These are more expensive than standard stethoscopes but any university student who is disabled can apply for an extra grant to cover the cost of any extra equipment or study support they need because of their disability. This includes things like dyslexia too.
In short, there are some things that make it harder for me to have the career I want than if I could hear properly. But so far we have come up with lots of inventive ways around any problems that I encounter.
I’m in my 3rd year now so I have two years left and lots of that time will be spend treating animals in veterinary practices. I’m sure this will bring new challenges but I’m confident that I will find a way around them with all the people I have to support me.
After qualifying as a vet in 2015 Lauren plans to become a lecturer at university, a specialist horse vet and do as much writing as possible, particularly science writing for people who aren’t experts. Apart from studying her main interests are writing, making clothes, playing rugby and walking the dogs. Find her on Twitter @LaurenHamstead.
Britain’s most famous literary vet is James Herriot – books set in Yorkshire from the 1930s onwards. Do ask your parents or grandparents if they have some of his books, we are sure that you will enjoy them.