My name is Henri, I am a volunteer mentor for the young people here at Lollipop and a final year physiotherapy student at York St John University.
My journey into physiotherapy began after I attempted to join the army cadets at 14, with the intention of progressing to a military nurse. However, my dreams were shattered when I was told that my deafness meant I would not be able to pass the medical exams to be accepted into the Army, but I could still join the cadets if I wanted; I didn’t see the point.
Acting on my typical teenage frustration, I wrote letters to anyone I could think of who I deemed as ‘important’: My MP, Theresa May (back in the days before she became Prime Minister), The Duchess of Cambridge, David Cameron and the Sunday Telegraph; I got responses from nearly everyone, saying the same thing – my devotion to my country was admirable, and if I wanted to, I could pursue a career in the Army from behind a desk, possibly in procurement for tanks and nuts and bolts…I didn’t fancy that.
I then got introduced by my dad to physiotherapy, which I had never heard of before, when he injured himself playing rugby. I was fascinated by how putting pressure on certain body parts, teaching exercises and having a chat to someone about how to manage their pain, worked! I chose the A Levels I knew I could achieve and went up and down the country looking at Universities that were right for me and my additional needs; I had my heart set on York St John the minute I saw it.
Completing my physiotherapy course has been made easier with the support I have had from the University in the form of Notetakers in my lectures, weekly meetings with my Teacher of the Deaf (who has been my lifeline when my deafness becomes all a bit too much), and the willingness of my lecturers to adapt their lectures in any way I need and use my radio aid.
I have had to become accustomed to using a specialist stethoscope to complete my respiratory modules; this was probably one of my biggest challenges at University in relation to my deafness. The frustration of whether I can hear what everyone else could hear was taking over my ability to learn, but I had meetings and a lot of emails with my lectures about what frequencies I can hear, how much extra sound my processors give me and whether the use of a stethoscope is going to be my chosen assessment technique or whether I’ll stick with X-rays. The support and time I received is what gave me the confidence on my placements to explain to my patients and co-workers that I had a disability, which means I might complete assessments in a different way, but by no means did it make me any less of a physiotherapist.
The past 3 years at St John have been a ball; after a few struggles with finding my feet initially (nothing to do with my deafness, just an 18-year-old girl with big dreams and ambitions, unsure about how many paracetamols to take for freshers’ flu!), I found my crowd and people I am glad to call my friends. Getting my Hearing Dog Toby in second year really helped me too; after suffering with sleep deprivation in first year, due to anxiety around me not hearing the fire alarms, Toby’s arrival in my second year quickly gave me confidence both in the house and out and about. My course-mates, lecturers and peers all fell in love with him, and for the first time in a long time, it made me proud of who I am.
I regularly go running, to the gym or the bar with my friends (two extremities there!) I used to worry about hearing in noisy environments but we deaf people have the upper hand of lipreading when it gets too loud, whereas my friends don’t. Half the time, if I’m struggling to hear them and relying on lip-reading, there is a 90% chance they won’t be able to hear my response anyway!
With one of the biggest journeys in my life coming to an end, I have begun the hard part of applying for jobs; I applied for 8 before I even got called to interview, which can be very disheartening. I was very honest about who I am, how I have used my disability to connect with patients in rehabilitation sessions, and to inspire and empathise with them when they’re having a hard day.
When I had my interviews, my interviewees could see that yes, I was deaf, but if nothing else, it has made me the person I am and my skillset as a physio is just as good as the next person. These past few years of my life have made me realise that if life has taught me anything, it is that having deafness for a disability is something that has made me more resilient, determined and proud.