Stammering helps me empathise with patients
30th November 2022
Nursing team leader Ian Medlicott tells us what it's been like to train and work as a nurse, a role heavily dependent on oral communication.
My first memory of a stammer was travelling to a speech therapist with my mother and not wanting to go. The sessions stopped soon after as I did not enjoy the strictness of the therapy. This was in 1986 though. Having a stammer never affected me at home. My dad also has a stammer and I've not once seen him get frustrated, as I often do, during a conversation.
I don't remember having any issues at school, college or university from any other students. It was all my own self-doubt and confidence, especially if a presentation was involved. I was never part of a large social group as I tended to shy away from these scenarios where I may have found myself in speech difficulty. I found it easier having one or two close friends who understood who I was and therefore didn't have to explain my stammer again and again.
I trained as a nurse in Bradford in 1997, qualifying and starting as a new recruit in 2000, and I'm now an interventional radiology nursing team leader and vascular sonographer working at the Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust. When I was training, my personal tutor was aware of my speech and we discussed it during meetings. I found this extremely helpful and supportive which in turn made group work and the dreaded presentations easier to deal with.
The NHS uses telephone communication extensively and this is possibly every stammerer's worst nightmare, me included.
I've always told people about my stammer as early as possible as I've found it helps reduce any anxiety and leaves the stammer at the door. I wish this were always true. The only notable negative situation I've encountered was with an anaesthetist during my training. At a pre-assessment clinic one day, I attempted to relay a patient's name to the doctor and stammered. I vividly remember him asking me if I'd forgotten the patient's name; this was in front of other members of the team. I was deflated and spent the rest of the afternoon avoiding this anaesthetist.
Believing that every negative is a positive, I've used this to be proud, although frustrated with my stammer. If I've not already highlighted my speech dysfluency, then I make it clear to whoever I'm talking to that I'm confident and will continue the conversation at my own pace.
Working in a heavily dependent communicative workplace, being able to adapt quickly is key. The NHS uses telephone communication extensively and this is possibly every stammerer's worst nightmare, me included. Although I try to be covert with my stammer, there are some words you cannot change, peoples' names for example. 'St' words are a particular nuisance to me and one of my close colleagues unfortunately has a name beginning with these. I've learnt to adapt by using a sentence leading up to the stammering name as it aids my flow of conversation. Other times I take a breath in and call the name in my own time. Some days it doesn't matter what I do to control the stammer, it's just there and I recognise it's going to be one of those days and carry on. This doesn't stop the internal frustration and anger I sometimes feel towards myself.
Caring for specific patients helps me switch this self-pity off; communicating with those who have suffered a stroke is such an example. I can fully empathise with their situation as on occasions it becomes so difficult and tiring to speak that you can easily give up. I quickly appreciate how fortunate I am and remember that I control the stammer and not the other way round.
I've tried reading self-help books and contemplated seeking out a speech and language therapist but given my aging years and how I've managed to not only conceal and manage my stammer, I'm in a mostly happy place with it.