Surgeon Everard Home: hero or villain? – captioning cuts through barriers

I was really excited to go to a talk recently at the Hunterian Museum in London with my step-brother Ian, who is an ENT surgeon at St Thomas’s Hospital. This talk was captioned live by STAGETEXT and when I asked Ian if he would like to come with me, he said he would be delighted. When I told him that the event would be captioned, he said he was intrigued, as he had never seen a live talk with captioning before and he wanted to find out how it was done and whether it would enhance the experience for him or be distracting.

From Ian’s perspective, he told me that it was wonderful that we could both go to this together, make a day of it and enjoy the talk. He also told me that he was proud to show me the Royal College of Surgeons, of which he is a Fellow. For me, I thought it was brilliant to go to this talk and learn from it, but the most important thing was that we could both enjoy it on equal terms as it would be fully accessible to me too.

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 The event was held in a beautiful, historic, oak-panelled reading room. I could immediately sense the history and learning associated with this imposing building as we stepped inside it. The talk was given by Dr Simon Chaplin, the Head of the Wellcome Library. He was formerly the Director of Museums and Special Collections at the Royal College of Surgeons, where he managed the Hunterian Museum.

Dr Chaplin explained the history of the founding of the Royal College of Surgeons, giving a fascinating insight into why we still address surgeons as ‘Mister’ and not ‘Doctor’. This is because originally in medieval times, surgeons were associated with barbers because of the knives they used and in 1540 Henry VIII formalised their union by creating the Company of Barber Surgeons. The barbers did not need to study for a university degree, unlike doctors, and it was not until 1745 that the surgeons broke away from the barbers and in 1800 the Company was granted a Royal Charter to become the Royal College of Surgeons.

He explained the story of the original founder of the Hunterian Museum, Sir John Hunter, who lived between 1728-1793. Hunter was a very active member of the Company of Surgeons. After first pursuing a career as an army surgeon, he returned to London and was appointed a surgeon at St George’s Hospital. He later became a surgeon to King George III. He was fascinated with the study of life in all its forms, but particularly through the study of anatomy. This was in an age of discovery where modern medicine was still in its infancy and people commonly died of illness such as smallpox, venereal diseases and tuberculosis.

Hunter went around the world collecting thousands of specimens of insects, animals and human cadavers, in order to dissect them, learn from them and advance surgical techniques and medicine. He was also quite a colourful and controversial character, because he even experimented on himself by inoculating himself with syphilis and gonorrhoea to try and establish a link between them, and he also obtained human cadavers from suspect sources in the criminal underworld and by bribing funeral officials to give him the corpses. Despite this, he is well-respected and remembered as making a huge contribution to medical science by, amongst other things, studying the causes of inflammation and unravelling one of the major anatomical mysteries of the time – the role of the lymphatic system.

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Hunter’s apprentice was called Everard Home, and Hunter was married to Home’s sister Anne, a well-known poet and socialite. Dr Chaplin explained that Hunter had died bankrupt and an alcoholic, so when he died his entire collection, which now consisted of over 14,000 preparations of over 500 species of plants and animals in a teaching museum, was going to be broken up and sold off. Everard Home was a hero in one sense because he saved this invaluable collection, which is still in the Hunterian Museum. But on the other hand, he has also been described as a villain because he plagiarised many of Hunter’s scientific findings and published them as his own. In order to cover up the evidence, he burned many of Hunter’s original handwritten notes containing his theories and findings, which would have been considered highly important evidence of his work.

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As the speaker explained this, I found the story increasingly fascinating and enlightening. I realised what an age of discovery this period was, but the dark, macabre undertones of it all made it even more gripping. The captioning was also amazing. Considering that the terminology used was very technical and the speech-to-text was live, it was perfect and the operator did a fantastic job. The captioning appeared at the top of the screen, and it also complemented the slides the speaker was showing. In fact, for me, it really enhanced the whole experience.

Ian told me that at the beginning of the talk, he was curious to read the speech-to-text captioning, but after about five minutes, he hardly noticed them. He also told me that they definitely did not distract. He felt that the captioning enhanced the story and he was amazed at how instant they were. In fact, he was so impressed by the technology and how well it worked, that the first person he spoke to immediately afterwards was the speech-to-text operator and he actually took photos of the speech-to-text keyboard.

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Ian had to get back to the hospital straight after the talk, but after being at the talk, I had to look at the museum. I was taken aback by the sheer scale and variety of the collection, which included the skeleton of the 7 foot 7 inch Irish giant Charles Byrne, whose body Hunter had acquired in 1783 against Byrne’s clear deathbed wishes by bribing a member of the funeral party, and I also saw Winston Churchill’s dentures there. Their collection of historical surgical instruments and amputation knives and saws looked absolutely primitive and without any anaesthetic at the time, the excruciating pain for the patient would have been unimaginable.

Ian and I agreed that the experience for both of us was incredible and fascinating. We both learned a lot about the history of the Royal College of Surgeons and the Hunterian Museum. But it is probably not one for the squeamish!

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Sound Advice at the Ear Foundation: going back to the start

Last Saturday was an incredibly special day for me. I woke up very early, and I was really excited to be going back to the Ear Foundation in Nottingham. This was the same place where I went for the intensive rehabilitation programme run by Hearing Link a year ago for people with a severe to profound hearing loss, and I had returned home feeling like a different person with renewed optimism and confidence.

Susan Hamrouge (the lady in the red dress in the photo) had invited me. She had been the facilitator on the Hearing Link course a year ago. She had asked me to talk about my own experience at a ‘Sound Advice Adult Day’, which was about peoples’ personal experiences of deafness. Susan works as a speech and language therapist and is a Director of the company ‘Sound Practice’ in Stoke-on-Trent. She has been a great support and friend to me over the last year, helping me with my talk and building up my confidence to deliver it in public.

The Ear Foundation is a charity which was founded in 1989 by Gerry O’Donoghue, a surgeon and Barry McCormick, an audiological scientist, to fund and provide children with cochlear implants, which were not available to children in this country until then. The first child, Michael Batt, was implanted the same year in an operation funded by Mrs Marjorie Sherman, who the main Ear Foundation building is named after. Since then the work of the Ear Foundation has expanded to what it is today, providing a bridge between cochlear implant centres in hospitals where the operations are carried out, and homes, schools and work where they are used. They now provide support, education, advocacy and lobbying to mainly children but increasingly also adult cochlear implant users.

There were about thirty-five people there, some with hearing aids, others with cochlear implants and also BSL users. I was asked to talk after the first speaker, Jan Sanderson (the other lady in the photo). Jan is a Programme Support Volunteer for Hearing Link, who I had also met on the programme a year earlier. When I listened to her talk then I had felt really moved and inspired by her story. She described how she had hit rock bottom when she had lost her hearing twelve years ago shortly before her daughter’s wedding. It had turned her life upside down and that of her husband and family too. She had spent eight years living in a world of total silence. Eventually, she had decided to turn her life around and she had a cochlear implant. She has devoted her life to helping other people affected by the deeply emotional impact of hearing loss and helping to raise deaf awareness.

Jan has worked on over fifty intensive rehabilitation programmes with Hearing Link, working closely with people with severe to profound acquired hearing loss. She described the joy she feels when she sees people gradually change over the course of the week from feeling depressed and isolated when they arrive to being much more positive and confident when they leave.

When I listened to Jan, I felt that I was no longer isolated and I felt a lot more inspired and empowered to go out and transform a very negative experience into something positive. Jan is a very warm, empathetic and down-to-earth person, who has had a big positive impact on my life since I met her and she is a true friend to me.

After my talk, there was a really interesting talk by a Deaf BSL user called Gloria. She signed so fluently and quickly that the BSL interpreter couldn’t keep up with her! She described how her Deaf parents brought her up and she went to a deaf school, but that her husband is hearing and while some of her children are deaf, others are hearing. She has led a very interesting life and has worked in Uganda for two years, helping to set up a deaf school there. She described how poor and difficult life is there, particularly for deaf children, who are often shunned and ignored by society.

Since returning to the UK, Gloria has been very actively campaigning for greater accessibility for Deaf BSL users in public buildings such as hospitals and within the NHS. Her current campaign is to help BSL users report crimes to the police when they often cannot communicate with them and explain what has happened. She has helped produce a brochure with some basic BSL signs to help the Nottingham police force understand and communicate with Deaf victims of crime, and she campaigns for BSL interpreters in public places.

Gloria’s talk led to a big debate among the group about accessibility to NHS services and the police among D/deaf and hard of hearing people. Everyone in the group agreed that many people working in the NHS and public services were  not very deaf-aware, and this made accessibility very difficult. They shared their personal stories of how difficult it was to attend GP and hospital appointments on their own because of problems understanding the doctors and communicating with them. Jan added that it had been her mission to improve communication and accessibility in public places for people with hearing loss by campaigning for change.

I personally feel really passionate about raising deaf awareness in hospitals and public services too as they are frequently inaccessible. For example, last week I had to go for a scan in a major London hospital and I was faced with a two-way intercom system to gain access to the building, which I couldn’t hear. This means that in future, I need to take someone else with me to help me gain access. I have recently given talks to audiologists in London about understanding the communication needs of deaf and hard of hearing patients, and hopefully after hearing my talk, they will try to become more deaf-aware.

I was keen to leave shortly after lunch as it was Cup Final Day and I wanted to get back home to see my team, the mighty Manchester City, wipe the floor with the lowly Wigan. I was sad to leave as I had met some amazing people who I had learned a lot from, but I was looking forward to seeing City lift the Cup. However, after seeing the shocking result of Man City 0, Wigan 1, I wished I had stayed in Nottingham where there was a lot more passion on display than among the Manchester Blues!

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The Winslow Boy at the Old Vic: accessibility on the big stage

I hadn’t seen a play in a big theatre in years, and I’d never been to the Old Vic either, so when my wife Joanna told me she had booked tickets for us to see ‘The Winslow Boy’ there last Thursday evening, I was really looking forward to it. There was to be live captioning by STAGETEXT and a good hearing loop too, so they were also big reasons why I wanted to see it. I had been to see ‘Macbeth’ at the smaller Trafalgar Studios a few weeks before, so I wanted to see how live captioning would work on a big stage.

When I arrived with Joanna in the Old Vic foyer, I was very impressed by the beautiful, classic elegance of the theatre, which was originally built in 1818. Huge chandeliers were dangling from the ceiling and as we walked up the grand staircase towards the stalls, there were photos on the walls of very famous actors who had appeared there over the decades, such as Sir Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton, Sir John Gielgud and Peter O’Toole. It was like the wall of fame. American actor Kevin Spacey has been the artistic director there since 2003.

Our tickets were booked in the Lilian Baylis circle, which, we were told, was closed, when we arrived. This would have been right at the top and quite a distance from the stage, so luckily, we were upgraded to better seats further down in the dress circle with a much better view of the stage and the captioning, which was positioned at both sides of the stage. This turned out to be a real stroke of luck because I think I would have had difficulty seeing the captioning from higher up.

The play is set just before the First World War in 1913-14, with all the action taking place in the elegant drawing room of the posh Winslow family home. It is based on a true story of a father’s fight to clear his son’s name when he is expelled from Naval College after being wrongly convicted of theft. Driven by a passionate belief in fighting for justice whatever it takes, the father hires the best lawyer in the country to fight the case and they take on the establishment together. Despite immense personal cost to his own health and family sacrifices, the father refuses to be beaten. Amidst a media frenzy, the case is even debated in the House of Commons and the boy’s name is eventually cleared.

At first I was slightly distracted by the stiff formality of the setting and the upper middle-class dialogue of the period. As the plot unfolded though, I found it increasingly gripping and engaging. I realised that the story has as much relevance today as it did then. It is simply about a father desperately fighting for justice against an impenetrable establishment, which we can definitely still relate to today. I thought that Henry Goodman acted the part of the father, Arthur Winslow, brilliantly, as did Peter Sullivan as the aloof cold-fish lawyer Sir Peter Morton and Naomi Frederick as the suffragette daughter Catherine Winslow.

As the actors moved across the stage during the performance, I thought that it was a really good idea to have the STAGETEXT captioning on both sides of the stage, as my eyes moved from one side to the other to follow the actors. I also noticed that there were quite a few elderly people in the audience and I thought about how having live captioning at theatre performances is a great idea for elderly people with hearing loss, although it makes the theatre more accessible for people of all ages, regardless of whether you have a hearing loss or not.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching this play at the Old Vic and I’m really looking forward to seeing my next theatre performance with live captioning. After not going to the theatre at all after losing most of my hearing about three years ago, I can’t believe that I’ve actually seen more plays this year than I have been to football matches! I never saw myself as a culture vulture.

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Joanna’s perspective – The sky’s not the limit when there are footprints on the moon

When I woke up last Saturday morning, I couldn’t have imagined how my bank holiday weekend would turn out. My husband Richard and I woke up early to drive to Eastbourne. We were attending Hearing Link’s first ‘Link-Up’ programme to be held in England. It was meant to be a follow-up programme for people with acquired hearing loss and their partners, family members or friends who had attended one of their intensive rehabilitation programmes (IRPs) last year.

Apart from feeling tired from the early start, I woke up with mixed feelings about the weekend ahead. I was intrigued to find out what seemed to have sparked a transformation in Richard since he came back from the IRP last year and why he suddenly felt so empowered, positive and enthusiastic about Hearing Link after his experience on the programme, since I hadn’t attended it with him.  I was also feeling slightly apprehensive, as I didn’t know what to expect. I was worried that it might be very depressing and emotionally draining sharing our personal stories of living with hearing loss and the impact that it has had on all our lives. As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about. I had a wonderful weekend in Eastbourne and I met some amazing new people, as well as meeting up again with some familiar faces from Hearing Link.

There were about thirty-five people there on the programme, including people with acquired hearing loss, their partners, friends, children and family members.  A few people had brought their hearing dogs with them too, and there was a very relaxed and friendly atmosphere among the group. The event was run by Hearing Link volunteers, all of whom had personal experience of hearing loss. Ann did a great job of chairing the sessions and making sure the programme ran smoothly with her unique energetic and engaging style, and she encouraged everyone there to participate fully in the sessions. The other volunteers and Hearing Link staff members such as Jan, Ray, Val and Vivian also did a really good job of assisting her and they spent plenty of time supporting and talking to the participants. Communication was assisted throughout by remote live captioning via Bee Communications and a very good hearing loop.

We introduced ourselves and shared our personal stories, which were quite emotional, but it was also uplifting to find out how far many of the people with hearing loss had moved on and turned their lives around since they attended the IRPs last year. The rest of the programme involved lots of group sessions and workshops, as well as some information and role-play sessions. It was particularly good that everyone participated in these sessions and felt comfortable enough to talk in front of the whole group. We also came up with some new ideas to try and help other people living with hearing loss, which hopefully Hearing Link will use in the future.

One of the highlights of this weekend for me was the people I met. Apart from Hearing Link staff members and volunteers, it was great to meet other people who had all had similar experiences to us of living with hearing loss. I had previously never met anyone else with a similar experience to ours. We all agreed that this made us feel less isolated and like we were the only people to know what it felt like. The highlight of my weekend was meeting a wonderful chap and his charming wife. He is ninety-three years old, and has led a very eventful long life. He was a Squadron Gunnery Leader in the RAF in the Second World War and the airgunnery caused his deafness. Yet, despite his hearing loss, he has had a long and very successful career in the City of London. He is a wonderfully eloquent and engaging person, who seemed to feel very comfortable speaking in public. One of the best quotes of the weekend was when he was talking to the group about how technology can assist people with their hearing and he said in a very passionate voice “If they can put people on the moon, I’m sure they can sort out my hearing. Don’t tell me that the sky’s the limit, when there are footprints on the moon!” I thought these were wonderfully inspirational words for us all.

I was glad I attended this event and I felt very positive about it afterwards. The people we met there had really made it a great event for all. We have now made some new friends, who I am sure we will keep in contact with. Thanks to everyone at Hearing Link for organising this first ‘Link-Up’ programme. Let’s hope it is the start of many more to come!

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