In the Facebook Groups, Stuttering Hangout, and Stuttering Arena Paul Goldstein posted about an interesting experience he had with medical personnel in a hospital. Several individuals also shared their experience. The posts are included below by name with permission, by initials if I was unable to reach them. I will add their names or delete their posts according to their wishes if contacted by them. Two important points emerged: 1. Some medical personnel need to learn about stuttering and how to recognize it.
2. Persons who stutter need to inform medical personnel that they stutter.

The widespread ignorance about stuttering among many medical personnel

by Paul Goldstein

During late November I was hospitalized for a while with a serious infection - my first hospitalization in about 60 years! (I'm much better now.)

As I was being admitted, after being rushed by ambulance (my first time ever in an ambulance, at the age of 63) with a high fever and other symptoms, medical personnel were very puzzled about my speech.

A medical personnel asked me, "Have you had this language problem before?"

I answered, "It's not a language problem - it's a speech disorder.""It's called stuttering."
Then I added, "To be more specific, it's chronic developmental stuttering."
But I was blocking so much on that last phrase that she indicated with her hands that my efforts weren't necessary.

To see if I was having awareness problems (I wasn't), I was asked to state my full name. I was blocking severely at that point, so I prefaced my answer with the words "I stutter", to make sure there wouldn't be misinterpretation of the way I was responding.

I also remember an incident many decades ago when I was treated for a hand injury. It was during a period when I was very actively practicing and monitoring fluency targets. I was seeing a particular doctor for the second time - the first time I had seen him I had been totally fluent with great fluency targets. But during this second appointment, my speech suddenly took a dive and I had a huge block. The doctor was completely alarmed; he was a fluent speaker, but at that moment was disfluent: "Wha - wha- what's happening?" He rushed over to me, afraid I was having a heart attack or something. I had explain to him that I stuttered. (Inconsistencies such as that in fluency/disfluency were among the reasons why I later decided to ditch fluency targets, but that's a topic for another thread.)

My point is that I believe medical personnel should have some basic exposure to the problem of stuttering as part of their medical education. I have talked with a number of medical friends, and they tell me they never encountered any mention of stuttering during their medical lectures or in their textbooks.

I'm not saying that doctors or nurses should be trained in the treatment of stuttering. But what I am saying is that they should be exposed to some basic information about the disorder - so they can recognize it when they encounter it, know a little bit about its nature and its origins, and not jump to alarming misinterpretations when they hear it.

Stacey MacDonald responded - I had a major medical issue this past year. I told everyone up front that I stuttered. For the most part, most in the medical field knew what stuttering was, they just hadn't ever met anyone who did. One person thought it was a stroke and the nurse said, "No, she came in talking like this" :) I did tell one of the nurses to put a note on my door. That helped a lot. I agree-the medical field needs more exposure to stuttering and how to handle it. I just keep in mind that seconds/minutes can mean the difference in a lot of situations, too. P. S. Once they realized and understood, they were very gracious and patient.

Russ Hicks responded - One morning several years ago, I fainted (never figured out why) in the bathroom. When I came to, there were several burly EMT's standing over me asking me if I was all right. I told them I was - but (surprise, surprise) I stuttered in the process of telling them I was okay, but I asked what the heck had happened. Then one of the EMTs turned to my wife and asked, "Does he always talk like this?" My wife and I both laughed and assured him that yes, I stuttered and yes, I DO always talk like that.

He was slightly familiar with stuttering and was relieved to know what was going on. He HAD to ask that question to rule out serious complications like a stroke or some sort of brain issue. They don't encounter people who stutter every day, but strokes and brain traumas are part of their daily lives. They were simply doing their jobs - and we are thankful they were there!

Nevertheless they hauled me to the hospital anyway (first time I had ever ridden in an ambulance which was rough as a cob! It is a TRUCK, of course.) In the hospital they checked me out thoroughly with a battery of all kinds of fancy tests, but never determined what happened. Life is full of mysteries! They sent me home saying "Don't do that again!" :)

We are thankful for such good and fast care!

Paul Castellano responded - I've always made it a point to tell any medical professional that I stutter. In addition there can also be issues when speaking with law enforcement officers. Thinking your drunk or on drugs. More education, and awareness is still needed.

APM: Two years ago I was cooking and I cut my hand with a cooking knife, it was pretty bad, so I had to go to the hospital. The hospital personnel have to report to the police when they see suspicious behavior, like a possible crime or something, that's why they have to ask questions to the patients at the emergency room. So sadly, I couldn't say my age (30) so they became nervous and started asking questions like "did you really cut yourself" or "was it really an accident"... So you can imagine my frustration. It was their attitude what bothered me, like they were sure something else happened just because I was stuttering. Bottom line is, they don't have a clue on how to react to someone who stutters, they don't even expect to have a patient who stutters.

ES: I went to a doctor today for a basic check up and as usual, he knew nothing about stuttering whatsoever. Kept asking if I had been through a traumatic event or a traumatic birth (which I have to say is one I haven't heard before). Even when I explained that I've had it since I began speaking and it's hereditary, he said that perhaps there was a traumatic event that I can't remember. It's so frustrating how little doctors know about it. I'm not surprised when any random person isn't familiar with it, but it blows my mind that someone who has been through medical school has essentially zero knowledge of a speech disorder.

DT: As a Combat Medic who stutters, I have a fair understanding of both sides of this coin. Stuttering, is a very concerning and potentially deadly sign to see in a clinical/ emergency situation. It could be an indicator of a stroke, ruptured aneurysm, or hypoxia. It could also be a sign of a altered mental status. It is also something that needs to be documented on the Glasgow Coma Scale. And a lot of the secondary characteristics of stuttering (such as facial spasms and hand movements) may further cause alarm for the safety of the patient.

I understand how frustrating it is to have my speech impediment misinterpreted for other things. But the sad truth is that if we do not investigate the origins of a natural speech impediment, a patient may lose their life just because a medical provider did not want to assume that it was natural.

added March 9, 2018