Against all odds

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Tahseen Ahmed, chief occupational therapist at Groote Schuur Hospital.PHOTO: supplied
Tahseen Ahmed, chief occupational therapist at Groote Schuur Hospital.PHOTO: supplied

“When I put on my cochlear implant in my right ear, it feels as if I am in a world full of sounds, (even though) I might not be able to hear the same as others who have normal hearing.”

So says Tahseen Ahmed, chief occupational therapist for the surgical unit in the occupational therapy department at Groote Schuur Hospital. Ahmed (37) was born deaf in both ears, but she did not allow her hearing impairment to deter her from working hard and achieving her goals.

Ahmed is a unit manager, and this includes human resource management of occupational therapists, a seamstress and occupational therapy students.

“I carry a clinical workload as well, assessing and treating patients. My main clinical areas within occupational therapy are oncology, lymphoedema, plastics and pressure garment therapy,” she says.

Last week, Wednesday 3 March, marked World Hearing Day, the theme this year was: hearing care for all.

Ahmed explains that she used to wear bilateral hearing aids until her hearing deteriorated and she could no longer benefit from it. In 1995, at the age of 12 she had a cochlear implant surgery in her right ear at Tygerberg Hospital.

Ahmed says she doesn’t use sign language to communicate but does lip read when communicating with people.

“I have no hearing at all. Even when you scream at me or speak even louder, I won’t be able to hear you. But I do depend on lip reading, looking at facial expressions, body language and feeling the vibrations. I live in a ‘world of silence’ when I don’t have my cochlear implant on.”

She says her dream is to learn sign language so that she can communicate with other deaf people. Ahmed studied Occupational Therapy at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) and describes completing her honours degree and graduating from university as one of the biggest achievement of her life. She was also the first hard-of-hearing student to graduate as an occupational therapist (OT) at the UWC in the OT department in 2007.

She says however being a student with a hearing impairment was challenging.

“At university the classes were bigger, the continuous changing of lecturers and not having the confidence of going up to the lecturers and explaining my difficulty in classes. I felt like life was going too fast for me, or I was falling behind. I had to work harder than many others and at many things. It was hard work and dedication and not giving up (that led to her success).”

She says the dawn of the Covid-19 pandemic has brought on a new set of challenges for her as the compulsory wearing of masks makes it difficult for her to lip read.

“I have to deal with the impatience from others that don’t know that I am hard of hearing when I go outside of my home like to the shopping mall. When they are speaking to me with the mask on, I can’t see their lips or facial expression to be able to know that they are speaking directly to me. Therefore, I always have to inform others that I am hard of hearing.”

But it is Ahmed’s dedication and her faith in Allah (God) that keeps her going when life challenges get her down.

“Having full faith that Allah takes care of us when things look impossible, I am grateful for his guidance and blessings.”

She explains that her family and colleagues also play a pivotal role in supporting her. A valuable lesson taught by her mom that she always remembers is: “Never give the answer ‘No!’ I can’t do it when you believe that you are unable to do it. Rather say I will try and give it my best.”

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