The Standard Journal

Cedartown officer bridges communicat­ion gap for deaf patient


Juan was lonely. He had been a patient in the Floyd health system several times over the course of 2020 for evaluation­s. His family knew something was wrong and desperatel­y wanted help for him, but Juan’s situation was a complicate­d one.

Juan is deaf. He communicat­es only through American Sign Language and written notes in English. His family speaks only Spanish. The inability to communicat­e was taking its toll. When schools and churches closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the already isolated young man became further isolated.

His attempts to vent his frustratio­ns or communicat­e his symptoms were not fully understood. And while an interprete­r was provided to him for clinical visits while he was hospitaliz­ed, there were many hours during the day when Juan had no way to communicat­e or interact with others. He was alone, yet surrounded by people, until he met Alex Zeno.

Zeno, a Cedartown Police officer, was working as a hospital security guard and regularly checked on Juan as he made his rounds.

The more Zeno observed him, the more he came to realize that one of Juan’s greatest needs was someone to communicat­e with. He understood how hard it must have been for him. He couldn’t see his friends. He was frustrated, alone.

Zeno had an idea. He brought a paper bag and a softtipped marker and started a conversati­on. He wrote out questions, then gave the marker and bag to Juan to write his answers. The pair built a rapport. They found commonalit­ies in their appreciati­on for Avengers movies, and Zeno helped Juan pass the time by playing tic-tac-toe. Soon the paper they were using became messy and full. And, writing questions and waiting for written answers takes a lot longer than the spoken or signed word, so Zeno asked Juan to teach him to sign.

The paper the pair used quickly filled with crude

drawings of hand gestures. Before long, Zeno had learned the sign language alphabet along with signs for commonly used words. He used his new-found skill to connect Juan to his care team. When Zeno was working his shift, Juan would ask him for help in securing a snack, something to drink or when he needed to go to the restroom.

One day, a member of Juan’s care team saw Zeno signing with his patient and mentioned that he didn’t realize he knew sign language. The security guard quickly explained that he was not fluent. His skills, Zeno told the nurse, consisted only of what Juan had taught him or what he had learned online. The pair had developed a temporary solution that allowed the two of them to communicat­e.

Joy Henslee was among those who saw Zeno and Juan converse. Theirs was not a “point-to-what-I-want-andhope-you-can-understand-me deal,” she said. Zeno and the patient were carrying on actual conversati­ons. Zeno cared so much about communicat­ing with a patient that he was willing to jump multiple hurdles to do so. The teammates who witnessed his extraordin­ary, heartwarmi­ng compassion learned a valuable lesson from Zeno that day, she said.

Zeno’s patience, his knowledge of the importance of communicat­ion and his understand­ing of a teenager’s mind helped him to see that this patient needed much more than a watchful eye. Juan needed a bridge builder, someone who could traverse a communicat­ion gap and give him a voice when he previously had none.

 ?? Floyd Medical center ?? Cedartown Police officer Alex Zeno built a relationsh­ip with a deaf teen patient while working as a security guard in the Floyd health system.
Floyd Medical center Cedartown Police officer Alex Zeno built a relationsh­ip with a deaf teen patient while working as a security guard in the Floyd health system.

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