“I didn’t know what would be done.” Deaf actor Matthew Gurney explains how he had an operation without being given an interpreter

Posted on December 9, 2013

The last week has been a blur.

After watching Gerry Hughes appearing on Surprise Surprise last Sunday at my friend’s flat in North London, I started to feel unwell.

It was around 9pm, and I put my tummy ache down to not cooking my noodles properly. I was preparing for a week of theatre rehearsal so all that was on my mind was the week ahead.

I hoped the feeling would pass but it got worse. I was feeling sick, I went to the toilet… I won’t say any more but you get the idea.

I put up with it for the next few hours, feeling hot then cold, with the pain getting worse with every hour. I tried to watch TV but I couldn’t. I felt awful, and it might not have helped that I was watching hospital programmes like 24 Hours in A&E and One Born Every Minute…

I started to analyse the pain, almost like I was analysing a character for a play. Then I went on google and looked for information. Was it food poisoning? A bug?

Something started to stick in my mind, and I was the chance it was my appendix. I’ve heard stories about it, and I started to read articles about it and work out where the pain was coming from.

I realised it could be serious if I left it any longer than I already had, so I woke up my friend to call an ambulance.

It was at that point I texted my theatre director to tell him I wouldn’t be in for the first day of rehearsal. Yes, even then, work was on my mind!

Finally, the ambulance arrived and asked me numerous questions. Luckily my friend wrote down everything I signed on a notepad for them to read, but it meant the Q&A lasted 20-30 minutes. I have no idea why they had to do that before taking me to hospital – I was in agony.


When I arrived at hospital, all I can remember is being so knackered from the pain. The gas helped, and I kept dozing off, but I still kept being questioned by the doctors via my friend’s notepad. I started to feel jumpy as I was worried I might become more ill.

Finally, the doctor examined me and agreed it could be a case of appendicitis and said I might need an operation.

I knew this might have to be done as soon as possible – no time to wait for an operation. So at 1pm on Monday, I went in for the operation.

I trusted them medically, but I didn’t know what would be done.

Would my appendix be removed? Or cleaned up? I understood that it would be keyhole surgery and I agreed and signed the form, mainly because I just wanted the pain to stop.

Once I had the injection, I fell asleep (this was such a relief!). I woke up to be told by my friend that I’d spent 4 hours in theatre (I wished I was in a different type of theatre!).

I found I had an oxygen mask on, a finger pulse thingy and tights (to stop blood clots). There was also a machine keeping my blood circulating.


I checked my belly and I had three patches there. There was no scar so I was relieved my appendix hadn’t been removed.

Finally, I was put in the ward , and chatted to my friend. Then when the doctor came, he told me that the appendix had been removed after all!

I was gobsmacked… They removed it through one of the keyholes!

When I texted my friend Paula Garfield, she asked me if I had an interpreter. I said no. Then she contacted my friend who is an interpreter, and the interpreter told me and my friend to ask the hospital to contact her. She told them I should have an interpreter ASAP. The hospital agreed, but nothing happened afterwards, no-one came.

I stayed at hospital for another half day without seeing an interpreter!

One male nurse came to me and wrote down: “Are you able to write English?” I frowned as I nodded, to try and convey my disappointment.

I was so shocked about it and thought what the f…, HANG ON… I am British, and Deaf, I’m not from Mars!

Screen shot 2013-12-06 at 17.12.33From there, I didn’t want to cause any problems because the operation went well. I thank them for that, but it wasn’t a nice experience overall because I couldn’t wait to go home after that moment!

My friend later told me that a nurse, who spoke to her when I was sleeping, could sign and even explained that she knew a bit of sign language because she has two cousins who she said were “deaf and dumb”.

My friend told her not to use the word “dumb”. The nurse quickly explained that the older cousin could lip-read. And the younger one can lip-read too but prefers BSL. My friend still doesn’t know why she thought “deaf and dumb” was appropriate.

My friend also saw some nurses trying to wake me up by speaking to me. She informed the nurses that I am Deaf. They seemed tense, not knowing what to do. They were basically staring at me. Totally unaware of how simple tapping on the shoulder really is! My friend had to wake me up for them!

I’ve had my life saved a few times in hospital, but my experience would have been much better if I had full access to the details via BSL interpretation and better deaf awareness.

It’s time for BSL to be an official language so that future Deaf generations won’t experience what I experienced.


Matthew Gurney is a Deaf actor who has performed on stage and screen.

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