February 23, 2021

Medical student's knowledge of sign language provides comfort amid chaos in emergency

Lincoln Erickson
Lincoln Erickson, shown here at the Class of 2022's White Coat Ceremony, won kudos recently for his ability to communicate with a hard-of-hearing patient.

Wayne State University School of Medicine student Lincoln Erickson’s fluency in American Sign Language saved the day last November during a code blue call while on his Internal Medicine rotation.

“During one of our ‘code blue’ calls, Lincoln and I ran to the code to offer assistance,” said Bryanne Standifer, M.D., a third-year Internal Medicine resident at Henry Ford Hospital and Erickson’s senior resident that day. “When we reached the code, there was a large crowd and a patient on the ground. We watched as nurses, doctors and others tried to gather information. Finally, Lincoln stepped in, as he realized the patient was hard of hearing. He immediately began to use sign language, and we learned pertinent information about the patient’s injury and why the code blue was called. You immediately watched the patient and wife’s face turn from scared and overwhelmed to comfortable and at ease as Lincoln created a means of communication. He went with the patient and his wife to the emergency room to continue to translate his needs.”

Erickson, a Class of 2022 medical student, is fluent in ASL, having learned it from his deaf partner.

“I didn't know a single sign word at the beginning of our relationship, and they taught me sign by sign and it was an incredible experience. After one year, I was able to communicate in ASL well enough that other members of the deaf community didn't know I was hearing until I told them,” Erickson said.

He called his experience that day incredible. “It was a panic, as the time was ticking and no information could be obtained due to the huge language barrier. I immediately noticed the sign for, ‘please help us!’ I pushed past the crowd and starting signing with the family. It was incredible to see the look of horror on the (family member’s) face change to a look of relief as she saw someone in a white coat signing fluently. It will forever be one of my proudest moments,” he said. “I never knew the paths being fluent in ASL would lead me down, but I’m incredibly grateful I learned ASL for love -- and it has forever changed my life.”