I recently read a conversation between friends about husbands and their reluctance to get their hearing evaluated.
I realized that I really had much more to share about my experience than speculations as to why my friends’ spouses continue to avoid a solution. As a hearing impaired adult, I could sympathize with them. I have some insight as to why these men (and women for that matter) might be so hesitant to have their hearing checked, because I was hesitant too. I thought back to the days before I had hearing aids and remembered how terrifying it was to think that I might one day be deaf.
I thought hearing aids were seen as an "old thing" though even seniors don’t want to get them. Perhaps for them it’s another reminder that while their minds may still be twenty, their bodies aren’t.
I was 23 years old and a newlywed when I was finally able to bite the bullet and get evaluated. My fears were confirmed by an audiologist and two otolaryngologists that my hearing was failing. It was diagnosed as a hereditary hearing loss, although no one in my family was totally deaf or even wore hearing aids before the age of 50. Still, The How was "heredity".
Through much reflection, I have deduced approximately when I believe my cochleae may have started pushing up daisies:
Mrs. Petersen spent a good portion of our geometry unit writing on the blackboard with a chalk compass and a yardstick, talking about angles and theorems and other gobbledygook that I missed most of because I couldn’t see what she was saying while her back was turned. That quarter I squeaked by with a C.
I was 16 years old.
However, I don’t say that with any real certainty. I can’t tell you exactly how old I was when I first started losing my hearing. You see, gradual hearing loss is slow by definition. My hearing disappeared gradually enough that I didn’t notice that the word “what” was used more and more in an average day. Other people noticed though.
When it was brought up to me, I was absolutely flabbergasted and denied any problem. First I was oblivious to my loss, but after it was called to my attention, I was mortified, paranoid, and defensive...and determined to prove everyone wrong.
I paid extra attention when the phone rang, standing just outside my door so I would be able to hear my name called (this was before Caller I.D. existed for those whippersnappers in my reading audience) and not have to hear my brother bellow up the stairs “AIR-KAH!! PHONE!!”
Who wants to be different in that sense? On those terms? Most people don’t. You may think that everyone and anyone will notice your hearing aids. They’ll all know you’re broken or they’ll think you’re stupid when you misunderstand what’s spoken to you. Deaf is not stupid, but it’s an invisible handicap that can be perceived as both idiocy and arrogance. Thousands of thoughts flood your mind, paralyzing you.
Sometimes it's easier to deny that there's anything wrong and ask people to repeat themselves rather than further your embarrassment and deepen your fear. Yes, we know it's inconvenient to have to repeat yourself. Did you know it’s embarrassing for us to have to ask? If we could understand you the first time, we would…unless you’re an asshole.
Even when someone tells you they’ve “been calling your name for five minutes” you think they’re exaggerating. They believe you ignored them. Makes me wonder how many hearing impaired people I had mistaken for snobs in my lifetime.
Sometimes a sense leaves you so stealthily, that you stay in denial until someone really shows you what you’ve been missing. For me, that was the day I finally got my hearing aids. Everything was suddenly extremely loud. Leaves weren’t just crunching under my feet as I walked; they were damned near EXPLODING beneath them. I heard myself speak through my new bionic ears and learned that what was a comfortable volume for me to speak at was a much higher decibel to others. Those poor innocent people; I’d been practically yelling at them for years!
I grew up hearing and I still CAN hear some (though not well) without my hearing aids. Speech is very jumbled and muted. I use lip-reading to pick up the consonants that took a detour from microphone to brain, so I get the gist of what people are saying to me, but sometimes details are left behind. Hearing aids make me miss less, but I do still miss things.
Because hearing aids don't fix everything. They help, yes, and in most cases they are such a drastic improvement that we regret not getting them sooner, for our sakes and yours. But they are not the magical solution that people tend to expect them to be.
When your broken ears still stubbornly refuse to relay information to your brain and you are forced to ask “what” again, it becomes frustrating AND embarrassing. The speaker doesn’t feel like repeating himself anymore and you wish they’d find a word that was synonymous with the over-enunciated one that’s so elusive to your blasted ears and you both want to end the conversation before either of you look and feel any more foolish.
What really is very important is understanding how to communicate best with each other.
You wouldn’t walk quickly ahead of someone on crutches and say, “Catch up! God, you never keep UP WITH ME”, would you? (If you would say this, stop reading and smack yourself in the forehead with a hammer before you continue.)
I’ve made a list of thoughts on my deafness for those of you who were not just knocked unconscious, so that the next time you’re around someone with a hearing impairment you might consider these facts.
1. Crowds suck. The interference of all the other conversations is just too much to handle. You might have an easier time talking with me if you put me in a metal drum and yelled at me through a hole in the lid.
2. Phones suck but text messaging rocks! Seriously, people. It’s like having a TTY in the palm of my hand. Our conversations are CAPTIONED just for me! And now you can go back over the month’s messages and save every inappropriate quip I send you. How awesome is that? Very.
3. Please repeat yourself if I ask you to. When you don’t, you’re telling me that I don’t matter enough for you to bother. Be warned: it may take a couple of tries. If you don’t know a synonym for the word that I’ve missed, spell it out. I feel just as silly asking you to play Spelling Bee as you feel doing it. I’m sorry about that. I’ll buy you a thesaurus.
4. I don’t care if the captioning on my television blocks the breasts on Baywatch. You’ll live. The boobies will bounce again. Buy a bigger television.
5. If I can't see you, I can't hear you. It’s called Lip-Reading, not Back Of My Head Reading. There are still moments when someone I know tries to speak to me with the light behind them instead of on their face. THIS MAKES ME FURIOUS! You’re completely silhouetted! I can’t see your lips to read them, but I’m pretty sure my fist can figure out where they are and fatten them.
6. I know at times my aid whistles. It's not a trick I'm performing for you. Before you think how annoying it is for YOU that MY hearing aid isn’t fitting properly, remember whose ear it’s ringing in and how much louder it is in there.
7. Crowds still suck. It’s worth the double mention, really.
8. When I tell you I'm hearing impaired, believe me. Just because my speech has not changed that doesn't mean my hearing hasn't. It doesn't mean you have to make monkey faces trying to enunciate more when you speak to me. Talk normally. Just look at me when you say that goofy-ass shit.
9. The Drive-Thru is a portal to hell. Don’t even bother asking me what kind of sauce I want with that antelope burger. Let’s not kid ourselves here. You didn’t say it clearly, I didn’t hear it and I’m already pulling around to the window. Ask me when I get there.
10. When I don’t completely understand what someone said, I have been guilty of using the Nod and Smile. You know the saying, “I smile because I have no idea what’s going on”? Well, this is undoubtedly from whence the Nod and Smile came. I realize I just gave away a great secret that many of us have used to sort our ways out of incredibly boring conversations and frustrating situations. (I have faith that none of those boring and frustrating people are reading this.) So, the truth is out there and now you know; if I’m nodding and smiling, I’m lying to you. I really have absolutely no idea what you just said about your Great Aunt’s Dog and I probably lost interest long ago. Feel free to call me on it.
Make sure the light’s behind you…and
stand within arm’s reach.