Hearing Loss: It Helps If You Laugh
September is National Deaf Awareness Month. Perhaps you know someone who doesn’t hear well.
I support those with this condition, due to an ongoing malady which surfaced years ago: gradual hearing loss. My audiologist called mine nerve deafness hearing loss. Living with it means when someone talks, unless they enunciate clearly, they sound like they’re speaking a foreign language. Words sound garbled as my brain struggles to process them.
Being on the receiving end of hearing loss guarantees an emotional roller-coaster ride. At first, I became angry at the inconvenience. Then I was embarrassed when I had to ask family and friends to repeat themselves, often. It was humiliating when they yelled in exasperation, “I WISH YOU COULD HEAR! I’M GETTING TIRED OF REPEATING MYSELF!”
Group conversations presented unique challenges. When I asked someone to reiterate three times but still misunderstood their words, I hoped it was a witty saying, and laughed. (You get strange looks, and you find out later they told you Great Aunt Harriet died.)
I relied on cues, based on people’s facial expressions. I even learned to lip read a little, though I wish I were better at it.
After several embarrassing attempts at group conversation, I shied away from social encounters. Better to be thought a recluse than have people assume my hearing loss equaled brain loss. And yes, some people think hearing loss puts one on a fast track to senility.
Eventually, I encountered well-meaning people who thought SHOUTING would help. It made things worse. Yelling accentuates vowels and makes consonants sound alike. Especially ones like t, p, b and d, as well as s and f. So, if you shouted, “WOULD YOU CLOSE THE DOOR!” it would sound like,” UUH OOH OH UH ORE”! Try ordering in a restaurant and having the waitress talk too loudly. Laughing helps overcome curious stares from others.
If you really want to know what hearing loss is like, stuff cotton in your ears and go about your day. It won’t take long for people to give you strange looks and make snide remarks about how you’re messing up their day by making them accommodate your disability.
I know what you will suggest. “Why don’t you get hearing aids?” Well, I DO have them, and they help a little. But I discovered hearing aids cannot restore a person’s hearing to the level it was before it faded.
My dad used to say a person can endure anything if he retains his sense of humor.
With that in mind, I envisioned ridiculous attempts to figure out conversation. My daughter suggested she could stand behind the chair of the person speaking to me and use charades. Like this:
Me: “One word. Sound like pickles.”
(Daughter gesturing wildly behind chair.)
We joked about sitting on a park bench with two other hearing-impaired friends.
Friend One: “It sure is cold and windy today.”
Friend Two: “No, it’s Thursday.”
Me: “Me too. Let’s go get a Pepsi.”
So, how does a person keep her sense of humor with this challenge? She enlists the help of a few close friends who know her situation. When hearing loss emerged, my then-teenage daughter quietly pinch-hit for me at fast-food drive-up windows and group conversations. If I shot her a puzzled look she understood and “translated.” It helped to laugh.
As my teacher used to say, “Laughter truly is great medicine.” Or maybe she said, “After grueling fizz you hate Edison.” At least that’s what it sounded like.
What about you? Any experience with hearing loss or those who deal with it? We would love to "hear" your comments below.