Meandering Through A Hearing World

Say It Again So I Can Hear

Raise your hand if you’ve ever had to ask someone to repeat. This is the annoying part of having a hearing loss. You’re sitting there talking with a friend, there isn’t much background noise, perhaps there isn’t any. As your friend talks, you might miss a word or two but because you understand the context of what is being said, you fill in the blanks. Then suddenly you miss a phrase or perhaps even an entire sentence. What comes next doesn’t make sense. You’re forced to tell your friend you missed something. It’s embarrassing.  You may even make up excuses. She or he mumbled. She has a voice that’s too soft. You might even question yourself. Was I paying attention? Was I reading his lips as I’m supposed to do? Exasperated, you might throw up your arms. I’m wearing hearing aids. I just replaced my batteries. My cochlear implant is turned on. Why can’t I hear?

I’ve been involved in the above scenario, countless times. I have a sensorineural hearing loss. According to my doctors, my inner ear is damaged. Some believe it is due to the hair cells dying off. Others say they don’t understand why this type of hearing loss occurs. All health professionals agree there is no cure. At age twenty six, I was told thirty-five percent of my hearing was gone. My hearing loss would progress, they said. Hearing aids would help. And they do. I find my Made-for-iPhone aids a godsend. But these wonderful, custom-made devices are not perfect. They don’t restore my hearing. They help me hear better by amplifying sound and in my case, the aids help me distinguish sounds.

Most people with sensorineural hearing loss can’t hear high-pitched sounds. This means a woman’s voice, a child’s voice, and environmental sounds such as birdsong or the whir of appliances become difficult or impossible to hear. I’ve had hearing run-ins with high-pitched sounds. Put me on the telephone with a woman and there’s a guarantee I’ll be saying, “repeat that please.”  Even when seated next to a woman in a quiet environment, I find hearing her difficult. A lot has to do with the consonants, F, H, S and Th. All are considered high-pitched sounds. As your hearing loss progresses, these letters become impossible to discern. It isn’t that you can’t hear the sounds, you do. However, you are only hearing the vowels attached to these consonants, thus words sound like a tangled jungle of letters. You, sit there, frustrated, losing your way through the thick-knotted vines of discourse.

In difficult hearing situations, we resort to asking someone to repeat. Here is where the good friends come in. There are kind souls who don’t mind repeating and repeating until you get it. You can tell by their body language. They change seats and move closer to you. They lean towards you. They get up with you and move to a quieter area. They value you as a person and want you to hear. I love people like that.

Then there are the impatient others. They might try once to repeat something, but if you don’t understand them, they bite their lip or grimace. They appear as frustrated as you do. They end up saying “it isn’t important.” They sometimes tell you they will repeat what they said later. How I hate that. I will never hear normally. Even if I went through surgery and got a cochlear implant, I would not have normal hearing. I’ve been told that background noise will always be my nemesis. When I can’t hear, I feel as exasperated as the person sitting next to me. I’m struggling too. I want to hear. I simply can’t. I sometimes think if hearing loss was visible, people would be more sympathetic. Think of the empathy most of us bestow on someone with a broken arm or leg or someone undergoing chemotherapy. Their situation becomes obvious. We see the crutches, walkers, wheelchairs, the balding, loss of weight and the haggard looks. People with hearing loss look normal in every way. Our grave and life-changing challenges are invisible.

I don’t have answers. I simply do my best to hear. I spend time working with hearing apps to help me better distinguish sound. I also use apps that are purported to improve concentration. I try to pay close attention when someone is speaking to me. All I can do is try and ask for patience. I hope the next person sitting beside me will help me hear and make my meanderings through the hearing world a little bit easier.

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Linda Bilodeau

I’ve grappled with hearing loss since 1978. Through it all, I’ve faced periods of denial, acceptance, curiosity, trust and hope. But more often than not, I’ve felt annoyed, angry and frightened. I’ve encountered despair, loneliness and envy. I’ve experienced panic attacks. I’ve met understanding people, kind souls who helped me a great deal and others who thought I had nothing short of an invisible plague. As a way of coming to terms with my hearing loss, I’ve decided to put my feelings about my disability down on paper. My hope is to better understand myself and perhaps you’ll find a little something in my meanderings that will help you, too.

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