My adopted home state of Florida is opening, using the CDC’s recommended phased approached. Being over sixty-five and having medical problems, I stayed home for two months, ordering my food and necessities online. Now that the threat of virus is waning, it’s time to get out. Anxious to explore the small town where I live, I ordered facemasks, gloves, and made up some homemade alcohol based-hand wipes. It would be best to ease back into the world slowly, I decided. The grocery store would be my first planned outing.
Arriving at the local supermarket, I noticed the masked ones, people emerging from their cars with faces covered by blue surgical-style masks or hand sewn cotton masks in blues, greens, and whites. Some were donning plastic gloves. At least they are adhering to the CDC’s suggestions, I thought. I tied the strings of my white cotton mask securely behind my head. I had purchased a mask with ties because I wear behind-the-ear hearing aids. Masks held in place with two bands behind the ears cause my aids and mask to compete for available ear space. I figured a tie-style mask would be easier to wear.
I entered the store with a written shopping list in hand. Unlike my last store visit in early April, shelves were stocked. I walked up and down clearly marked one-way aisles, easily finding what I needed. People were respectful about distance. When arriving at the cash register, my first challenge emerged. When the lady working the cash register spoke, I realized lip reading wasn’t going to work as her face was hidden behind a mask.
Like many with hearing loss, I’m finding it next to impossible to hear in this new world of masked people. In the past two weeks, I have visited my audiologist, my ophthalmologist, and the pharmacy. In each case, hearing was a challenge. My ophthalmologist and audiologist said they were trying to purchase masks made with clear shields around the mouth. Neither was able to do so. I searched the internet and found two companies, and The Both are only selling their products to hospitals. Both had messages on their websites, notifying potential customers of long waits for their products. I also came across articles providing instructions for DIY see-through masks. If you are creative, you might be able to put one of these together.
Back at the cash register, I had to ask the cashier to repeat and then listened closely as she talked. She was asking if I had found what I needed. Yes, I said, flashing her a smile, which she couldn’t see. I think she smiled back, but I will never know. An azure mask covered all but her eyes.
As you venture out, be prepared for hearing issues. Listen carefully. Ask someone to repeat even if you have to make the request multiple times. When struggling to hear, do not remove your mask or ask someone to take off their mask. Turn up the volume on your hearing aids or implants as a voice might sound softer or muddled. Consider buying speech to text apps like Speech Texter, Voice Notebook, and Google Assistant. Bring a spouse, significant other, family member, or friend with you if you have to make an important transaction or visit a doctor.
Be vigilant about your health and hearing needs while meandering through a hearing world, coming back to life. If you can, take a sheltering break in your favorite community spot, listening to the sounds of cars, and birds, and people talk. Warmed by the sun and delighted by early summer sounds, be happy.

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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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