Are You Hard of Hearing?

Did you hear what I heard?  There are many different degrees of hearing loss, from slight to profound. I know I’m lucky that mine, although more than slight, is not profound. The hearing doctor believed it’s a side-effect from having the Measles when I was about eight years old.  I say “about” because my eighth year was the most tragic year of my life. It was the year my dad died, just two months after my eighth birthday.

Until recently, I believed the line between the “before” and “after” periods in my life was caused by the loss of my father. However, I’m now convinced the horror of the time that followed was due to being consciously unaware of my hearing loss, failing to understand. Do we refuse to accept our handicaps in order to cope?

Many years later, in my thirties, I was married with four children when my husband remarked on my hearing. I decided to get tested. Not that I hadn’t been accused of  it before, the crucial difference being “accused”, as though I was willfully refusing to hear. My mother’s most famous line was “You hear when you want to!” Other remarks were more critical “Why don’t you pay attention!” Some remarks were more derogatory.

I’d heard the derogatory remarks aimed at my eldest brother and only sister, the first two children in our family, as both suffered from severe hearing loss. I witnessed people being rude to them and decided I would NOT be hard of hearing. This was more subconscious than not, of course, as I simply incorporated lipreading and close attention in my interactions with others. In fact, the hearing doctor pointed out the soreness in my shoulders, which I thought I’d always had, “Your whole body strains to hear.”

My mother had keen hearing but she thought our dad’s hearing suffered somewhat. If we had a hereditary weakness toward hearing loss it likely came from his side of the family. When the next generation (at least three grandchildren, one deaf in one ear, two others profound) suffered hearing losses, the hereditary factor seemed evident. Of course as children, all of us suffered colds and ear infections, as children tend to do. It appears that for some, they may have led to a degree of deafness. My own son, who as an Air Force Officer, served twenty-some years as a Navigator, near retirement suffered a mild hearing loss. Those planes made a lot of noice!

But, on to the consequences of the hearing loss in my own life, which I can’t claim to be a common occurrence. It’s taken me years to come to these conclusions but I’ll share them as I believe them to be true. Before my bout with the Measles or my dad’s death I was a “straight A” student, afterwards my grades fell drastically. I know that sometimes I didn’t hear the teacher correctly. I also remember somebody talking to me on a phone. I heard a voice but could not understand what it said even though it kept repeating stuff. I was embarrassed and began to withdraw socially.

Think about it, you who are not hard of hearing. You’re embarrassed at having folks around you repeat things to a point that you may pretend to understand (“understanding” wrongly!). They may think you are (gasp!) retarded. Although I worked part-time during high school as a waitress, or in the movie-house as a ticket-taker or usher, and worked in offices later, earning good reviews in all of them, my attention and lip-reading being a big help, I often questioned what I heard. I often repeated myself, not sure if the other person heard what I said.  My hearing loss changed me before I ever knew I suffered from it.

As far as hearing aids go, it’s only been within the past few years that a new one came along which  worked  well for me. I was grateful from the time I began wearing them that they helped but my older siblings were not so lucky.  For years there were no good aids for nerve loss, which is undoubtedly what they also suffered from. They are quite expensive and many lower-income people can’t afford them.

I believe all our life experiences work together to help us become who we really are.  If so, both my love of reading and loss of hearing have led me to express who I really am.

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