I have often found that even the hearing person with the best intentions does not truly grasp what it means to be deaf or hard of hearing. My focus here is going to be on hard of hearing, on those who communicate in verbal language. Because even if we can use auditory senses to understand verbal language, it’s not easy. The result is daily frustration.
This frustration point is key, because I’ve found that when we express that frustration, we are brushed aside. Or the hearing person gets frustrated repeating themselves, when we’ve dealt with much more than they have. Or we are told to calm down and not be upset when, let me be clear, we have every right to be.
There’s another element to this, one that I am often aware of as a writer. Not hearing things, missing things, needing clarification is such a normal part of our lives. I’ve been hard of hearing since birth, this is how my world has always been. Therefore I don’t often think about the amount of times I’ve misheard something, because I’m always missing something. And even then, it’s a slow simmering, because even if I’m not thinking about it, it’s there.
This isn’t something easy to put into my novels, and it’ll be clear soon how disruptive it would be to show authentically. I also wanted to do this for myself as a reminder, because it’s much easier to write smooth dialog, then the stop and go dialog of reality.
Therefore I decided to take one day out of my life and chronicle every interaction where I missed something. And I want hearing people to look this over and really consider it. This isn’t an odd day, or a “bad” day. This is a very normal day in my life. This is my everyday occurrence.
A note before I begin: I have a mild/moderate loss in one ear, and moderate/profound loss in the other. I’m essentially deaf in that ear, and considering I don’t always wear that hearing aid (and didn’t on the day in question) you can take this example as that ear being deaf, meaning no adequate sound coming through. On this day I was working from home, and kid was on school vacation. A typical pandemic stay home day, so the only people I needed to interact with were my family members (so we’re not getting into masks and public spaces, which would be an additional challenge).
A second note: hearing aids aren’t worn to sleep, and they can’t get wet (most of them), so I don’t put mine on until after I shower, and on this testing day I had a lazy start and began work first.
A third note: it’s highly possible I have a processing disorder which might compound listening and comprehension.
5am: Wake up. Unsure if I woke up due to a sound or not, but shortly after I hear something. I’m not sure what it is, but in a house with three cats anything is possible. It takes a bit, but I realize someone is in the bathroom and that must be the sound.
9:30am: I’m now awake, no hearing aids on. Husband is working from home and I needed him to repeat twice and needed time to put words together. He talks as I’m walking away and I have to return back to him to hear.
9:50am: Realize I have tinnitus ringing in both ears. This is the kind of realization where it’s probably always there, just at times louder than others.
9:55am: Another conversation with husband, missed a few things but able to follow by using cues and filling in the gaps.
10:20am: Needed a third repetition to follow something.
10:22am: Hear a human voice and can’t follow it, turns out husband is talking to one of the cats.
10:23am: Cat meows but I can’t hear it, only know she meowed because I saw her mouth move.
10:30am: Needed another repetition.
10:40am: Husband is on a phone call and while I can hear his voice, I cannot understand most of his end. I talk to him afterwards and need three more repetitions.
10:50am: Hearing something, not sure what. I go to investigate and then needed repetition to follow the answer.
11:00am: Need repetition twice.
11:30am: Miss multiple things and need a repetition.
12:30pm: Hearing aids are now on, need tween to repeat.
12:57pm: Hear something, keep checking on kitten, ensuring she’s not getting into trouble, sound isn’t from her. No clue what it was.
1:40pm: Tween is chatting with friends through headset. I tried to understand but can’t, only catch a few words here and there.
2:20pm: Tried to listen to kid talking to friends again, still mostly not understanding.
6pm: Need several repetitions during dinner.
7:30pm: Need kid to repeat when he talked as I walked away.
9pm: Hearing aids are now off, can no longer hear kittens mewls. Needing husband to repeat double, and again, and again multiple times. Ears and brain may now be tired, making communication more difficult. Husband claims he should have noticed I couldn’t follow at one point and move closer/talk louder.
9:25pm: All communication at this point is needing at least one repetition.
10:14pm: Same thought as above, decide to stop marking down as conversations are coming faster and all need repetition.
At bed time notice tinnitus again.
A few takeaways from this: There were some conversations in the middle of the day, when I had my hearing aids on that I did not need repetition for. There were NO conversations without my hearing aids that did not need repetition. None. When I am not wearing my hearing aids I make sure to get close to the person I’m talking to, and angle my non-deaf ear toward them. This is not something that a hearing person reciprocates.
So this is a normal day in my life as a hard of hearing person. I am writing this on another day when I’m not wearing my hearing aids. Tinnitus is raging, kid is talking to friends and except for being loud and annoying (I’m sound sensitive, yeah make sense of that) I can’t tell you what he’s saying, though I did catch something as I walked near.
These repetitions are an increase from my memories. Now, my deaf ear wasn’t always deaf, and I used to get some comprehension from there, hearing aids or not. My hard of hearing ear might be blocked with wax or going through some changes of her own, I’ll figure that out eventually (note, this is not a point to have sympathy for me, it is an is, it is my life, whether my ears stay consistent or move closer to deaf, I'm happy with them, and no, they will never become more hearing). Even if that ear is blocked in a way that can be fixed, we are not talking about chopping that list in half, we’re talking about removing a few instances, that’s it.
A little estimated math: I miss something 100% of the time without my hearing aids on. Sometimes that means I’m asking for repetition, other times that means I miss a word or two but can still figure out what’s being said. Verbal language is a lot of guessing and missing pieces. When I do have my hearing aids on, I’d venture that drops down to 70%. Put it all together and I’m missing something 85% of the time.
That’s 85% of my conversations every single day.
Tell me, have I earned my frustration?
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